Is the business of yoga real, or is it just milking money from its popularity?

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Updated: June 19, 2016 8:20:05 AM

GONE ARE the days when the popularity of yoga would only mean an increasing number of boutique studios and wellness centres. Today, the ancient spiritual and wellness discipline has also sprouted a lucrative ancillary market, offering a wide range of products, from yoga apparel and cafés to snack bars and wearable devices.

yoga dayNot just yoga-wear, businesses are sniffing out opportunity in the wearables category too. In May, Tata Group announced the launch of a ‘yoga wearable’. (PTI)

GONE ARE the days when the popularity of yoga would only mean an increasing number of boutique studios and wellness centres. Today, the ancient spiritual and wellness discipline has also sprouted a lucrative ancillary market, offering a wide range of products, from yoga apparel and cafés to snack bars and wearable devices.

But do these ventures actually mean business or are they just another fleeting trend? Let’s look at some figures first. The global market for yoga is growing at a rapid pace. Some reports peg it at about $80 billion, with the US market alone estimated at $26 billion in 2014. Some 20.4 million Americans reportedly practised yoga in 2014, a significant increase from the 15.8 million practitioners in 2008. In India, about 14.3 million people practised yoga in 2013, up from 6.3 million in 2001, as per Assocham. The business of yoga is growing fast too. In 2014, Americans spent over $11 billion a year on yoga classes and gear—pants, mats, bags, blocks, etc—up 88% from 2008, as per reports. India, however, has only recently seen a massive increase in the number of businesses offering yoga-based products.

But are these products really ‘different’ or are they just trying to milk money out of an already popular discipline that has found more and more takers over the years? Bengaluru-based Malika Baruah wouldn’t like to think so. The founder of Proyog, a global yoga-wear start-up, fell in love with the discipline way back in 2001, while working as the head of design at homegrown clothing retailer Globus, and has been practising it ever since. The 44-year-old entrepreneur was, however, dissatisfied with the fact that all the clothing choices available in the market—a hotchpotch of tights, sweatpants, sportswear, tracksuits, T-shirts and tops—used synthetic fibres. “It’s jarring to see a discipline like yoga being practised by people wearing plastic. It just doesn’t resonate… yoga is all about gentle, breathable clothes that allow the body to move,” she says. Baruah interviewed many yogis (people proficient in yoga) from across the world, who said natural materials were an obvious choice, but many still practised the discipline wearing synthetic materials. This inspired her to create a line for serious yogis who wanted clothes that resonate with the core philosophy of yoga. She co-founded Proyog, which manufactures clothes made of breathable materials like organic cotton, last year on June 21, the first International Yoga Day. The clothes, priced R499 onwards, sell through online and offline retail stores across India.

As of today, Proyog has sold garments in over 300 cities in India and across 20 countries. A third of its online sales have been generated from repeat buyers, most of whom have purchased another product within just a month of their first purchase, says Baruah.

Comfort zone

Like Proyog, premium yoga-wear brand Urban Yoga, too, was born out of a need to fill the gap existing in the niche space. “In a land where yoga has been practised for over 5,000 years, specific yoga apparel just didn’t exist. With the market increasing rapidly every year, this need became more and more apparent. Thus, we came out with Urban Yoga in 2006,” says Dattatray S Naiknavare, chief brand manager, Urban Yoga. Indus League, the makers of Urban Yoga, is a division of the Kishore Biyani-owned Future Group.

“Urban Yoga is aimed at providing comfortable, yet fashionable wear to new-age yogis. It matches the latest trends with fashionable designs and innovation, and adds a touch of youthfulness,” says Naiknavare. Currently, Urban Yoga products are available at four exclusive brand stores in Bengaluru, Mumbai, Pune and Goa, and at Future Group’s lifestyle store chain Central across India. It also has an online presence at Amazon, says Naiknavare. “The brand is growing at 20-30% year-on-year. With our expansion plans through various channels along with a more varied product range, our aim is to cross R100 crore (in revenue) in the next three years,” he adds.

Kshama Menon, co-founder of another yoga-wear brand, Forever Yoga, sees huge potential in yoga clothing, especially as comfort wear. “It will get bigger and bigger. And initiatives such as the International Yoga Day will only open up more avenues and demographics for yoga clothing,” says the Bengaluru-based yoga practitioner-turned-entrepreneur, adding, “Comfort yoga clothing has the advantage of tapping into the plus-size market, which has been ignored by many. It’s a huge segment, which needs to be catered to. In fact, the plus-size women-wear segment in India is worth R11,000 crore, while in the US, it is $18 billion.”

