Now that Lululemon is no longer the top (downward) dog in yogawear, shoppers can take a deep breath and make their move towards better brands who believe transparency is best used as a business practice – not in pants!
While other corporate giants may see Lulu slips as an opportunity to get into the wallets of potential customers, there’s also an opening for smaller companies to step up and prove their value by producing clothes that are made in NYC (not by third-world children) in natural organic fibers that feel great.
That is exactly what Brooklyn based Mudita Design is doing as Sara Nielsen and Rachel Harmon carve their niche of colorful, eco-friendly studio to street activewear. And some of their profits go back to charity because they are following true to the Buddhist priciple of mudita.
“It’s a founding principle for us,” says Nielsen, FIT grad and yoga teacher. “Every act that we do, we think --how is this effecting other people. How is this effecting the planet? Is this sustainable? How does this make people feel – from the person who made it, to where it was created, to who is wearing it. Can we help cultivate joy?”
Mudita is the Buddhist practice of cultivating joy through the wellbeing of others. On a retreat in Spirit Rock, Nielsen was practicing mudita when the question arose of what it would be like to start a company based on this idea that doing good for others brings good feelings to oneself. She brought the concept to Harmon, also an avid yoga practitioner and fellow FIT grad.
“At the time I was working in the (fashion) industry, and was getting burnt out. It made me rethink working for someone else in such high volume. I asked myself, how can I make my job meaningful and give back?”
So with their strong sewing skills, designer eyes and yogic mentalities, Nielsen and Harmon moved forward with their vision for Mudita Design.
“It took us a really long time to produce our product. We felt very strongly about the fabric. Our fabric is not only thick, but we wanted all natural. So it’s 90% cotton, 10% spandex. On top of that it has a really tight weave, and it has this kind of hold-you-in feeling, almost like spanx. So it smoothes you out, holds you in, and makes you feel good,” Harmon explained.
And it is colorful! With the activewear market mostly covered in black (particularly in NYC) the bold, bright prints on Mudita clothes stand out like a headstand sprouting up on the subway platform.
“We wanted something light and joyful that brought out the feelings we have in yoga class,” said Harmon.
This feeling that yoga brings is something both Harmon and Neilsen wished they had experienced as kids. So in line with their mission of cultivating joy, Mudita Design partnered with NY based nonprofit Yoga Foster to provide free yoga classes for inner city kids. “Our woman (customer) can feel good knowing that through her purchasing power, she is giving back to the community.”
Supporting the community is a top priority for Mudita Design. While most brands choose to export their factory work overseas, Harmon and Nielsen were adamant about staying local – not only to reduce their carbon footprint, but also to keep a close eye on the workings within their manufacturer.
“It’s pretty intense when you learn about the textile and fashion industry, and how awful it is for our planet and the factory workers, particularly women. To find our factory we went floor by floor showing our product, and talked to people. We said, hey can you guys make this? What would that be like to make it?” Nielsen said.
They went with a female-owned production facility in downtown NYC. “I’ve taken tai-chi lessons with Mabel (the owner). She’s great,” Nielsen added through a smile.
In addition to wearing the hats of designers, PR people, art directors and customers for Mudita Design, Harmon and Nielsen also act as fit models. Under most circumstances, a fit model only wears the clothes in the showroom or studio, but Harmon and Nielsen take their test drive into real life -- in the yoga studio, on the streets, and through the laundry.
“We’ve done many bend over tests in these pants – they are not see through!” promises Nielsen. Then Harmon confessed, “We have tried some really tight clothes where we’re like okay, we need to take that out.”
From the Prospect Heights headquarters, the ongoing feedback and brainstorming sessions have led to the perfect pair of pants--ones they’re most comfortable in for both practice and life.
And as many in the industry are moving away from cotton, Mudita is sticking with the antimicrobial, hypoallergenic, biodegradable natural fiber.
“Our pants are long lasting and durable. That makes them more sustainable, slow fashion. If I’m constantly buying a new shirt and then I just throw it away and get another shirt, where do they go? But if I have one pair of pants that lasts many years, they’re not going to the landfill right away,” Harmon paused for a moment before bringing it back to mudita. “Can we slow down a little bit? Take a breath. Let’s think about ourselves, and how we effect other people and the planet.”
For more information about Mudita Designs, click here.