In our third Q & A in honor of Fashion Revolution Week 2017, we spoke with Natalie Oldroyd, the owner of the Carefree, Arizona based Yoga Democracy. Yoga Democracy aims to fill a gap in the athleticwear industry by providing sustainably made yoga pants to customers.
UR: Tell our readers about your business and what you do.
NO: It’s based in Arizona, just outside of Cave Creek, in Carefree; that’s where our workshop is. We manufacture sustainable yogawear or athletic clothing and mainly leggings are our main product. Everything that we sell on the website, we manufacture in house. We set a goal of 95 percent of our fabric containing at least 60 percent recycled fibers to reduce the environmental impact of our garments. We also use a zero water dyeing process for most of our products including our artwork leggings, which is our main product line right now.
UR: Tell us the story of how Yoga Democracy started.
NO: It came from my frustration with a lack of alternatives for ethically made and environmentally friendlier athleticwear. I was doing a lot of Bikram (which is a type of yoga) at the time, and it seemed very strange to be buying from companies that make things in countries where standards are not typically great in terms of labor laws and also in terms of textile production and manufacturing on the environmental side of things. There is a human rights element and then there is also the environmental element. And then to charge an extraordinary amount of money for these garments and then to market it to people who are doing things like yoga, it didn’t jive. There is kind of a disconnect in yoga and the ‘do no harm’ philosophy behind it and the kind of clothing that was being sold to people practicing yoga.
UR: What is the meaning behind the name Yoga Democracy?
NO: The idea was always to focus on direct to the customer. Costs to produce in the U.S. are significantly higher than they are to produce in Vietnam, China, Pakistan, India or Mexico. In order for the company to be sustainable and to grow, I wanted to focus on direct-to-customer to show our website was going to be the primary way of delivering it. If our business model was primarily wholesale, we’d have to increase our prices and then that kind of puts off the middle income customer. It’s a hard sell to convince somebody to spend triple digits plus on a pair of leggings. The idea was to try to be affordable and an affordable alternative —not cheap, we can never do cheap, we can’t—but to be affordable and obtainable for, say, a middle class customer. So that’s where the democracy side of it came from. And also kind of from [where] we’ll do prints and come up with some crazy ideas and put it up on the website and if people don’t like it, we just don’t make that thing. We start small and then respond to the customer. We do some experiemental things, but if they respond well, than we make more. And so there is a very close connection with the customer and responding very quickly to what they want.
UR: Yoga Democracy produces products from 95 percent recycled fibers, aims to minimize water use and waste in it’s garment production, and products are locally made in the Carefree. workshop. How did these ethical production and business decisions come about when you were deciding to start the company?
NO: It kind of evolved. The intention always from the very beginning since day one was I decided to create a company that relied almost exclusively on either recycled fibers or sustainably produced textiles. That was the beginning, that was always from day one, a part of the company. The in-house production kind of evolved, so we were always making things in the U.S. We’ve never not made our garments, like you see [when] they’re made outside of the country, but being an Arizona company and starting as a small company, it became clear that the only way to grow would be to take all of the production in-house. Because of the geography and because this idea of responding to the customer and making things in short and small quantity and then seeing how they respond, I didn’t want to get tied into minimum orders and transporting things back and forth because that also adds to the carbon footprint and trucking back and forth. Also, just the commercial reality of being an Arizona company and trying to rely on cut and sew contractors in a place like California, it’s very tricky to grow because most of these companies have minimum orders and it stymies on the design side in that you have to guess what people want, and I’ve never been very good at guessing what people want. I’d rather just come up with some crazy ideas and stick it on the website and then see how they respond and then move from there and that doesn’t work well with outsourcing things. So there are two: there’s the commercial reality and the environmental side of things. I came to the realization that in order for the company to grow, we’d have to take everything in-house and so we went through a period of purchasing sewing equipment and training and adding staff on the sewing side. The dyeing we’ve always done, so that’s zero water dyeing, from day one we were doing that. We’ve already kind of taken more elements of a production house, but it just became clear that we had to and because there’s no garment manufacturing industry in Arizona. There’s no cut and sew people down the road. We had to learn and become that ourselves and that’s what we did.
UR: Why is it important to have sustainability in the athletic wear industry?
