Gecko Yoga is a cork yoga mat and sustainable yoga accessories brand based out of Lisbon, Portugal. Built on the principle that a true yoga practice goes beyond the physical poses, Gecko aims to make products that align with the values of yogic philosophy.
How does Gecko do this, exactly?
According to Gecko’s founder, Nicolette Holmes, who launched the brand in 2021, “when it comes sourcing, production, packaging, communication, or even the functionality of our products, Gecko always puts our commitment to Yoga first. We call this our Conscious Supply Chain.”
We spoke with Nicky to learn more about Gecko’s cork yoga mats and why their unique approach is shaking up the yoga industry.
Where did the inspiration for Gecko Yoga come from?
Gecko founder Nicky Holmes in a Vasisthasana (side plank) variation on her cork yoga mat
Nicolette “Nicky” Holmes received the inspiration for creating a more sustainable yoga mat during the COVID-19 lockdowns.
Originally from Southern California, Nicky moved to Lisbon in 2016 to pursue a career in international marketing. As a certified yoga instructor and student of the practice for over a decade, yoga had always been an important piece of Nicky’s life. However, as she progressed deeper into her career and fast-paced corporate lifestyle, that yoga piece became smaller and smaller.
When the pandemic struck in 2020, she found herself burnt out and completely disconnected from her yoga practice. In confinement she returned to her yoga mat, but she realized that her mat was also not upholding its end of the bargain.
Despite being the literal foundation of her yoga practice, her mat wasn’t very yogic — it was mass produced from low-cost and highly-toxic plastics, shipped in from the other side of the world, and given a premium price tag due to its name brand label.
She knew that the best way to find a better product was to create it herself, so she left her marketing career and set out on a journey to do just that.
According to Nicky, “The origin of the word yoga comes from ancient Sanskrit, meaning to yoke or to unite. In this sense, Gecko is truly an expression of yoga. What started as a mission to reunite myself with my yoga practice, became a much greater search for unity: unity between humans and nature, between business and ethics, and between our physical yoga practice and our spiritual yoga practice.”
Why Cork Yoga Mats?
If you’ve ever practiced yoga, then you’re probably familiar with the ubiquitous, bright-coloured yoga mats. The most common materials used to make these are forever plastics like PVC or TPE.
Cork, on the other hand, is a fully biodegradable and renewable material.
Cork is harvested from the bark of the cork oak tree (Quercus Suber), which just so happens to be one of Portugal’s most abundant and celebrated natural resources. The tree renews its bark every 9 years, and harvesting the raw material promotes the healthy growth of the tree and increases its ability to absorb CO2.
Using local Portuguese cork not only reduces the carbon footprint of accessing the raw materials, but also ensures the highest sustainability standards and fair labor practices throughout the entire supply chain.
Aside from being far more environmentlly-friendly, cork yoga mats have a number of benefits that make them better for practicing yoga than plastic or rubber mats. Here are a few:
- Cork is naturally non-slip: In fact, the more you sweat, the stronger your grip on the mat becomes, making cork yoga mats a safe base for even the most dynamic and sweetest yoga flows.
- Cork is naturally anti-microbial. The cork surface of the mat is resistant to microbes, bacteria, and odors, while plastic yoga mats can become a breeding ground for bacteria if not properly cleaned after each use.
- Cork is super lightweight. Conventional yoga mats can weigh up to 3.5 kg (around 7.5 lbs). However, Gecko cork yoga mats weigh only 870 grams (less than 2 lbs). This makes them great for commuting back and forth to the studio, or even for tossing into your luggage when you go on vacation.
The OG “Original Gecko” Cork Yoga Mat (€90) is consciously made in Portugal. You can shop cork yoga mats and other sustainable yoga accessories with Europe & UK shipping at Gecko’s website (www.geckoyogamats.com).
What are some challenges the yoga accessories industry is facing?
The yoga practice, which hails from ancient India, has skyrocketed in popularity in recent years, becoming a big trend in Western culture. While this has been great for normalizing the practice and making it more accessible to those who may have otherwise never tried it, it does come with some unintended consequences.
Nicky says that some of the biggest challenges within the yoga industry are accountability and sustainability.
There are a few big players that dominate the yoga accessories industry, with billions of dollars in funding to support their operations. Not only does this make it incredibly difficult for smaller businesses to compete in the space, but it gives these larger brands the platform to dictate the narrative of what yoga looks like. To them, yoga often looks like a thin young woman in a handstand or contorting herself into a backbend, which does not accurately represent the practice, its origins, or its diverse community.
Furthermore, with a narrow focus on profits, these brands lack a sincere commitment to sustainability. They use synthetic materials, unsustainable manufacturing methods, unjustifiable markups, and an opaque supply chain.
“As brands who sell equipment for yoga and therefore have a voice in this space, we need to hold ourselves accountable to the practice. But the big athleisure brands are not doing this. Instead, they are charging 100€ for products that cost 2.50€ to make (and damage the environment in the process) based on the promise of a healthier mind, body, and spirit.”
What are some opportunities the yoga accessories industry is facing?
Fortunately, Gecko is not alone in their attempts to restructure the narrative around yoga in the West. There are many independent yoga studios and teachers who are collectively ushering in a more inclusive and authentic yoga industry.
Furthermore, the yoga industry is projected to reach $66,226.4 million by 2027 (source: Allied Market Research). With more customers across all product types practicing conscious consumerism and prioritizing sustainability, Gecko is optimistic about the future.
Advice to others about business
What advice does Nicky have to offer other business leaders?
Stay flexible (no pun intended).
“Don’t stay too attached to your original plans or preconceptions. Unlike what we see on our spreadsheets, businesses do not operate in a controlled environment. Consumer preferences, competitive landscapes, macroeconomics, geopolitics — these things are always changing and affecting us. A successful business is one who understands how to adapt to the changing environment.
Being flexible in business doesn’t mean lack of vision or focus; it just means evolving your solution to better address the problem your business came to fix. It means evolving your what to better serve your why.
Because in business and in life, there will always be things that are out of our control. We can, however, control the way we choose to respond to them, and that makes all the difference.”
Follow Gecko on Instagram @gecko.yoga to learn more about their story and for daily inspiration from the Gecko community.