Just when we thought we had to take a pause on buying athleisure wear, Beyond Yoga came into our lives. Never had we felt fabrics so soft that we immediately wanted to toss everything we already own for working out and replace it with the goodness of all things Beyond Yoga. And better yet, the woman behind the brand is equally as fabulous and lovely. We were so inspired by Michelle Wahler, one of the Co-Founders behind the cult-favorite brand that we launched a month long #fitmamas initiative with workouts in LA, NYC, Denver and SF (check out our event page for details). Mamas in these 4 cities will have the chance to come together to uplift one another and take time for themselves which is at the core of what Beyond Yoga is all about. We loved getting to know Michelle and learn about how the company positioned itself to be a market leader, who helped propel the brand to the next level (it may involve a Kardashian) and why they never re-touch a photo to promote their brand – ever. Read on…
We’re so excited to be chatting with you – everyone at HEYMAMA is obsessed with your brand. Tell us a little bit about your background and how you became the Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Beyond Yoga.
Glad to hear it! As a company with an almost 90% female staff with lots of new moms, we are big fans of HEYMAMA over here, too! Thirteen years ago I was in New York working at Conde Nast and then launched my own T-shirt line. I was very much on my own track and then I met Jodi Guber Brufsky. She was this colorful, passionate, body positive advocate, and she shared her unique vision for Beyond Yoga with me. At the time, I thought I would just help her with designs, but a real partnership grew. Over a decade later, we have built a brand that we are both very proud of.
You have managed to create an incredible brand with a loyal following in a completely saturated marketplace. What do you think has made your company so successful?
A few elements have been key to building our brand. First, being authentic to our mission of inclusivity has been key to setting us apart in the marketplace. For us, that means never retouching the shape of women’s bodies, and showing women of all sizes and colors. Second, in building our brand we invested in marketing and branding professionals who had experience in storytelling and creating a real connection with the consumer; this is a unique skill set that gave us an edge. Lastly, to retain these consumers we are obsessive about the quality of our product and fulfilling that functional promise to our consumers.
We absolutely love that your mission is to empower and celebrate women just as they are and that you promote inclusivity by empowering people to live their best, most balanced lives. Bravo! Tell us more about how you position yourselves in this space.
In the Wellness and Active spaces, there is this sense that you will be “perfect” when you drink enough juice, or when you do the perfect warrior pose or when you fit a certain mold. Our goal is to use our platform to show women there is a way out of that cycle. We want to show healthy women of all sizes embracing life and being present. Sometimes that means we share an article on a green juice but sometimes that means we instagram a photo of a heart shaped pizza (this actually happened a couple weeks ago). We just want to underscore that we are all actually perfect already.
Who doesn’t love a good heart shaped pizza?! Can you point to a time or product that really propelled the company to take off?
Our breakthrough moment on the trend landscape was from our Iconic Silhouette Mesh Legging. We released it about 4 years ago and it took off like wildfire – it was right when the concept of Athleisure was hitting so it was a cultural moment. The next thing we knew Kendall [Jenner] and Gigi [Hadid] were wearing it and we could not keep it in stock. It allowed people to see how we were weaving fashion into our activewear. It also showed people how they could work activewear into their day-to-day outfits, not just for the gym. It was pivotal in the perception of the brand and what we offer.
You switched careers from magazines (hello, People!) to running an athletic wear company. How did you know where to start and are there any lessons you learned in publishing that you attribute to your success today?
Building Beyond Yoga has been a long road, starting from fulfilling packages ourselves and working out of Jodi’s living room, to eventually having a leadership team and a real staff. So you tackle each problem as it comes and rely on your community to help you along the way. The greatest lesson I learned is to rely on my executive team, but also to continue to educate myself so that I am well-informed and always learning.
What has been the biggest failure at the company and what did it teach you?
The biggest failure was an ill-timed puffer jacket that we launched a million years ago. We were excited to test new product categories, but it just did not land with our consumer. The learning was really to take your time and perfect your current product. Yes, you should always be evolving but take the time to do it right. Know your market, do you research and test your product – you only get one chance to launch something correctly.
Your line is made from fabrics that are responsibly sourced and made in LA. Why is this so important to you and to your business?