NO: For one thing, it’s a growing segment. Though growth rates have fallen a bit, there was a fever pitch there for a while, so there’s that. Also, the sportswear industry has a large dependence on synthetics. The kind of nature of the beast is you’re going to be sweating in it, you want to stretch in it, you want to crossfit in it, you want to swim in it. Performance apparel goes through a lot of stress and there’s a lot more demand put on a pair of leggings or even just a top for sporting in a yoga class than say, just a dress or a t-shirt. So I don’t think you’re ever going to get away from synthetics in the sector, they just have functional properties that are required. So it’s a dirty kind of sector overall, even by the standards of apparel. It’s very energy intensive, it’s very wasteful, but it’s also growing and the idea of using recycled fibers reduces the energy requirements in production by about 50 percent, so it’s a huge savings. Our nylon produces half the CO2, half the energy required in production, something like six times less water, even in the spinning process, so even before it comes to us. In the original manufacturing, it requires significantly less water, so there is a real need in performance wear to figure out how to meet the customer demand for it and to come up with garments that are going to offer an alternative that’s going to be comfortable as well but still kind of push back on the high cost of the sector.
Interview originally published April 28, 2017 at https://urbaniterunway.com/
February 23, 2017
Yoga Democracy is excited to announce that we have joined the 1% For The Planet movement which means that one percent of our proceeds go to bettering our world. Our membership is one more step towards the commitment we made from day one to support work in the areas of sustainability and environmental conservation. We will continue to support the work of Southwest Animal Wildlife in Scottsdale, Arizona with the endangered Mexican Gray Wolf and earlier this year donated a portion of our holiday sales to the Sierra Club.
1% for the Planet is a nonprofit organization that connects dollars with doers by linking businesses that contribute at least one percent of annual sales with high-impact environmental nonprofits. 1% For The Planet, a third-party verifier, ensures the business does as promised and the funds are truly used for environmental causes.
More than 1200 member companies in 48 countries give back to the environment through more than 3300 nonprofit partners.
Started in 2002 by Yvon Chouinard, founder of
To learn more about the movement and find other members who are giving back to the Earth visit the 1% For The Planet website.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 2, 2016
Sportswear to Clean Up the World’s Oceans
From plastic bottles to fishing nets, fabric made from ocean waste
Cave Creek, Arizona: Yoga Democracy has been committed to creating a line of yoga wear exclusively from recycled fibers from the beginning. Now, they’ve added recycled nylon made from fishing nets to their product line up which includes leggings, sports tops and shorts, making them the first company in the US to introduce this “Eco Tech Fabric” into the yoga wear space.
Ocean litter is a major ecological problem. While the exact figure is hard pin down, one report jointly issued by the Food and Agriculture Organization and the UN Environment Program (UNEP), estimated that 640,000 tons of abandoned nets are spread across the world’s oceans, representing 10% of ocean trash. By finding an alternative use for abandoned fishing nets; putting them to use to make high quality fabric, a financial incentive is created for industry to change how it disposes of materials at the end of their industrial life. It also gives consumers a sustainable alternative to standard nylon which is one of the most energy intensive fabrics to produce.
While the use of recycled fibers is not new to the sportwear industry, most notably adaptation of recycled polyester made from recycled plastic bottles, nylon has received considerably less attention. The fashion industry’s take-up has been slow reflecting the high costs for sustainable nylon alternatives and technological challenges in converting material back into nylon 6 yarn for use in textiles.
YogaDemocracy.com with its direct to the consumer retail model and in-house sewing production is making sustainable techno fabrics accessible to the average consumer.
US consumers consumed around $97 billion of athleisure apparel in 2015. A switch by consumers to recycled synthetic fibers would have a major impact on the industry’s environmental footprint. For every 10,000 tons of regenerated material 70,000 barrels of oil are conserved.
Yoga Democracy uses two different types of recycled nylon, both made with Econyl® yarn from recycled material and produced by Italy based Aquafil Group. The company is committed to making recycled nylon a core part of its line up alongside recycled polyester made from recycled plastic bottles, which makes up the bulk of the fabric it uses in production. All its recycled polyester is hand-dyed using a zero-water, low energy process called sublimation at the Yoga Democracy workshop in Cave Creek, Arizona.
