Why is it that major yoga brands seem to be predominantly owned by men? Kat Farrants thinks about the challenges and advantages of women owned yoga businesses
Women owned yoga businesses
The world of yoga is a funny old world. Most of the people practicing yoga these days (here in the west) are women. Most of the tiny yoga businesses are started by women. There are plenty of smaller, community studios run by women. Many yoga teachers are women. Women routinely start up yoga businesses, perhaps selling oils, beads, yoga apparel or run yoga retreats. Yet even in the yoga world, things appear to mirror the rest of society. Many of the most prominent yoga brands are owned by or run by men. I see examples of this everywhere. Those big, corporate yoga brands with idealised film locations and idealised bodies. They tend to be owned by men. Sometimes, there are husband and wife teams. The man does the ‘business’ and the woman does ‘yoga’. So where are the women owned businesses?
A mirror for society
What is it about the yoga business which replicates the rest of society? Is it that men have all the ambition and get the big business? And what about all the yoga businesses started up by women? What is stopping them from being financially successful and more visible? How is it that men are so damned ambitious and women content to run kitchen-table businesses?
Movement for Modern Life’s story
And where do I, founder of Movement for Modern Life, fit into the whole picture?
Well, I guess that starting MFML as a woman was natural. As a yoga-lover and lifelong practitioner, I wanted to share the amazingly transformative practices that have so changed by life. As I do believe that around 70% of yoga practitioners are women, it was I suppose very natural, and perhaps a 70% chance, that I’d be a woman who wanted to set up my own yoga business.
Work Life Balance
But I suppose that, in the trajectory, many women-led businesses either haven’t been around very long, or haven’t grown, well, we’re 8 years on and here we are. I started MFML on my own. Which is very unusual. And when I was, at first, seeking investment, that was an immediate ‘no’. Businesses founded by women and sole-founder businesses have a way higher failure rate.
Now what are the reasons? Maybe women value their lives (I mean work/life balance) more than the success of their business. Maybe they have more family and caring commitments (for sure).
For me, it certainly helped me that I was single when I started MFML (and for 7 years into running it, put so many hours in, ensured that I stayed single too). It also helped me that I’d been through a great deal of heartbreak and physical challenges, so that I was actively looking for, I suppose we could call it, a distraction from life. There is, arguably, no bigger distraction from the real deal of being a living, human body than running a business. Running a business is all-consuming, stressful 24/7 (hmmmmm, the antithesis of yoga). Wonderful if you’re looking for a distraction or a ‘numbing’ from the human condition!
Advantages to running a larger business
Although running a larger business is certainly a challenge, I think that there also are some advantages:
Co-operation and Community
I think that women value cooperation above competition. Whereas some ‘yoga’ businesses may say it, they really don’t mean it. This also comes down to valuing being part of a community. Women put community and values above ambition. As a woman, we know how hard it can be. We make the effort to value other women’s voices and other less represented groups, because we know how it feels to be undervalued and unheard.
Not idealising beauty norms
I never sell on the basis of ‘othering’ women, or idealising some beauty norm. So many products have been pedalled on the basis of some idealised version of beauty. Women have been told right from birth, that they have to try to look better. That they are intrinsically not good enough, that we have to buy the right product ‘because we’re worth it’. The subtext being that if we don’t, we’re not worth it, and if we want to be worthy in society, we’ll buy things to make us that way. This is true of many well known brands.
Yoga tells us that we’re perfect as we are. That we don’t need to buy anything. So it’s hard to peddle yoga goods if we’re already perfect, if we don’t need a snazzy mat, outfit or whatever. If all we need is our breath, well, that’s not much of a sales technique. When women value other women, as they are, already perfect, well, the ambition to buy things disappears.
Organic, self-sufficient and sustainable
I am serious about being organic, self-sufficient and sustainable. Many companies say that they are. But they have massive cash injections, are owned by venture capitalists or equity funds. And it’s not really ‘their people’ who move their businesses forward. Is it only women who value sustainability? Absolutely not! But this one really does. And sustainability always trumps ambition. Does that make us forever small fry? Well, we shall see!!
There are, however, plenty of women running amazing and beautiful community-led and cooperation based businesses. With plenty of panache. It’s not easy. So I’d love to give a big shout-out to Women-Run and owned yoga businesses.
- Wellbeing Escapes – owned and run by the very amazing and irrepressible Stella Photi
- Destination Yoga – owned and run for decades now, by wonderful Kathryn
- Asquith Clothing, run for decades by amazing Alice Asquith
- Yogamatters – although founded by a man and with male shareholders, the MD is a rather fabulous woman of colour, Twanna.
- Yoga Clicks – Run by Lucy Edge, a company who values and promotes other women-run yoga businesses
You can hear more of Kat’s story in this interview on the Champion of Change podcast.
About Kat Farrants:
Movement for Modern Life’s fabulous founder Kat Farrants lives her yoga and her own yoga practice informs how she develops MFML which is proudly women-owned. This post was written by Kat and is inspired by her exploration into how she can take the small steps to move into a happier, healthier and more sustainable life. Please do join her on this journey and explore with us your happiest, healthiest, most sustainable life.
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