It was important to us that whatever we produced would not create a negative impact on the world. This goes from the person creating the product, to our staff, to the consumer. We want to create product that makes positive change. That said, we have been looking into responsibly sourcing from abroad as well – we do think that it can be done. Transparency in manufacturing allows companies to be global citizens. We feel that the country is increasingly irrelevant, it’s about the standards we hold and keeping the factories accountable.
You have created a charity initiative called Moms for Moms where you partner with various organizations to support underprivileged mothers-to-be. Tell us more about that.
As a company that is all about supporting women, we are deeply moved by mothers in need, we launched Moms for Moms to help. A portion of the proceeds of our maternity line, Beyond the Bump goes to mothers in need and currently have been donating to Midwives for Haiti. They are a wonderful organization working to reduce infant and maternal mortality rates in Haiti. That said, we believe in using our platform for as much good as possible. Being an independent company allows us to be nimble with our donations. Last month, through sales proceeds, we donated $10,000.00 to the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) to help reunite families affected by the south Texas border crisis.
That’s amazing! We also think your office sounds incredible! Outdoor space (with WIFI!), healthy snacks, free clothes and fitness classes and dogs! Why is it so important to you to offer these “perks” to your staff and how do you feel it impacts productivity and morale?
Well, the office space is definitely a work in progress but we do our best. Our staff works hard and we all spend so much of our time in the office that we try to make it a space that lifts morale. We also do monthly classes together – anything from a boxing or self defense class to Goat Yoga!
Your commitment to never retouching a woman’s body and carrying a wide range of sizing is admirable to say the least. What are your thoughts on the pressures young girls face with social media and their peers?
Really, it is the pressure that all of us as women face. We faced it in adolescence and we face it now as adults. When brands only show one size or ethnicity of women – the message it sends is that anything else is an anomaly and wrong. Social media has exacerbated things by adding a level similar to a popularity contest on top of these issues. The most effective thing that a brand can do is to normalize diversity, normalize multiple body types, this is how you fight the situation.
You have a son who is 3 and another on the way this month – congrats! How has motherhood changed your approach to your career?
Motherhood has dramatically changed every aspect of me, including my career. Your role as a woman is redefined and you become someone’s world. For me, it has driven home the need for a village. It is impossible for a working women to be available 100% at home, for herself and at the office. You must augment this change by building a village around yourself. For me, this means: leaning heavily on my amazing Executive Assistant, delegating and communicating with my Leadership team if I am going to be going offline and constantly working closely with the Nanny so that I have an ease of mind about how my son’s day is unfolding. These touchpoints helped ease the new responsibilities in my life.
What is your favorite work out and how do you find time to fit it in?
I am a huge fan of The Studio MDR. It’s a blend of Pilates, cardio training, and weight-bearing exercises. It’s all about getting strong and working your entire body. It is exactly what I need and helps me burn off some stress while I am at it. While I do not get to class as often as I would like, but every once and a while I sneak in a morning class.
What are you looking forward to most once the new baby arrives? Least?
I am having a girl in August and am so excited about having a daughter! I think that the most challenging part will be orchestration of balancing it all. It is the struggle that a lot of us working moms have, which is why it is so important for us to have a community like HEYMAMA!
Beyond Yoga’s Body Positive Manifesto
I AM BEAUTIFUL.
I am beautiful INSIDE and out.
Beauty is not defined by my shape or measurements; it’s defined by my heart, my soul, my INTENTIONS and my actions.
Perfection is not the goal.
The goal is to love everything about myself, including my imperfections. They make me who I am. And I am #AlreadyPerfect.
I don’t waste time trying to fit in.
Belonging is greater than fitting in because I define belonging, not anyone else. When I am my most authentic self, I attract people who reflect that back to me.
I AM KIND.
I promise to be KIND to others and myself.
Physically, emotionally and verbally. I speak to myself the way I would speak to a good friend.
I AM ME.
I am comfortable in my own skin and do not compare myself to others.
I am PROUD of my body. Always. I live fully in my body and in the moment.
I live my life BEYOND.
3 pearls of wisdom
My three touchstones are Patience, Presence and Persistence. Raising a toddler can be stressful and while sometimes we want to fast forward through the tantrums, every single moment is special - so I remind myself to be Patient during the stressful times.
As a working mom, I am always reminding myself to put the phone down and be Present in the moment - this one is hugely important to me.
Lastly, Persistence - this one has helped me build my business and helps me hold it all together as a mother. Sometimes I have a tough day but it’s all about rallying and knowing that you get to start fresh tomorrow!