Like most of her best ideas, Jessica Incledon’s business brainwave came when she was on a yoga mat – in fact, the mat itself inspired it. “It was during a yoga class a few years ago, after weeks of searching for the perfect yoga mat – extremely unsuccessfully,” she recalls. “I couldn’t find one that ticked all the boxes for me; they were either too slippery, not eco-friendly, not ethically made, or too jarring on the joints.” Looks mattered too. “I looked around in this class and despite everyone looking good in brightly coloured yoga tights, all the mats were pretty boring,” says Jessica. “Yoga is an expression of yourself, as is fashion. I always thought they should go hand in hand.”
At the time, the young Australian was working in the marketing department for a bank, focusing on small-business financing. “I spoke to countless small businesses in that role and I always envied those entrepreneurs,” she says. “I always wanted to go out and do my own thing. That background gave me a good heads-up on what I was in for and how difficult it would be, plus some valuable marketing skills.”
Just a few months after her ‘aha’ moment on the mat, her business was born – Yellow Willow Yoga Mats. Each mat is produced from 100 per cent natural biodegradable tree rubber, with a top layer of micro-fibre made from recycled bottles. As well as being eco-friendly and biodegradable, they are UV-resistant, so they can be used indoors or outside (without losing their “stick” like some mats on the market).
Then there’s the patterns. From leopard skin to birds of paradise and dark rose (many of the mats are named after flowers), they’re perfect for Insta-loving yogis who like to pose as they “pose” on an eye-catching backdrop.
“We have in-house designers who have been with us from day one, and I work alongside them to develop our new collections,” says Jessica, who cofounds the company with a friend, Sascha Martin. “We always look to fashion trends, especially overseas, for new design inspiration. Having said that, we are also quite careful to always choose designs which are timeless.” With mats retailing for $83, they are cheaper than some big names on the market, but still an investment.
“A yoga mat is a long-term purchase and needs to have appeal beyond one season,” she says. “We also have yogis in mind when we choose our designs – they are calming and continuous patterns, so yogis can remain focused and in the moment, not distracted by writing or motives.”
With a marketing background, the entrepreneur has utilised social media to expand the brand profile. On the Instagram page, Australian fitness bloggers like Caroline Groth are shown working out on their mats, or using Yellow Willow’s new range of towels and water bottles.
There’s steep competition in the yoga product world, with intimidating brands like Lululemon, but Jessica is clear about their point of difference. “Yellow Willow was always based on the idea of being different from these brands and giving yogis a different experience,” she says. “It was been created for the yogis – like me – who weren’t satisfied with the more mainstream yoga mats available. That being said, you always have to have the big competitors like that in your peripheral. You can never get too comfortable.”
Since launching in 2015, the Melbourne-based brand is now stocked in each state across Australia, including in many leading yoga studios, as well as in Thailand, Singapore and New Zealand. This year, Yellow Willow also launched into America.
How does she cope with the pressure of running an international company? Yoga, of course! “Yoga is my saviour,” says Jessica. “I don’t know what I would do without it. Yoga for me is space – space to think, space to relax and space to take a bit of time for myself. It helps me clear my mind and allows the bigger ideas to surface. That’s how this all started in the first place.”