In 1997, the Internet was just getting started (less than 2% of the world’s population were users), the first social media platform was launched (but, let's be honest, no one knew what to do with it) and Amazon was only 4 years old, primarily selling books and DVDs.
20 years later, all of those things are very alive and well...and so is Manduka’s signature yoga mat, the Black Mat PRO. In 1997, the yoga landscape was a very different place, where 60’s-era refugees and martial arts students gathered in small studios to practice on makeshift mats often made of cut-up pieces of carpet underlayment (true story).
“The first yoga mats were, at best, better than nothing,” laughs architect, yoga teacher and Manduka founder Peter Sterios. “They had no technical qualities to them whatsoever.”
A self-professed nerdy product designer with a yoga background (and admittedly great timing) decided to try his luck at crafting a better yoga mat, one that prioritized performance, comfort and durability...so durable that you’d never need to throw it away.
“When I was deciding whether or not to start the company, I chatted with a few business people about my concept,” Peter recalls. “Every single one of them said ‘It doesn’t wear out? That’s terrible. You’ll never have return customers!’ I realized it was a bit of gamble but one I wanted to take.”
So he invested $25,000 (never knowing he wouldn’t take a salary for the next eight years) and created the mat of his dreams, with modest business goals of simply sharing the mat with friends and family throughout the west coast.
But the yoga community’s reaction was beyond unexpected. Word of mouth spread quickly and Peter, without a sales department or any semblance of a business infrastructure, was personally taking orders over the phone and internet.
“The overall reaction was completely overwhelming,” says Peter. “Manduka has always been a company with an enthusiastic audience eager to provide great product feedback. This was just the beginning.”
The idea that the Black Mat PRO was the only yoga mat you’d ever need for LIFE was unprecedented, and positioned Manduka as one of the outdoor industry’s earliest leaders in sustainability, “way before it was fashionable.”
“There’s a social and financial responsibility associated with building products that last,” he says. “And if you invest in quality, the environment will always benefit. Manduka has always been committed to making ethical decisions when it comes to designing and manufacturing quality products...We don’t just look at the bottom line.”
It’s an ethos that has served the company well for the past 20 years, a bedrock on which Manduka has endured the rise, fall and renaissance of the practice.
“Yoga’s trajectory is so interesting,” Peter muses. “The duration of this current yoga bubble has absolutely surprised me but I think what fuels that popularity is one thing: Community, and the connection of people with themselves and each other. Offering the best products and teaching people how to use them is a reward that goes way beyond anything else for me. And that’s what’s sustainable for us for the next 20 years.”