The Wool Press : Dana McKenzie From Yolana Yoga Mats
Yolana Yoga Mats are such a unique and innovative product. Tell us where the idea came from, and what made you choose wool as a material for Yolana Yoga Mats
I have always loved wool, as a natural fibre. I loved its tactility, smell and its completeness as a fibre: moisture wicking, temperature regulator, fire resistant, antibacterial, renewable and biodegradable.
When practicing yoga I had been bothered by the props available for the practice – they were smelly and sticky, unnatural and the thought that they harm the planet when made and when disposed of occupied more of my thoughts than finding the promised Zen through the yoga poses.
So, the light bulb went on one day and the thought of using wool for a yoga mat became all consuming. I researched various technologies and found that felting offers the best cushioning and stability properties for the mat structure. Added non-toxic grippy lamination in key places rendered the mat suitable and performing for modern yoga practices. And that’s how the finished product was born.
Do you feel like that wool is growing in popularity with the general public as a more ethical and environmentally friendly choice over petroleum based and synthetic products?
Consumers are more and more aware of the negative human health and environmental consequences of using non-natural materials, especially petroleum derived ones. Considering natural fibres products, as a simple and traditional solution is still shocking because their price is usually significantly higher than that of the synthetic commodity derivatives recent generations have been ‘formatted’ to expect from retailers.
However, customers now consider the total cost of ownership, to them and to the planet and chose products consciously, with the knowledge and understanding of the category. Wool is a great example of this increased awareness, or popularity gain. Customers in the yoga market exhibiting product responsibility in addition to knowledge, appreciating assurance that the product’s origin and life cycle is ethical, sustainable and authentic.
To this end, regulatory guidance on interpreting the claims companies make when stating that their finished goods are sustainable, renewable, biodegradable, compostable or environmentally friendly is critically needed, otherwise the educative aspect is an added responsibility (and marketing dollar) for each of the companies who try to be good and do good.
What challenges have you faced creating and marketing your yoga mats?
The processing technology chosen requires large MOQs (minimum order quantities) that translate into a capital-intensive business model. Tweaks or errors in the pilot phases for the production lot proved to be very expensive and lengthy. Marketing the mats is still a trial and error process – some people get ‘the mat’ right away, others will argue that it cannot ever work. I call this the ‘seedless’ watermelon syndrome – some will like it, some won’t. Word of mouth seems to be most effective channel to date.
You have just rebranded. Tell us about that.
Yolana was the original woollen mat and a Fifth Breath brand was created for it by involving another business partner. That company has exhausted its stock and will close its doors due to operating complexities with foreign shareholders. The mission of bringing New Zealand sourced woollen yoga mats to the market will be carried forth by Yolana Ltd, a 100% NZ owned company. www.yolana.co
How do you think New Zealand can improve as far as marketing wool as a more ethically and environmentally friendly choice on the global stage?
I learn with great pride and satisfaction about the end user applications created with NZ sourced wool. Icebreaker’s and Smartwool’s athletic gear, AllBirds’ walking shoes, Wilson’s tennis balls, Glerups’ indoor shoes, Lanaco’s breathing masks, WalkOn’s blisters packs, etc, in addition to traditional carpet and insulation brands - they all use NZ wool.
From time to time the farms from where the wool is sourced appear in the brands’ promotional messaging and customers get a sense of where it all begins for the product they’ve made a choice to purchase. This origins highlight: hardworking for the farming families, caring for their stock, pristine environment and love of the natural assets they are entrusted with and a comprehensive farm management approach … These are the values that NZ wool represents and connects the customers to the products it lives through.
Showcasing these links and innovations more often and on larger arenas will continue to inspire different people and to increase the awareness about wool’s benefits amongst consumers.
Do you think that the todays consumer cares more about connecting with the origin and manufacture of the products they purchase than in the past?
Unfortunately, I don’t believe that is the case for the majority of consumers. Price informs the purchase choice, above all. The ‘segments’ that conscientious consumers I noticed care about (=willing to pay a premium for), assuming product’s fitness for purpose is assured:
- total cost of personal and planet ownership (product’s durability and length of usage, end of service/life uses and disposal consequences for landfill)
- animal welfare best standards in the farms ensured through traceability
- assurance of origin (local economy champions or reputable imports)
- craftsmanship (traditional values nostalgia)
These segments don’t necessarily overlap. Valuing the story and the ingredient’s provenance are micro movements in the right direction – the product’s fit for purpose and price alignment need to remain the reasons for the purchase.
The challenge for each company that embarks on using ethical and natural ingredients into its finished goods is to sort out a smart business model finding the optimal supply chain for its operations, such that inefficiencies are not passed on as costs to the consumer or end user.