Former longtime Volcom executives Troy Eckert and Derek Sabori rejuvenate the yoga apparel market with message: ‘It’s not just for women’
About a year ago, two former Volcom execs, Troy Eckert and Derek Sabori, set out to launch a brand that spoke to men—when it came to yoga, that is.
In part, the inception for Kozm happened when Eckert, a former Volcom executive who served the company for 20 years, was hunting down a pair of shorts to practice yoga in.
“I looked around online at a few brands, but nothing really spoke to me,” Eckert recalls. “I wasn't even thinking about starting a brand at that point, but couldn't stop thinking about it so I figured it was an urge I couldn't deny.”
The goal was also to change the perception of men practicing yoga, explains Eckert. Some of the stigma surrounding the practice is that it’s mainly “just for women.” Kozm set out to prove that’s just not the case.
Sabori, who also worked at Volcom for just shy of two decades, jumped into the equation with Eckert, and “everything sort of just fell into place naturally.”
Sabori’s background lies in sustainability. An early champion of measuring and mitigating environmental impacts of an apparel business, the veteran is now integrating that skill set into menswear for a somewhat different target audience: yogis.
But what Kozm aims to teach is that yoga can support the lifestyle our industry grew up with.
Enter Chet Thomas, a professional skateboarder who has spent the past three decades of his life progressing street style. As concrete's hard reality settled in on his body, he found himself turning to yoga as a tool that allowed him not only to get back on his skateboard—but to balance his body for the first time ever.
Thomas is Kozm’s first ambassador, or “Regular”—a label meant to illustrate that just because someone is a pro doesn’t mean they’re any more immune to the stresses and injuries the rest of us go through.
The brand is rolling out today through its own e-commerce, www.thekozm.com, with T-shirts, towels, and select accessories, and will continue to broaden and diversify its offering in the near future. We talked with Eckert to hear more.
How do you hope to change the perception of men’s yoga? What is the current perception?
I think the current perception among a lot of guys is 1) it's more of a women's thing and 2) it's just a bunch of easy stretching. The reality is it's very challenging and with a regular yoga practice it will only increase your longevity in allowing you to stay active as you get older. It also aids in further healing your past injuries and, more importantly, helping to prevent new ones. We really want to show men that yoga is a tool that will take you to places you never thought possible both physically and mentally. And that it is NOT just for women. I know I want to be able to be active for as long as I live and I'm convinced, after a decade of yoga, that this is my ticket. It's an all-in-one activity. It's moving meditation really.
When you said there were no brands that align with what you were looking for, what were those identifiable factors?
For me, I guess I'm not your typical "active wear" customer. I came from the surf/skate/snow industry and I feel there's a void in the market in regards to a premium aesthetic coupled with thoughtfulness towards people and the environment. We are looking at the company from top to bottom and asking ourselves hard questions all along the way. Questions like: How will every decision we make affect the people we work with and the environment we live in? Where are our products being made and who's making them? Can we give 5% on every purchase to projects we care about? Can our business survive with the expectations we've put on ourselves?
Sustainability seems to be a huge factor that you are considering. Can you fill me in on how you went about the sourcing process and what sets Kozm standard apart from what’s already on the market?
The process begins with our commitment: Made Fair With Care; fair to people, fair to the planet. It was important that every step, from fiber to package, was considered and that responsible business was top of mind everywhere. Nearly every product in our line has an upcycling story – either using the Recover upcycled cotton system, or reclaiming and upcycling old items. We've created a plastic-free experience — our items are wrapped in paper. Even hangtags are attached without plastic – we pulled sample and cutting floor scraps to use as hang tag ties. Our poly mailers are made with recycled waste and are recyclable, and if our fabrics called for additional color or print, we used a color transfer option rather than sending fabrics to dye. Because of our very low reliance on virgin materials, we're confident our water and emissions footprint is much lower than typical products.
It sounds like you are looking to heavily target a demographic that is a surfing / yoga / active lifestyle crossover. Is that your target audience for the brand and how much of an opportunity do you see here?
Once we started to pay attention to the people in our world that were doing yoga we realized there are a bunch more than we thought. Yes, surfing is part of the brand, but skateboarding, snowboarding and other outdoor sports are as well. The reality is that guys are doing yoga to stay on top of their game in all kinds of sports. We come from the SSS world so inherently, it's most natural to explore our inner world first and we're excited to share these stories with people. At the end of the day we think there is a great opportunity to turn more guys on to yoga and to provide premium sustainably minded products to them at a reasonable price.
How does marketing a yoga brand differ from marketing a surf brand?
Marketing is marketing. No matter what the audience, you have to tell a compelling story that people identify with and get excited about. The biggest difference is the way marketers operate now compared to when I was at Volcom. The game has completely changed from A-Z. Now, we live in a digital world that is ever-changing so it's been exciting to dive in headfirst. We've learned a ton already and we're only just beginning.
Will Kozm have brand ambassadors and if so who will they be, how have you been recruiting them, etc.?
Yes, we will have ambassadors. They're called the "Regulars." At the end of the day we're all regular people and just because you're a professional doesn't mean that you're more special than the guy that's punching the clock 9 to 5. We all have our "stuff" we're dealing with and we want to celebrate all kinds of guys who use yoga as a tool to enhance their lives physically and mentally. Our launch features a film that tells ex pro skater Chet Thomas' story and what his relationship with yoga is all about. I'm really excited for people to check it out. I think it will have a super positive impact on the perception of yoga for men.
How do you see your distribution growing / evolving over the next few months to a year?
Since we've decided to make our products in small batches in the US using more sustainable methods and materials, our costs are high. Mainly for that reason, we have decided to sell only on our website so we're able to keep the prices reasonable for the customer. The other benefit to selling direct is the flexibility we have in producing our products. Gone are the days of seasonal selling. Our product drops will be much more strategic based on what we want to make and when we want to put it out there. We feel fortunate with our timing since the direct model has become a viable distribution strategy for many up-and-coming brands so we're not guinea pigging it. That said, you won't see our distribution channel growing, per se, just our offering on our website, www.thekozm.com, expanding and diversifying.
What are you most excited about with the launch of Kozm?
I'm just happy to see all of our work come to fruition and really just get it out there for people to form their own opinions. I'm excited there will be a different option for people, that's not like anything out there right now, as far as style and responsible business. I'm glad we've taken the hard steps to create something that is very meaningful from top to bottom and throughout all aspects of the business. Hopefully people will appreciate our intention with Kozm and the brand will inspire more men to practice yoga.