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Nirvana and downward dog: Meet the founder bringing ‘Come As You Are’ to yoga

In a room of 1,200 as more than 150 awards are handed out – a sea of tuxedos and ball gowns – it’s extremely difficult to stand out from the crowd. And yet, when the Health & Wellbeing Entrepreneur of the Year regional winners took to the stage, one person does stand out. In a red dress, Kat Pither climbs the steps and makes her way across the stage barefoot. As she collects her award, her smile holds nothing back. While many take the opportunity to ‘look cool’, she hides none of the shock and unrivaled joy she feels in this moment. 

Leaving the Great British Entrepreneur Awards stage, she navigates the pathway to have a winner’s photo, staring down at her trophy while one hand covers her gasping mouth. When Kat arrives, there is no interest in the camera. She squeezes her award tightly, kissing it gently as she tries to hold back the tears. 

A week later, the Yogi Bare founder sits in her kitchen, explaining that it still hasn’t hit home. 

“On the way to the event, I was answering emails and putting out little fires. And then the next day you’re up again and straight on a call at 7am. There was no chance for it to sink in,” Kat begins.

“When I arrived, I was a bit overwhelmed [by the scale of the event]. And I’m not very good walking in high heels so they came off straight away. Rather embarrassingly collected my award barefoot but I guess that’s what you get if you run a yoga brand.”

‘Being an entrepreneur is like being a ballerina’

The award brings back feelings of imposter syndrome for Kat, something she has often struggled with in the five years since launching Yogi Bare. 

“I did have a massive bout afterwards,” Kat says. “Being an entrepreneur is like being a ballerina. When you go to the ballet, you’re sat in the audience watching the performance and really moved by what you see. And that’s because you’re seeing the performance in its purest, most perfect form. 

“You see the finished product but the ballerinas have broken and bloody toes. They don’t spend every day in their costumes. They’re in their tracksuits, they’re rolling their sleeves up and actually never connect with what the audience experiences.”

Kat goes on to explain: “That’s where I struggle. I grapple with being able to accept an award like this because [people see the finished product], but I know that behind the scenes is hilarious, and messy, and incredibly tough.” 

Conversations with friends after the event appears to have eased Kat’s concerns somewhat, helping her to feel like she deserves this recognition. 

“I don’t really feel like I fit the mould of what I imagine an entrepreneur would be,” she says. 

“You’ve got to change the narrative and flip the script. My friends have helped me to understand that just because I don’t have a strong affinity with numbers, or wear a suit, or feel like I have it all together, doesn’t mean I don’t deserve to stand among other entrepreneurs.”

Kat laments the perception of entrepreneurship as a key factor in the struggles she, and many others like her, face. 

“There’s this sexy idea of entrepreneurs at the moment, if you look at social media and ‘girl boss culture’ which isn’t healthy,” she suggests. “The whole concept of ‘push, push, push, harder, harder, harder, hustle, hustle, hustle’ just isn’t real. You have to sit back and ask yourself why you’re going into business. 

Kat explains that she is frequently asked if she’s ever going to start another business, a suggestion that failure to do so would mean she is a ‘real’ entrepreneur.

“I do have other ideas. But they have to have a reason to exist, with a lot of heart, soul and passion behind them. And the purpose can’t be to have a business, or to ‘be an entrepreneur’.

“The literal definition of ‘entrepreneurial’ is to be a creator, someone who creates something and now I get it. It helps me to feel like I am an entrepreneur.”

Finding yoga

Yoga has become increasingly popular worldwide in recent years, especially over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, for Kat, yoga wasn’t something to turn to during lockdown. Her discovery of the practice was by chance, and lifesaving. 

Following an incident as a child that left her with severe PTSD and anxiety, Kat endured a tough time when the conversation around mental health was a far cry from where it is now. 

“In my teenage years, I went down a dark path,” she recalls. “I ended up in rehab because of substance abuse and addiction – I was using to alleviate my anxiety because it was the only way I knew how. I couldn’t formulate the words to say it was anxiety.”

She adds: “I found yoga in rehab. It was this mad thing that I can just sit and do – I don’t need anything other than myself and it switches off all the white noise and I feel like magic.”

