Local Business Yoloha Creates & Maintains World’s First Eco-friendly Cork Yoga Mat
Passion is the premise for Chris Willey’s business, Yoloha. Originally from Annapolis, Md., Willey attended Salisbury University. The universe seemed to align when Willey became neighbors with Bryan Bushmiller, owner of Burley Oak Brewery in Berlin, Md.
Bushmiller was making his first batch of beer and Willey was making his first surfboard. The two stayed friends and when Bushmiller told Willey he was starting a brewery he asked if he wanted to come build boards in his backyard. Without hesitation, Willey accepted.
“I was building boards for a while and I started using cork on surfboards and then paddle boards,” Willey said. “It really started taking off but it wasn’t paying the bills.”
That’s when Willey met Dawn from YogaVibez. He started practicing yoga and instantly fell in love with the art. He only saw one problem.
“I was always flipping my mat… It was all over the place.”
When practicing yoga, the more you sweat the more slippery the rubber yoga mat gets. After brainstorming ways to fix this problem he knew the solution would involve the cork he was using for his surfboards and he knew he would be the first to do it.
Cork Yoga Mats
Willey started small. At the time, Willey was working for the Harrison Group in Ocean City, Md. doing web design. He used his knowledge of business and graphic design to create his own website.
“I made them on the floor of the surfboard shop and then teachers started grabbing them for their students. Yoga bloggers started posting about my mats and we were growing like crazy!”
At that point, Willey knew he was on to something. He found local manufactures and started having the mats mass produced.
Willey says the main advantage to using cork for yoga mats is the non-slip properties cork possesses.
Cork is the bark of a tree. The tree forms a thick, rugged bark containing high levels of suberin. As the cork cambium layer of bark develops thickness, it can be harvested every 9 to 12 years to produce cork.
Willey says don’t believe the rumors—there isn’t a cork shortage and harvesting the cork is not harmful to the tree, in fact, no trees are cut down during the harvesting process. Cork is beneficial to harvest because it creates more carbon monoxide. According to Willey, cork is one of the most sustainable substances.
The whole yoga mat is made from eco-friendly products. Not only is there cork on the top, the bottom of the mat is made up of recycled tires. Willey says they laminate the cork to the rubber tire backing, lazer the mats and personalize them.
To willey, being eco-friendly is everything.
“Since I was a kid, my whole family was all about sustainability. It’s all been about local, organic food and gardens. It is important for things to be recyclable.”
Willey runs Yoloha with his dad and they use their eco-friendly lifestyles as the forefront for their business.
Although the team has roots in Annapolis, they knew without hesitation, Delmarva was the place to start their business.
“Delmarva is a place in my heart now. I could never imagine going back over the bridge. We love the beach vibes, the surfing, the paddleboarding…”
Currently, Yoloha products are made in a warehouse in Harbeson, Del. Although the company is known for its mats, they also sell bags, straps, props, towels, apparel and more.
Yoloha products are sold at various local shops including YogaVibez, Real Raw Organics in Ocean City, Md., and Dimitra Yoga Studio in Lewes, Del., among others. Yoloha also has a partnership with Evolve Paddle boards in West Ocean City, Md.
If you’re not local but want to test out the hype, Willey’s products can be found at 90 retailers across the country.
Over the years, the growth of the business has been rapid. Starting at the brewery, working out of a house and ending at a 2,000 square foot warehouse, Willey says he owes most of his success to the community.
Willey says he would love to open up a location in Ocean City, Md. but he’s taking it one step at a time.