Susan Nichols sits at her desk like any yogi would, cross-legged on the floor. That’s just the most obviously unconventional thing about her office and the business she created called yogitoes.
From its headquarters on Main Street in Santa Monica, yogitoes operates a retail storefront called the rExperience Lab and an office space in the back with about nine employees. Together with a production factory in Korea, yogitoes has become a worldwide leader in producing yoga mats, towels and other products largely out of recycled goods. This year the company won a grand prize by the Santa Monica-based Sustainable Quality Awards for its commitment to environmental and social responsibility.
Instead of rubber or polyester traditionally used in yoga mats and towels, yogitoes takes advantage of a relatively new process of converting plastic water bottles into recycled polyester fabric. To date the company has repurposed more than 1.4 million water bottles. Its yoga blocks, meanwhile, are made in part from old rice husks.
It’s all part of the sustainable mindset at yogitoes where everything from its hip downtown office to its products and the way it treats employees come with an altruistic mindset. It doesn’t hurt the company is grounded in yoga.
“The consumer is a very intelligent shopper and an emotional buyer,” Nichols says. “They want to know what they are supporting and that there’s a story behind it and a connection.”
Yogitoes began about nine years ago out of Nichols’ garage, and its products are now sold in 31 countries. Though at a slightly higher price point, yogitoes products have a reputation for lasting a long time and being created with integrity. Nichols got the idea for her first product while living in New York studying yoga and working as an artistic director at a toy company.
“That’s when I went, ‘Huh, no one was doing a yoga towel for their mat,’” Nichols says. “Regardless of your mat, you need something to absorb the sweat. That’s when I went on the journey to design the perfect yoga towel.”
She had a simple idea to attach tiny silicone nubs to the towel so it wouldn’t slide. Eventually she earned a patent on the design that’s now being developed for other applications such as a bath mat and a burping towel for newborns. Nichols credits her success to an openness and willingness to recognize opportunities like a series of almost divine moments that have come her way.
One such moment occurred at a low point in the beginning when she least expected it. Nichols struggled to get the right prototype from a factory overseas. That afternoon at a 99-cent store a man walked up to her named Doug. The two started talking and it turned out he knew a factory owner in Korea who could make the prototype. In less than 24 hours she had the design and yogitoes still uses the same factory today. Unfortunately, Doug passed away last year, but it’s to him that Nichols owes a great deal.
Manufacturing overseas has been the company’s biggest compromise to date in its quest to be a social conscious corporation. They’ve chosen Korea where conditions are in general much better than in China and other parts of Asia. Nichols travels there often so she knows the workers are treated well. Alex Ward, the company’s marketing director, says she’s proud of the choices yogitoes has made.
“As businesses get more successful it’s harder to adhere to those altruistic things because you have to make these tough decisions sometimes,” Ward says. “I’ve always been really impressed with the path we’ve taken. I really believe that’s because it’s based in yoga.”
When yogitoes first began, the process of converting water bottles into fabric just wasn’t feasible. They had always been environmentally aware of their production costs as much as possible, but it wasn’t until 2010 that the entire line was converted to recycled polyethylene. They also utilize recycled EVA foam in its blocks and recycled rubber in its mats.
“We didn’t raise our prices so we weren’t increasing the cost to the consumer,” says Sherri Akers, chief operating officer. “It was entirely because Susan felt it was the right thing to do for the planet. It was a big surcharge. Any company can do that. Most don’t.”
In addition to its sustainable practices, yogitoes donates 1 percent of its gross sales to five separate charities including one that teaches yoga to victims of the Congo and Rwanda genocides called Project Air. Nichols says it’s incredibly rewarding to create something from nothing and then be able to give back.
“You find yourself at moments doubting,” she says. “But you have to stay present and take one step at a time, recognize when things are crossing your path, pay attention and acknowledge it.”