About Yoga Democracy: Yoga Democracy is a direct to the consumer manufacturer of women’s yoga apparel. It committed from the outset to build an entire brand around the principle of recycled and eco-friendly fabrics. 95% of all fabric it uses is made from recycled fibers. Yoga Democracy is almost entirely vertically integrated from design to dyeing to sewing of its garments. The company retails direct from its web site www.yogademocracy.com
For more information on the topics discussed in this press release please see:
Growth of the athleisure market in the United States
More information about Econyl® yarn
Ghost Nets and reclaiming initiatives
Yoga Democracy’s sustainability commitment
M943. That’s his official name. The one designated to him at birth by lineage and the alpha numeric coding system that designates a unique number to each Mexican Gray Wolf. Himuti is the name by which he was known affectionately at The Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center in Scottsdale, Arizona where he lived for 8 of his 11 years of life. Himuti (He-moo-tea) means “proud of one’s self” in the Native American Hopi language. Maybe it was his deep golden eyes or his quiet self-confidence that earned him the name Himuti as a pup. For us at Yoga Democracy, having decided that we wanted to become involved with the Center, all we needed was a wolf-one of their wolves. The design for Lobo needed to be personal to the Center. After all, we wanted to raise money for them, for the costs of housing their Mexican Gray Wolves including Himuti and for caring for the rest of their 300 animals.
The Center has recently faced serious challenges. A lawsuit brought by a disgruntled neighbor has pushed the non-profit to the brink of extinction itself, ironic given the tireless work it has carried out on behalf of the Mexican Gray Wolf, of which fewer than 100 continue to exist in the wild. The Center provides sanctuary for 16 of these beautiful animals without the benefit of any state or federal funding. It’s wolf housing program is vital to re-establishing the species in the wild. It is reliant on donations and income earned from educational tours. Those same education tours which it has been forced to scale back as it defends itself against the lawsuit.
As the owner of the company I was sent a wolf line up by Southwest. How could I not choose Himuti? No more photogenic a wolf was I likely to find. I mean, those eyes…Other than his good looks, I had no particular reason to have chosen him. Little did I know however, how fascinating a back story he actually had.
He was in fact the great grandson of Don Diego (M2) the last wild caught Mexican Gray Wolf to be taken into captivity as part of Recovery program that followed the species addition to the Endangered Species List in 1976. Wolves are not an easy sell in the New Mexico and Arizona territory that is their traditional range. State v federal politics, ranchers, human encroachment and general misunderstanding of the species have slowed the recovery program notably when it comes to releasing pups and captive born wolves into the designated recovery area. In many ways therefore Himuti is representative of where the species stands today; cared for with the support of centers like Southwest but in limbo as bureaucracy and public fears collude to block them from returning home. Three generations of wolves, raised and housed at centers like Southwest. As of 2016, wolves housed as part of the wolf recovery program outnumber wild wolves by almost 3:1.
For a wolf family is everything. Highly intelligent animals, they mate for life and display mourning behavior when a member of their pack and in particular their mate passes away. Himuti’s parents Picaron and Tanamara were a particularly poignant example. Both born in captivity and designated M520 and F547 respectively they formed an exceptionally close bond.
“Tanamara was eventually paired with Picaron, her true lifelong companion, whose deep, baritone howl stood out from the moment he arrived. Their chemistry was instant, and over their years together, the couple substantially contributed to the survival of their species, delivering three litters of pups. In 2009, Tanamara passed away. When she died, Picaron howled for so long and so often that he permanently damaged his vocal cords. His life, and his magnificent howl, were never the same without her.”
When I picked that beautiful face out of my wolf line-up, I didn’t know Himuti had been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer in 2015. We began working on Lobo in late March, sadly Himuti passed away peacefully at Southwest on April 4th this year at the age of 11.
During his lifetime, Himuti contributed to our knowledge of the Mexican Gray and has been an ambassador for his species, while his parents and their beautiful love story inspires and educates all who hear it. I cannot think of a more suitable send-off than to use his image for Lobo, to raise funds for the wonderful work carried on by Southwest and awareness for the plight of his wolf brothers and sisters. We think Himuti would have approved.
“Proud of one’s self”
We think he has every right to be.
For more information on Southwest’s Mission and Programs check out
For more information on Himuti and his story check out
For more information on the challenges Southwest has been facing this year check out