CorkYogis: Lara Sengupta

The female founder talks about her eco-friendly yoga mat that helps charities empower women by rescuing them from the sex trade

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Name: Lara Sengupta
Company name: CorkYogis
Location: Greater London
Date launched: 01/03/2016
No. of employees: 3

Tell us what your business does:

CorkYogis combines eco-friendly yoga products in the West and empowering women in the East. We specialise in cork yoga mats. Cork is amazing because it has the best grip that increases when wet. The mats are also self-cleaning so they don’t absorb any nasty smells or bacteria.

We also work with an amazing charity in Kolkata, India that rescues young girls and women from sex slavery and teaches them skills to seek alternative employment.

Every mat we sell = One woman learns a life-changing skill

Every yoga mat bag we sell = One week’s wages for our women

Where did the idea for your business come from?

I have been in love with yoga since I was 19 and have always struggled with finding a great quality mat that has great grip in any condition. All mats I have used get slippery and dangerous the moment you start sweating.

I heard of paddle boarders using a cork surface because the grip uniquely increases when wet, so this sparked the creation of our cork yoga mat!

Combining the idea with the charity was also super easy! My family are from Kolkata and when my Nan passed away, we were out there paying our respects and looking to donate some of my Nan’s saris to people that may need them.

This is when we discovered Destiny Reflection. They rescue girls and women from sex slavery in the red light district and teach them skills such as crafts and clothes making, literacy and numeracy. They use donated saris to make bags and clothes to sell. From this meeting we created CorkYogis!

How did you know there was a market for it?
We knew there was a market for our product because yoga is becoming increasingly popular in the UK because of its amazing mental and physical health benefits. After doing some market research we found that people were very interested in a new product that combined amazing grip, eco-friendliness and cleanliness.

What were you doing before starting up?

I actually still have a day job which I love. I work for an environmental charity so my job actually helps CorkYogis blossom as I get inspired by the projects I do at work and learn how to operate a successful charitable company.

Have you always wanted to run your own business?

I have always wanted to run my own business but it had to be something I was completely inspired by.

I am completely in love with our mission and our products so the running of the business comes as a byproduct really.

How did you raise the money?

We have got a loan from the Virgin Startup Company actually. I started the business initially with my own savings but the loan definitely helped. They also provide business mentoring so I’m sure that will be invaluable.

Describe your business model and how you make money:

I guess we based our business model on other successful One for One companies; the most obvious one being TOMS shoes.

I absolutely love their business model and wanted to create a similar lifestyle brand that focuses more towards women, and targeting issues that is close to my heart; the treatment of women in India.

We make our money by selling high quality yoga mats and allow the consumer to be directly involved with where their money goes by allowing them to choose the project that receives their donation.

What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?

Our main challenges were starting up in the first place, I am the only founder so it can be difficult putting all the pieces together by yourself and believing in it enough to get the business up and running.

Funding is also always a problem at the beginning stages of a business and we may have to look for investors in the future.

What was your first big breakthrough?

Our biggest breakthrough so far was a phone call I received a few weeks ago actually. I had applied for a stall at the Green Man festival to sell yoga mats in the summer, and instead one of the organisers called me and said how much they loved our products and they would like us to supply the festival with yoga mats.

We are still discussing the logistics but it was pretty inspiring for a huge festival like Green Man to be interested in us.

What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?

I guess my only advice would be; find something you are passionate about. It’s important to find something that gets you out of bed in the morning and makes you want to be a better person.

Where do you want to be in five years’ time?

I would love for CorkYogis to expand and become a lifestyle brand that Yogis love and respect. Also to grow our team, hiring more smart, creative professionals.

We would love to be as big as TOMS be able to help more women by being able to fund more projects all over the world.

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