A yoga guru credited with bringing the practice into the mainstream in the Western Hemisphere served as an inspiration to JadeYoga in more ways than one. 

The legendary B.K.S. Iyengar, who died in August at the age of 95, is the key figure in a story that the Pennsylvania-based yoga gear company likes to tell about its globally popular non-slip mats, of which I’m personally a happy customer.

Here's the story: Iyengar was performing a yoga demo on an oriental rug, but he kept slipping. So one of his students removed the rug. Iyengar successfully finished the demo on the pad that was beneath the rug. 

True or false, it's still fair to say that JadeYoga evolved its business model when it learned that devoted yogis--in the 70s, 80s, and 90s--were also practicing on rug pads.

All of which might seem hard to believe, given that yoga mats are sold almost everywhere today. But as recently as 2000, it was a different consumer-products world for yogis. Yoga was still more than a decade away from becoming a $10.3-billion industryLululemon was a few years old, but it was just a lone store in Vancouver. 

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Back in 2000, JadeYoga was as yet unborn. But its parent company, Jade Industries, had been making non-slip, natural-rubber rug pads since the 70s.

"We had a couple customers who we knew were using rug pads as mats," said company president Dean Jerrehian, whose grandfather founded the business in 1904. Originally, Jade Industries made area rugs. The company gradually evolved to pads, switching completely (and eliminating the rugs) by the late 80s. 

Many entrepreneurs preach the art of listening to your customers; Jerrehian, 53, actually practiced it. Part of the practice was simply keeping his eyes open. Increasingly, his lists of wholesale rug pad customers included more and more yoga businesses. He could discern this simply by spying the word "yoga" on customer lists.

How could he tell he was on the verge of a business-model pivot? Mainly because the demand was intense--and global. For example, there was one studio in South Africa that ordered five 600-foot rolls of rug pad every year or two.

If a customer across the sea is ordering your rug pads--but not using them as rug pads per se--perhaps you've stumbled onto something big. "It caused me to stop and think," Jerrehian admits.

It was around this time that Jerrehian, who'd worked as a lawyer for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency before joining the family business, had an important conversation with his sister--who happened to be a devoted yogi. "She said that her yoga teacher had said, 'Don't use mats to practice, because they're so slippery.'"

Based on all of this, Jerrehian decided to test-market an eco-friendly, slip-free mat in 2001. "We found a list of yoga studios and sent out 500 five-by-eight hand-sized samples," he said. In response to the 500 samples, the company received--wait for it--a whopping 300 phone calls. "That was how we knew," he said. 

To gauge demand is one thing. To gauge it to the point where you can predict customers will pay much more for your product is quite another. JadeYoga's mats--the first natural rubber mats on the market--debuted above the $50 price point. At the time, most mats ranged from $25-$30. "People recognized the value in terms of the grip," says Jerrehian. He adds that mat sales grew by 50 percent every year for the first five years. Since then they've grown 20-30 percent each year.

The mats are now available in 50 countries. And JadeYoga, leveraging the branding success of the mats, now makes blocks, towels, and other yoga supplies. All told, yoga gear accounts for 69 percent of the company's overall sales. Rug pads remain 31 percent of the business. 

When your debut product is a game-changer, you're bound to gain an initial branding advantage, at least within your niche. JadeYoga, with its 12 employees, has sustained this advantage for more than a decade not only through continued expansion into global markets, but also by staying true to the eco-friendly roots of its natural rubber--and the EPA ethos of the company president. 

It's no stretch of a generalization to assert that yogis, as a subset of consumers, care about responsibly sourced, ethical products that hue to a proverbial "triple bottom line." Jerrehian knew this, but it really hit home during a chat he had with a practitioner during JadeYoga's early days. He told her, not without pride, that his company had just invented an eco-friendly mat.

"She said, 'What else are you doing?'" he recalls. And by "what else," she meant: What was his company doing--aside from mat-making--to put more positivity in the world and in the community? 

Jerrehian grasped that his company would need to embody the yogic principles that practitioners like this one were inquiring about. Today, JadeYoga's numerous achievements in the realm of social responsibility would be the envy of many large public companies. JadeYoga has also gained advocates in yoga-teaching communities thanks to its generous donations policy, which reads: 

JadeYoga especially would like to help bring yoga to people who might not otherwise have a chance to realize its benefits. Thus, we try to support those great teachers out there who are bringing yoga to underserved groups such as at-risk youth, special education children, abused children, first responders, veterans, inmates, trauma survivors, addicts in recovery, with donations of yoga mats.

You might wonder about the costs of a policy like this. In truth, it's impossible to gainsay the benefits. Consider, for example, the power of positive feedback such as:

We want to thank you for Jade's generosity towards Ashrams for Autism. Wow just amazing!! Marisa shared with us that you will be donating $7,500.00 to us. Thank you!!!!! We will be able to do so much with that donation. Right now we have over 50 classes a week in schools all over North Jersey serving the Autistic population. This contribution will allow us to send teachers to more locations.

Hi there Jade peeps! I've been using your fabulous mats for years and in searching your site for a new one I was so happy to see your teal mat. My best friend just finished her fight with ovarian cancer at 41. Thank you for spotlighting such a devastating disease, often she felt overlooked by the awareness of breast cancer by companies. Thank you and Namaste :)

Marketing and branding expert David Berkowitz, CMO with Manhattan branding consultancy MRY, is a strong advocate of testimonials like these. It's part of his belief that companies, as a whole, need to move away from the art of storytelling (a term that's all the rage these days) and toward the art of storymaking: That is, gathering tales about your brand's role in meaningful true-life experiences.

Here's the big idea: Storytelling, as most companies use it, is a one-way street, in which the brand sings a self-absorbed ballad to potential customers. By contrast, storymaking is inclusive and collaborative. 

And inspiring. Firefly Yoga International, a nonprofit devoted to helping trauma survivors heal through yoga, recently received a donation of 26 mats from JadeYoga. Of the seven companies Firefly reached out to for donations, only JadeYoga came through with mats, says Firefly cofounder Annie Kiel, who is also a certified yoga teacher. Four of the companies didn't reply at all. "I will always be a Jade mat person because of this," she adds.

One more disclosure: I know Annie from many years of practicing at the same studio. She was already a JadeYoga devotee because of the quality of the mats. But now she's a lifer. Now, even more than before, she'll recommend JadeYoga mats to all of her students.

And she, and they, and I, will include them in our stories.