Wouldn't it be nice to be reminded of how truly amazing you are while facedown in downward dog? Venice-based Affirmats has made every yogi's wish a reality by printing empowering affirmations on their eco-friendly, non-slip mats. A partnership between a native Californian and a native New Yorker, the company has rolled out its mats across the globe in the span of just one year. This year looks to be no exception to the brand's rapid expansion.
Printed on the rustic jute fiber mats, statements like "I am wonderfully made," "I am free" and "I am love" are reminiscent of the epic Cafe Gratitude menu. The messages serve as not only a welcomed upgrade to an old fitness tool, but also as a needed boost to help you through plank. Yoga is, after all, anchored by mindset and breathing. Resting your eyes upon "look how awesome you are" while moving into scorpion pose pushes your mind into the exact place it needs to be to become a human pretzel.
The pair of yogis behind Affirmats, NYC transplant Jason Graham and Southern California-born Aleeza Solowitz, met nearly a decade ago through a mutual friend while living in Hollywood. In the summer of 2011, Graham approached Solowitz at her father's birthday party with his brilliant Affirmats idea—an epiphany that came to him during savasana. He not only asked for her opinion, he also proposed she spearhead the project. Having grown weary of grueling production hours, Solowitz hopped on the opportunity, and the two gradually rolled out a much needed facelift for the yoga world.
But the process was hardly akin to child's pose. Solowitz commuted between Venice and East Los Angeles during the workweek to help run her father's Montebello pastry shop, Amy's Pastry, while spending her afternoons, evenings and nights building the brand. In between takes, Graham did the same from Hollywood.
Hardly your typical yogi, Solowitz's vision was to bring something less extreme and more fun to the industry. "I wanted something more edgy, fashiony, different and comfortable," she says. All affirmations are reviewed by an exclusive group of Solowitz's closest friends and mentors, who report back on which phrases resonate best. "We try to do a little bit of everything so we can hit a heartstring with each person because we realize everyone's different," she says of the positive reminders. "Hopefully that sticks with you for the rest of your day, and you can repeat that to yourself."
A late bloomer into her practice, Solowitz initially hated yoga. "I thought it was boring, and I would always be looking at my watch wondering what I was going to eat for dinner and what my friends were doing," she recalls. But when a friend convinced her to try kundalini yoga, she was hooked. "It gave me a euphoric feeling," she says, adding that it cemented within her the fundamentals of yoga. An ode to her favorite yoga pose, Solowitz had the statement, "Savasana's my homeboy," printed on all Affirmats packaging.
Graham, however, maintains a regimented daily relationship with his practice. The two longtime friends have managed to strike a perfect harmony of friendship, business partnership and temperament. "We have that balance between each other where I'm more of the wild child and he's more systematic," notes Solowitz, adding, "He's amazing. We love each other."
The dynamic duo launched their eco-chic Affirmats in the summer of 2013 at the New York International Gift Fair (NYIGF) to much success, landing the front page of "Best In Show" for New York's Newest. Solowitz says of the mobilizing event, "It was so rewarding because when you create something, you don't know how people are going to perceive it, but the feedback was brilliant." Since then, somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000 Affirmats have been sold. "People were kind of in shock and awe that it hadn't been done before," says Solowitz.
Mats are available online and in stores throughout Southern California, including two here in Venice: Rose Cafe and Exhale Spa. The company's reach extends through the U.S. and into international territories, like Canada, Thailand, Finland, Switzerland and Germany—where one retailer requested full country exclusivity to slinging the product. Gifting mats to friends near and far, social media and word of mouth have helped propel the brand around the world.
Aside from the warming affirmations, what also makes these aesthetically beautiful mats so special is their aforementioned jute fiber—a renewable, biodegradable vegetable fiber native to India that gives the mats their vintage look and non-slip texture. The jute is blended with an eco-friendly, non-toxic PVC. "We try to go as green as possible but still keep the function in there," says Solowitz, who also tells us she plans to collaborate with an engineer to invent Affirmats' very own green material.
January 29 marked Affirmat's one year anniversary, and in celebration they released an entrancing lifestyle video, aptly titled "I Am Free," that perfectly captures the spirit of Venice.
Looking forward into the new year, big things await Affirmats—and we're not just talking hands and feet. The team has partnered with Shine On Sierra Leone to bring yoga to a small village in the West African country that was ravaged by the Civil War. Special edition Affirmats featuring the message "Rise up, shine on" are part of the project, which will train villagers to become certified yoga instructors. Santa Monica-based Waves for Water and Venice's own Gjelina have stepped aboard to aid in the effort, which will be filmed for a documentary. Shooting will begin in late February once the new mats roll in, and the trip abroad will happen this spring. "It's like a dream," Solowitz says of the project. "We're changing one small community, but by doing the documentary, which we're producing, we want to show the world that everyone can do this and we can spread it everywhere."
Also on deck for 2014 is the company's third mat line: A spring summer collection featuring six new affirmations and bright new colors, including an earthy marigold, turquoise, purple and slate blue. The Affirmats team will also return to NY NOW, formerly known as NYIGF, in early February with their latest mats and the launch of a new line of fragrances. Affirmats' many co-branding ventures will continue, and a new line of hot yoga towels is also in the works. Lastly, a little retail company called Urban Outfitters has picked up the mats. "Things are happening every day," says Solowitz, laughing.
With Solowitz doing what she loves best—getting shit done—and Graham expertly managing customer relationships and fulfillment, Affirmats won't be rolling up anytime soon. The team of six will soon welcome new talent, and we can only imagine their daily affirmation to read something along the lines of "I am grateful." To elongate that statement, here's Solowitz's take on yoga and her company: "I look at yoga as more of a bonus to life—a cherry on top." She adds, "This came along, and it's just perfect. I'm just super happy to be able to do what I do and spread the positive message and continue to do new things constantly."