This Chennai woman has created the first Made-In-India natural yoga mat
The global yoga market is pegged at $80 billion and yet, yogis are entirely oblivious to – if not comfortable with – the dust and germs they inhale that the most commonly-available PVC mats fail to repel.
Moreover, there aren’t too many trusted yoga brands globally, and most of them sell products at a premium – many of which are not eco-friendly. Brands such as Manduka and Jade Yoga are green, but the country was yet to see a truly natural, innovative and completely homegrown product. That is when a Chennai-based woman threw in her hat in the ring to change that with Juru Mats – that check all the boxes, and then some more.
The founder’s story
Puja Borker wasn't introduced to yoga as a child; it was only in her early twenties, when her family decided they should all take a yoga class together, that she understood its powers.
With a BA Honours in International Business Administration from UK, Puja was preparing to pursue an MBA in the US when an accident in 2003 left her father bedridden with a spinal injury, pushing Puja into action before she was even ready, at 22.
She spent close to eight years working for the family business of publishing textbooks, until the government said it would supply common textbooks to schools. Most private publishing houses took a hit, including Puja’s family-run unit. Around this time, she met Sudarshan, who she went on to marry, and the duo started up to provide a low-cost IT solution to schools to enable them to implement e-learning, including language labs.
However, struggling with time and resources, the duo could not scale and decided to close shop after three years.
A move to Bengaluru and Puja decided to seek recourse in Yoga, and later got certified as a yoga teacher, to start teaching yoga part-time. Struggling with her mat, Puja did some digging into what went into making the best yoga mats from popular yoga schools and teachers. “Apart from performance, it was the idea of keeping it all natural. It is then when I realised that the mat we have been practicing on is made of PVC - definitely not the kind of material you want to practice yoga on!” she says.
Even more interestingly, all the popular brands were from the US. Around this time, the Make-In-India wave had gained momentum and motivated her to speak to local manufacturers and brainstorm about how the mats could be made better, and here in India. She, along with her classmate from her Yoga training, Toral Walsh, decided to plug this hole.
“It wasn't easy. I didn't have the numbers. I didn't have the market. I also wanted the mat to be natural and I did not want to compromise on grip! They just had to trust me - and I was only a part-time yoga teacher,” she says.
She continued teaching part-time, while working as a consultant at a yoga studio, and an IT firm which was planning to launch a yoga app – all the while trying to get her made-in-India yoga mat ready.
Yoga’to be serious
The first sample was a mat-over, made of jute and natural rubber. It wasn't exactly thick, but was a great alternative to the slippery yoga mat made of PVC.
Juru is a portmanteau of ‘ju’te and natural ‘ru’bber, both indigenous Indian resources. “We were pleased with the mat-over's performance, and started using it in our classes. Our students started to inquire. We began selling. And that's how it all started!” she states.
The Juru travel and meditation mat is light, foldable, and reversible with two unique surfaces and is ideal as a mat-overlay or by itself as a travel mat on any soft natural surface like sand or in the garden. Juru also has five kinds of cork mats to choose from.
Not many yoga studios and yoga teachers took Puja seriously at first. “They thought we were importing from some place or that an actual yoga mat is what they really need. We started sharing more info on our page, about the harmful effects of a PVC mat, explaining how much of a difference a natural matover can make. We then started collecting customer feedback and were pleased to know that quite a few of them appreciated an all-natural made-in-India brand,” she says.
For the first one-and-a-half years, they mainly sold directly, or took orders on Facebook. Puja kept up the research, and as the announcement of International Yoga Day brought in a massive influx of requests from existing customers for props and yoga mats, she started sourcing from a few more manufacturers.
“When we launched the cork blocks, I realised that with all its benefits, a cork mat will be ideal for yoga practice. Our first cork mat ready was launched at an exclusive yoga festival.”
The cork mats have an excellent grip - no matter how much you sweat. They’re reversible – so one can practice on any side so it is as good as investing in two mats. It comes with an antimicrobial, washable surface, a self-cleaning surface - which is one of the main highlights as one does not have to worry about bacteria, allergies or infections. Unlike PVC mats, it is dust repellent, making it ideal for something like yoga - where much emphasis is given on breathing.
It is odourless, and comes with a natural earth smell and because of its antimicrobial feature, it remains odourless even after a hot yoga session.
From a product to a brand
Juru was not prepared to put in extra funds or cater to all requests (competitive shipping rates, online payments, customisation, etc). “Manning to relocate internaty business partner was also plionally, and we were not sure how we could close/transfer operations,” she recalls.
In helping Puja transition smoothly, Sudarshan took an interest in the yoga market. They decided to move back to Chennai, and register a private limited company and Juru Yoga was registered in November 2016.
“We noticed that Juru's biggest strength was its network of yogis, and understanding their need and this was made possible by reaching out to them offline and online. We first launched our e-commerce website, tied up with more like-minded retail partners and also worked on building our online presence in social media and through our blog,” she says.
One market the company has ingeniously tapped is that of spas and retreats, which often have a customer base that appreciates and understands their environmentally conscious decisions. They are currently supplying to a leading international chain of spas and resorts, and are in talks with similar clientele.
The company is also leveraging social media marketing and blogging to engage the yogi community. “We select and feature yogis who are contributing to the cause of wellness and sustainable lifestyle in their own way, and who double up as influencers,” she says.
Juru’s defining moment was being selected as one of the first 25 startups by Amazon's Launchpad Programme – they then made their products available to customers pan India through FBA which was a boost for sales. In the last 12 months, they have grown with positive month-on-month revenues. With over 4,000 users, they have clocked close to Rs 50 lakh in revenue so far, with just yoga mats and other props. “We plan to add some more wellness products and accessories this year,” she says.
“Recently we were faced with the issue of addressing differences and distinguishing some inferior quality cork yoga mats sold in the market sourced from China. We continue to overcome this because of the quality we offer and hopefully the GOI has plans to stop influx of toxic yoga products to India,” she reveals.
They even got DIPP recognition under the StartupIndia initiative.