You’d be forgiven for thinking that yoga is an exclusively female pursuit, judging by the amount of athleisure-clad women you’ll see in most city brunch spots on any day of the week.
And yet – more and more men are realising the benefits of a yogi lifestyle. The number of men practising yoga in the US has more than doubled over the past several years. Business intelligence firm Gartner L2 estimates that in just two years, revenue growth of men’s yoga clothing will surpass that of women’s. There’s certainly a new frontier in athleisure apparel to capitalise on.
This isn't news to Louis d’Origny though, who predicted the trend when he founded OHMME, an online retailer specialising in eco-conscious activewear for men, three years ago. Frustrated by the lack of stylish, sustainable options for men, he decided to create his own.
OHMME challenges preconceived ideas of masculinity, directly speaking to the young, fashion-conscious male. A play on the French word for man, and the spiritual mantra, the OHMME brand has seen incredible success and even featured on Dragon’s Den in 2018.
Louis grew up in France before being expelled at the age of 15 – an experience he describes as “the best thing that’s ever happened to me”. Only after a degree in maths and a brief stint in finance did he enter the seemingly disparate world of men’s yoga.
We sat down with him to track his journey, chatting brand strategy, the highs and lows of entrepreneurship and what’s coming next for OHMME.
So, Louis! Talk us through your journey from graduation to your move away from finance.
As a maths student, I just assumed I always had a chosen career path. I’d built myself up as a derivatives trader which turned out to be creatively draining: I really didn’t enjoy myself. Then I went to LSE and chose to study the hardest possible degree. But I never attended any of the classes. I couldn’t stay awake. I have this X-Men superpower that I can fall asleep anywhere, anytime, anyplace.
I ended up hating LSE so much that I decided to complete the degree from a vegan yoga farm in Costa Rica. It was a lot more relaxing and I could sleep a lot more.
Did you fly back for the exam?
Yep. I’m good at exams. I liked sitting through them intensely and concentrating for long periods of time… kind of similar to yoga, really.
This experience pushed me much further in terms of creativity and it was here I thought about the huge gap in the market for men’s yoga pants. I’d been practising yoga for years and found that men were very much underserved in the market.
Where were you buying your yoga pants from before?
I wasn’t, really. I was just wearing basketball shorts or anything that vaguely worked… and nothing really did. Then there are the social and lifestyle aspects of yoga which were important to me and I felt like I looked like a doofus in my basketball shorts. A brand that really represented these values just didn’t exist. So I made it myself.
“A brand that really represented these values just didn’t exist. So I made it myself.”
What has formed the ethos of your brand?
It’s no longer considered feminine for men to take care of themselves. When I was growing up, the scruffier and dirtier you looked, the more attractive you were to society and that’s really changed.
Two values stand as really important. The first is to make our clothes cool – items that people genuinely want to wear but also serve a purpose. The second is the environmental aspect. Essentially, it means we use factories and materials that are held to a much higher standard than what is usually the case. For me, this is what’s important to the new man.
How do you make sure that you stay ahead of the game while staying true to your brand?
I think really having a personality always stands out. There’s a lot of people who are just diving in, copying and catching up. Being copied is a sign we are doing something right: it’s a compliment in many ways. It’s also about learning and constantly improving. We’re innovating, so we’re going to make mistakes.
Those that just want to make money in this business initially focus on women and then think of a men’s line. By focusing purely on menswear, we’re making a statement and it allows us to really differentiate ourselves. I started this because I’m obsessed with yoga and I do a lot of HIIT as well. I could compete with you on handstand burpees – that’s my move.
We’ll take your word for it! How have you found the startup environment?
We’re a team. It’s one of the reasons why I didn’t want to get into a big corporation, where climbing the ladder meant others couldn’t.
In a startup, it’s about elevating everybody you work with – there’s a lot more excitement in that. On the other hand, the struggle is intense. A lot of sleepless nights. Constant decision-making with lots of bad decisions in retrospect. It’s about being lucky and making those two or three really good decisions that power the business forward. I should be able to look back and say wow, I was so dumb three months ago.
If you don’t think that you were dumb three months ago as an entrepreneur, you’re either super great, or more likely, you’re not learning. Even the greatest entrepreneurs in the world were dumb three months ago because new information comes to light. If you’re not feeling that way, you’re not meant to be an entrepreneur.
“If you don’t think that you were dumb three months ago as an entrepreneur, you’re probably not learning. Even the greatest entrepreneurs in the world were dumb three months ago.”
What has been the toughest challenge you have faced?
The emotional difficulty: it’s unbelievably tough managing the highs and the lows. There are euphoric moments followed by unbelievable lows the next day. The emotional toll this takes isn’t necessarily for everyone. The psychological rollercoaster definitely thickens your skin.
If you could start any business aside from the one you have right now what would it be?
That is a good question. I’m still close to my financial roots in that I love gambling on the stock market. Some guys follow football, I follow Nasdaq. I could do something with that one day but I don’t really entertain those thoughts. It’s like being married and asking what other boyfriend I could have right now. I don’t really think about it.
What advice would you give to somebody else starting their own business?
Fasten your seatbelts! I think you really need to personally reflect on why you’re doing it. Is it part of my life plan? I think those questions are really important to answer.
The other thing I’ll say is that you’re going to need more money than you thought. It’s never dead simple. And you’re going to f*ck up.
“My advice? You’re going to need more money than you thought. It’s never simple. And you’re going to f*ck up.”
Would you ever toy with the idea of branching out into a physical store?
We’ve done popups before, which were interesting, but I’d rather dedicate more energy to the full online experience. A lot of men don’t necessarily want to go shops as much as women do, and I’ve found men are more perceptive to online experiences.
What’s next for the brand?
The next step is to really focus on the creative concept of OHMME. We’re actually hiring a creative director at the moment. The brand was founded on the idea of getting more guys into yoga and making yoga cool. There are lots of men who are not keen to go to a class or simply not sure if it’s for them. We’re looking at creating an online platform, such as online teaching, to encourage guys to step onto a mat.
Lastly, how was the real-life Dragon’s Den experience?
As a consumer product, it was totally worth it. You can’t really pay for that kind of advertising. A lot of people were asking if it would drag down the brand. No. I’m not afraid of opening myself up to the UK, and I’m not afraid of the dragons either. It was a duality of great exposure and a genuine opportunity to win investment.
Matter Of Form are currently in the process of relaunching Ohmme’s website.
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