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Born and raised in the Himalayan region of India that is considered the birthplace of yoga, siblings Rishi and Tapasya Bali were instilled from an early age with the importance and significance of yoga culture.
"It was always ingrained in us," says Rishi, the elder of the two.
As young adults, they each came to the United States to pursue higher education; Rishi earned his Masters degree at Columbia, while Tapasya earned her MBA at NYU. Both launched careers in finance; Rishi spent 16 years on Wall Street, working for Goldman Sachs and then at hedge funds. His sister worked for Merrill Lynch and Credit Suisse. All the while, they practiced yoga.
In 2009, on a trip back to India, Rishi was struck by the stark contrast between the yoga culture of his homeland and the interpretation of that culture he had seen in the United States. yoga businesses in the US " just didn't understand the ethos behind (yoga)....it is a particular strength of mind," he said.
Feeling uniquely positioned to do so, he began developing a business plan, drawing on his upbringing as well as his decade of experience developing new businesses at Goldman Sachs. He researched the yoga clothing market, studied analyst reports and consulted with his sister. "It was the right mesh of two worlds for us," she said.
Their goal was to elevate yogawear to a product that would honor the culture of yoga and serve as a "gym-to-life" product that a consumer could wear to yoga practice and beyond. "I think we really had the foresight four years ago to say hey, this is where the activewear market is going," Tapasya said. "The more we talked about it, the more convinced we became that this was an idea that really had legs."
In 2010, Rishi left finance to pursue the venture full time, while Tapasya remained in her role at Creduit Suisse as they fine-tuned their business plan. They named their company YOGASMOGA, a nod to their Indian culture where it is customary to rhyme similar things. The pair spent 4 years researching fabrics and manufacturers, developing cutting-edge technology that would make their product more durable than the nylon and polyester products already on the market. Developing a new fabric from scratch costs millions, and the siblings self-funded their project initially. (Two subsequent rounds of fundraising were oversubscribed.)
Headquartered in New York City, YOGASMOGA manufactures all its clothes domestically, producing a higher-quality product and allowing Rishi and Tapasya greater control over every part of the supply chain. They buy yarn in the U.S. and develop it into proprietary fabrics in their California labs. The company's manufacturing and fulfillment facilites are in Massachusetts. Though producing the clothes entirely in the U.S. is the more expensive way to do it, Rishi said. "We don't make a average product and spend millions of dollars marketing it, we spend the money on the product. It's investing in the right places." In keeping with the company's core values, they do not allow any retouching of photos on their website or promotional material.
In February 2013, YOGASMOGA launched its first yogawear collection online, which sold out in 3 weeks.
"Right away we knew that we had something special," Rishi said. "People were really connecting with us, and that's when retail became a real priority." The first brick and mortar store opened in Greenwich, Connecticut in September 2014 and a second location followed in Brentwood, California two months later. Both retail locations will be expanded to add space for yoga practice and socializing. The company plans to open 10 more stores this year and 100 stores by 2018. Men's and women's yoga clothes range in price from $49 to $165.
Managing a company on two coasts often keeps the siblings apart. "It's very rare for both of us to be in a same room or in the same city," said Rishi, who holds the CEO title. But it's possible, said his sister & COO, because "we operate on the same wavelength. Rishi might be on the East Coast and I might be on the West Coast, but if somebody picks up the phone and asks me a question, invariably, 99.9 percent of the times I will have the same answer that he has."
Though neither of them plan to go back to their old finance jobs, the siblings do say their ultimate goal is to return to Wall Street—to take YOGASMOGA public and share the ancient ethos of yoga with the world.
"People saw the value of yoga a few thousand years ago," Rishi said. "And it's still relevant today."