Even the government-run Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) has developed a ‘yoga kit’ designed by the National Institute of Design (NID). The kit includes clothes for men and women, a khadi mat and a khadi napkin. The items have been stitched by people in flood-affected areas of Jammu & Kashmir. As per KVIC chairman VK Saxena, a discount of 30% would be offered on the kits. After incorporating the discount, the kit for men will cost R1,500, while that for women will be priced at R1,350.

Not just yoga-wear, businesses are sniffing out opportunity in the wearables category too. In May, Tata Group announced the launch of a ‘yoga wearable’. The wristband, which is yet to be named, can track breathing patterns, alertness and key metrics of users while they are performing yoga, providing them a complete overview of their fitness. “We are going back to basics with our yoga wearable. (With this band) users can curb many lifestyle diseases at their very onset. We have the technology to develop different kinds of wearables and we want to bring ‘Made in India’ products into the market,” a senior Tata Group official had said after the announcement.

Food for thought

One of the positive fallouts of the business of yoga is that it has become more accessible and relatable to people today, feels Anindita Sampath of Bengaluru-based Yoga Health Foods, which makes crunchy and wholesome on-the-go energy Yoga Bars with natural ingredients. “Suhasini (her younger sister and the co-founder) and I have practised yoga for several years now and that influenced us while setting up the company and in the way we approached product development. We have found people adopting our product in different ways—mothers giving it to their children, people associated with sports such as running, cycling and climbing, opting for it, etc. For many people with busy schedules, it has become a staple snack,” says Sampath, a BITS-Pilani and IIM-Kolkata, alumna.

Launched in August 2014, Yoga Health Foods, which has its own manufacturing facility in Bengaluru, has already received the support of several retailers like Godrej Nature’s Basket, Foodhall, Big Bazaar, Hypercity, etc, says Sampath. In addition, it also supplies to a number of yoga studios and ashrams across the country. The bars, priced at R300 for a pack of 10 (38 gm each), are also available online at BigBasket and Amazon.

Yoga Bars uses ingredients such as oats, dates, cocoa, almonds, cashews, amaranth, flax seeds, chia seeds and honey, among other dried fruits, nuts and seeds. “Nothing chemical or artificial goes into our bars. When it comes to sourcing, we source the best-quality ingredients, which often leads us to source directly from farmers. Also, wherever possible, we source locally. As a result, our sourcing is pretty widespread—dates come directly from Iran or Iraq, while ingredients like amaranth are sourced from Himachal Pradesh,” explains Sampath, a former Ernst & Young staffer.

Like Yoga Health Foods, New Delhi-based Yoga Cafe, too, is promoting healthy food, but with a twist. The delivery kitchen started as a healthy food café and yoga studio, but is focusing only on the food bit for now. “I thought we should establish ourselves a bit more first,” says co-owner Sheetal Madan, who worked with a media organisation for several years before starting Yoga Cafe along with her sister Mona Madan in 2013.

Yoga Cafe prepares a different menu everyday. Its ‘meal in a box’ has an appetiser, salad and dessert with vegetarian and non-vegetarian options. It also has Paleo and oil-free meals, which cost a little over R300. “Yoga is a way of life that encapsulates all aspects of our being. Our kitchen serves fresh, healthy, gluten-free and dairy-free meals for the health-conscious. The menu is sent to customers on our mailing list every Sunday. So you can either order it as a one-off thing or as a daily tiffin service,” says 40-year-old Madan.

Clearly, yoga is the way to go.

It figures

$80 billion: The global market for yoga

20.4 million:The number of Americans who practised yoga in 2014, a significant increase from the 15.8 million practitioners in 2008

14.3 million: The number of Indians who practised yoga in 2013, up from million in 2001

It’s jarring to see a discipline like yoga being practised by people wearing plastic. It just doesn’t resonate… yoga is all about gentle, breathable clothes that allow the body to move. As of today, Proyog has sold garments in over 300 cities in India and across 20 countries. A third of our online sales have been generated from repeat buyers

Malika Baruah founder, Proyog, a yoga-wear start-up

Yoga is a way of life that encapsulates all aspects of our being. Our kitchen serves fresh, healthy, gluten-free and dairy-free meals for the health-conscious. The menu is sent to customers on our mailing list every Sunday

Sheetal Madan, co-owner, Yoga Cafe, a food delivery service

Nothing chemical or artificial goes into our bars. When it comes to sourcing, we source the best-quality ingredients, which often leads us to source directly from farmers. As a result, our sourcing is pretty widespread—dates come directly from Iran or Iraq, while ingredients like amaranth are sourced from Himachal Pradesh

Anindita Sampath, co-founder, Yoga Health Foods, which makes Yoga Bars withnatural ingredients

 

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