Despite falling in love with yoga, Kat’s journey wasn’t all plain sailing. She continued to practice at home and eventually started going to a workshop in London with friends. “I’ve never felt more out of place in my whole life. It was so unwelcoming and cliquey. It felt like I was in the film Mean Girls.

“I felt so self-conscious and I never wanted to be associated with yoga ever again. I actually slipped out the back door halfway through because I felt that unwelcome.”

Resolved by her love of the yoga she discovered, Kat was determined not to let that experience ruin the practice for her. She left her career in the scriptwriting industry and began training to become a yoga instructor, eventually beginning to teach in prisons and other places you wouldn’t “necessarily find people drawn to yoga”.

Supporting great people, doing great things

As Kat’s path into the yoga world progressed, she began to notice more and more problems. 

“There didn’t seem to be another way of doing yoga. It felt very snobby and elitist, or gymnastic and fantastical,” she says. “Brands in the industry were either really quite hippy-ish and not relatable to most people, or really snobby. If they were eco-friendly, they were out of everyone’s price range and inaccessible. 

“[Yoga as a whole] gave the perception that you need to be this certain type of person or you can’t be in the club. I knew it could be real and it could help people.”

And that provided much of the ethos behind the brand, in part inspired by Kat’s favourite song ‘Come As You Are’ by Nirvana. It would be a brand that is “a permission slip to be yourself”. 

Using all her savings and obsessed with materials and design, Kat launched Yogi Bare with just two yoga mats. “It was a very ‘word of mouth’ thing with Yogi Bare,” she explains.

“Instagram was just starting to grow but this was before paid influencers. A lot of my friends were yoga teachers, movement teachers and dancers. If they’d do an event, I’d send a bunch of the mats to everyone to practice on. 

“I feel very lucky that I started because it’s a totally different game now. That ethos has always been supporting great people, doing great things.”

In fact, it’s those word of mouth referrals and recommendations that has led to some of Yogi Bare’s most exciting projects. In 2019, it teamed up with electronic dance group Above & Beyond to produce a yoga mat to accompany their Flow State album, a movement and meditation album. Soon after, a collaboration with lifestyle and activewear brand Sweaty Betty followed. And most recently, in December 2021, Yogi Bare teamed up with Liverpool FC to create an officially licensed yoga mat in order to encourage greater conversation around mental health, especially among men. 

“That’s what really separates Yogi Bare from a lot of other product focus brands,” Kat explains.

“It’s all about building community and elevating voices. It’s all storytelling – we can use yoga to elevate people who are struggling with mental health, body acceptance, diversity and more”

Adapting to growth

Like many entrepreneurs overseeing impressive growth – Yogi Bare has grown more than 900% since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, and is expanding across the world – there is a growing understanding for Kat that she now holds greater responsibility than ever before. 

“At the start of the business I was a bit like Lara Croft, walking around with box cutters attached to my jeans,” Kat laughs. “I was opening boxes, packing orders, sorting stock. I’ve never been more muscly in my life because I was doing it all.”

“The beginning of a business is the most fun and exciting part because you are everything in that business. There’s something beautiful and magical about knowing that you’ve packed every order. You’re refreshed and fearless about the naivety of the unknown.”

Reflecting on the growth of the business, Kat says: “Now the business is at the stage where every decision I make has a big impact on the team, salaries, their personal finances, their mental health. And more consideration has to go into everything. 

“I think that’s why a lot of entrepreneurs have the itch to start another business.”

Just the beginning

As she’d already alluded to, the draw to start a new business is very small for Kat. It’s not an itch she intends to scratch anytime soon. She is fully focused on building Yogi Bare far beyond the reach it currently has. 

“I haven’t even got started yet,” she insists. “I was like a bullet out of a gun when I started because otherwise, I wouldn’t have started the business. So we’re only just starting to put in some of the systems and processes we need to grow. I’m never going to be complacent about where we are and I’m always really honest about where we are.”

“I share every step of the journey on the website in a ‘transparency diary’. I want to share information and learnings because if other businesses in the industry pick it up then we can actually make change.”