Twenty years ago, Peter Sterios, an architect turned yogi, couldn’t find a yoga mat that provided him with a firm grip and ample support. So he designed one himself and it revolutionized his yoga practice.
To pay it forward to several of the yoga instructors that taught and inspired him, Sterios sent his yoga mat as a gift to Erich Schiffmann, Rod Stryker, Angela Farmer, Victor Van Kooten, Rodney Yee, and Shiva Rea. And in classic yoga tradition, each one of his teachers shared the mat with their students. In 1997, Manduka, a company designed for and by yogis was born, founded on the simple idea that a better yoga mat could make a world of difference.
Manduka has sold over 2 million yoga mats since their launch and from the beginning the company has been guided by a responsibility to reduce global consumption by making better products that last longer utilizing sustainable practices and technological advances in textile and material technology. Manduka’s legendary Black Mat PRO is celebrating decades as the world’s best yoga mat. Designed to last a lifetime (or several), Manduka PRO series yoga mats curb the amount of PVC mats that enter landfills every year and reduce overall mat consumption by guaranteeing their mats for life.
Fast-forward to today and Manduka’s purpose-driven-products including their mats, towels, and props are sold online, in studios and at retail locations in 65 countries around the world. The company continues with its ever-improving commitment to sustainability, performance, and transparency that has gained them a loyal global following for two decades.
With an established customer base at a time when yoga is a household name and the health and wellness industries are exploding, the company knew recently that it was the right time to expand. Seasoned performance apparel executive, Joanne Sessler, who is VP of Product for Manduka tells me, “We will always be a yoga and health and wellness brand, but we will be making some big shifts”.
Sessler came on board in 2013. As a devoted yogi herself, she was drawn to working with the Manduka team because of its core values. “I really wanted to join a company that believed in sustainability and transparency in a role that both enticed me and challenged me”, states Sessler. This February will mark the company’s first anniversary of their first big shift—a successful launch into soft goods with their men’s and women’s apparel lines that Sessler spearheaded.
When asked what made the company jump into apparel in what some might say is a highly congested space Sessler tells me, “Originally, we thought the same thing. We actually talked to other companies and contemplated if we should we plug and play with someone else or whether we should we acquire another line. In the end, we could not find a company that was like-minded. When we spoke with our ambassadors and people in our community we realized our best choice was to do it on our own”.
As far as what type of capital was needed to launch into apparel Manduka’s Chairman and CEO, Mike Soenen adds, “Due to the strength of our brand, the financial capital required was minimal. We exceeded our expectations in our first year with our collection enthusiastically received by both retailers and customers in the US as evidenced with our distribution in top yoga studios and key retailers nationwide. The line has also shown strong performance internationally. In 2017, we are expanding distribution even further”.
Sessler’s years of design experience comes across loud and clear in Manduka’s debut into apparel. Manduka has delivered a design-forward performance line for men and women using the latest in sustainable textile technology that transcends beyond the gym or studio. Sessler continues, “In the first year, you want to create the essential ingredients of both fit and styling and we have done that. It is also the time to make sure your supply chain is solid. Once the foundation is built, which we now have in place the fun can happen all the while never sacrificing on fit, style, function, and sustainability”.
What I love about the women’s line is it offers sleek designs in unique sustainable performance textiles that offer ample support and coverage that are sexy without being overtly so—especially the sports bras, something Sessler is quite versed in from prior company experience. The designs are thought through with extra attention to detail for ventilation and stretch in ideal locations that leave you supported in all of the right places without feeling exposed or constrained, and they wash incredibly well. The men’s line is equally thought out.
“Men are surprisingly modest when it comes to their apparel. They especially don’t like their sweat to show through. Our goal is to create performance products that allow you to practice and go out on your edge and beyond. We use a lot of stealth technology in both our men’s and women’s lines. You put it on and you don’t have to fuss with it and of course it is made sustainably with no chemicals so that when you wash them no chemicals are being washed into the wastewater or are on your skin”, shares Sessler.
The apparel line has definitely broadened Manduka’s customer reach beyond its existing following especially since performance/athleisure wear transcends many fitness disciplines and people wear the company’s apparel well outside of fitness activities. In a few weeks Manduka will be launching their spring collection with a big push for style and fashion with a much larger selection of key items for both men and women.
Sessler continues, “Next fall expect to see cold weather apparel and layering pieces in addition to lighter pieces for warmer climates or more intense workouts where less fabric is required. In a few weeks we will be launching a new mat that you can take to Crossfit or any other workout that will offer a wet and dry grip at a lower price point that will broaden the reach of our hard goods. What you will continue to see this year and moving forward is a broader reach in terms of how we speak about our products and how we go after our customer”.
What I find fascinating about Manduka’s trajectory of growth is that it is not about speed like so many companies these days. Timing is everything both in terms of launch and expansion. When Manduka launched, yoga was still on the fringe. But now everyone seems to be talking about its benefits. After two decades of satisfying the growing need for sustainable and durable yoga mats and accessories the company is now able to expand into other synergistic markets with the same set of core values.
It’s a good reminder that sometimes a measured approach to growth is the best recipe for long-term success.