As yoga continues to explode in popularity across the globe, the ancient Indian practice has become big business, with today’s yogis embracing increasingly fashionable and higher performing outfits to channel their inner Om.
When Michelle Lei, a graduate of the IMBA program at Sauder’s Robert H. Lee Graduate School, and her fashion designer sister Judy took up yoga five years ago, they became obsessed. Not only did they make the practice part of their daily life, but they wanted to start a business creating yoga wear.
With Michelle’s six-year background as a sourcing manufacturing manager for Nike Pacific Rim and Judy’s artistic flare, they were well-equipped to set up Light Activewear in Vancouver, designing and selling spandex garments to over 60 fitness centres and yoga studios across Canada and the U.S.
But when they decided to establish a competitive edge by introducing a sustainable product line made of recycled polyester products, the sisters hit a snag.
“The cost of sustainable raw materials is much higher compared to regular materials, which pushes up manufacturing prices,” says Michelle. “When we showed our current retailers samples of our sustainable line “We Care”, they declined on the grounds that they were too expensive, fearing that they wouldn’t get a fast enough turnaround from their customers.”
Undaunted, Michelle brainstormed for a solution. “During my IMBA studies in Shanghai, I gained an invaluable overall knowledge of business management,” she recalls. “Even though I’d worked in several countries across Asia with Nike, and had experience in sourcing and manufacturing, it was Sauder that encouraged me to step back, look at problems from different angles and come up with creative solutions.”
Her research led her to the international crowd-funding website, Indiegogo which allows entrepreneurs to raise money for their ventures.
Cutting out the retail middle man, Michelle and her sister went straight to consumers. They created an Indiegogo campaign for their We Care line, asking people to pay for advanced orders of the sustainable yoga outfits. “In April 2013, we set a fixed goal of $10,000. The idea was that if we didn’t reach it within two months, we would give everyone their money back,” she explains.
The Lei sisters contacted everyone they knew to help fund their campaign. “We sent thousands of customized emails, as well as phone calls and text messages to persuade people to buy our products,” says Michelle. “We also added constant updates to our Indiegogo campaign page, in the form of product photos and ‘behind-the-scenes’ stories.”
In a show of support, their close friends took it upon themselves to promote the We Care line, pulling in even more customers from different markets.
Within their time limit, the Lei sisters exceeded their crowd-fund goal by 120 per cent and raised $12,125. All three of their proposed garments for We Care are going into production and will be distributed to the funders.
Once they have built up a sufficiently large network, the sisters plan to target Asia as their next big market. But, as Michelle admits, “This time we won’t be put off by the status quo. Our experience with crowd-funding has definitely taught me to innovate to get ahead.”