For me, the only thing more exciting than discovering a new yoga brand is discovering one that has some insane eco credentials. Of all the fitness tribes, I think that the yogis and the surfers are the most likely to have a concern about their environments, particularly when two essential bits of kit -yoga mats and wetsuits -aren’t always very planet friendly when it comes to disposal. Suga is a brand with an amazing concept that tackles both of these issues by creating high-quality yoga mats from waste neoprene. I had to reach out to Suga’s founder, Brian Shields and chat to him about the product and the brand to share with you all.
First up -what is in a name? Does Suga have a meaning?
Suga is a portmanteau of the two worlds it straddles: Surfing and Yoga.
Can you tell us about Suga and what inspired you to start up your own business?
Working as an environmental litigation attorney (barrister), I became dismayed by the lack of regulatory progress toward a more sustainable society. The U.S. political system is quite clearly a corporatocracy rather than a democracy. In a system where companies have all the power, I felt that we could better facilitate meaningful change and lead by example by forming a socially and environmentally responsible public benefit corporation.
As a longtime surfer, I always struggled with my environmental footprint – we use petrochemical-based wetsuits for a year before they wear out and end up in a storage bin or a landfill (where they do not biodegrade). As a longtime yogi, the notion of manufacturing a yoga mat out of wetsuits seemed natural. However, converting wetsuits into a highly functional yoga mat was a challenge that took some time.
We have lots of would-be wellness entrepreneurs out there. Do you have any tips for getting started in launching your own business, and finding your feet once you do?
Start today. Don’t allow perceived impediments to hinder pursuit of your dreams. Seek guidance from mentors or partners to help navigate through the regulatory and financial headwinds and keep moving forward. Only through sustainability innovation do we have a chance at making meaningful environmental change.
You offer a lifetime replacement service for some of your yoga mats. Can you tell us about this?
We didn’t want to just recycle wetsuits and put another product into the stream of commerce; we wanted to take responsibility for our products by recycling them into themselves at the end of their useful lives. We offer a mat for life – if it wears out or tears, our customers can send it back to us and we’ll send them a brand new one on us. This cradle to cradle model cuts down on material cost, while setting an example for other companies to follow.
Neoprene needs to be treated in a different way to most other yoga mats. For any prospective buyers, could you explain how to care for your Suga mat?
Neoprene is a closed-cell foam, unlike the vast majority of mats on the market that are open-cell sponges for dirt, dust & bacteria. Although our mats are impregnated with antimicrobial magic, they still need to be rinsed off every now and then. Most importantly, they need to be hung up in the shade – UV light is not kind to neoprene (or most materials for that matter).
Here at Green+Aquamarine, we are big on sustainability and yoga. How do you keep Suga running as a sustainable venture?
We’re continuing to partner with more and more wetsuit manufacturers to source their warranty scrap wetsuits (and some of their production scrap). We’re able to scale according to demand – as we grow, more and more surfers will send us their old wetsuits for recycling. Our rather ambitious goal is to keep 95% of wetsuits from entering landfills globally by 2020.
Many of the readers here are from the UK. Will we be seeing Suga in any shows or retailers in the future?
Yes! We’re currently setting up UK & EU distribution. Once that’s in place, we’ll be increasing our presence through shows, yoga retreats, and retail outlets (e.g. yoga studios, boutiques, and surf shops).
Over to you -how has living in California influenced your perspective on the environment and on healthy living?
It’s a double-edged sword; surfing almost every day connects me to the environment but also makes me acutely aware of the problems facing our marine ecosystem. San Diego is a wonderful place to live a healthy outdoor lifestyle but we need to remain vigilant of ongoing issues related to population density (e.g. water scarcity, stormwater runoff pollution, etc.).
Who or what inspires you the most?
For Suga, people’s response to what we’re doing is humbling and very gratifying. We were recently on Oahu, Hawaii for the Wanderlust Festival. On the last day, a gentleman from Alaska with whom I had spoken earlier in the week came back to our booth just to say thank you for what we’re doing. His gratitude and sincerity really moved me.
To answer the question more broadly, I am inspired by anyone who is able to eschew societal judgment and their own self-doubt in pursuit of their dreams.
Finally, what makes you happiest?
Being present. The state of being mindfully aware of the beauty that surrounds, comprises, and permeates us. At the expense of sounding trite, for me, this often comes from the blissful flow of riding a wave.
The Suga mat is a comfortable 5mm thick, and comes in two lengths. The standard mat costs $79.99 (about £55) and the lifetime service costs $99 (about £70), putting it in the standard price range for mats marketed at keen yogis.
Thank you so much for your time Brian! The Suga mat is clearly more than just an average yoga mat. It’s a innovative, high quality product and lifetime service, and it is a promise to the environment, be you a yogi or surfer. I can’t wait to see Suga reach the UK and for similar concepts to become the core focus of more and more businesses.