By Kavita Chandran
Ritesh Kalati is the founder of Rumi Earth, a company that makes consciously crafted mats and props for yoga lovers. His Earth Mat was born out of his quest for a yoga mat with a surface that should feel natural, non-rubbery and strong.
His search led him to villages in South India, where he found engineers and traditional craftsmen who understood the yogi’s craving, and made for him what his heart desired— fabric from natural loom that derived its strength from sunlight.
Not many years before his quest for a “mat with a feeling”, Ritesh wore a corporate hat on Wall Street, where his work combined economics with human behavior. He hung out after work with creative artists—sculptors, painters and musicians. Floating between these two worlds, Ritesh was seeking his purpose. “I knew there was something else out there for me.”
It was a barber who inspired Ritesh to do yoga. He was a 39-year-old fit gymnast who managed a top hair salon in New York and credited his strength and stamina to yoga.
“He saw me go the other way at a very young age and said I should to do yoga,” Ritesh recalls. That was nine years ago when Ritesh was 25. He heeded the barber’s advice “because I respected him”, and got hooked to a world of yogis.
Wanting to learn more about yogic science, he took time off corporate life and headed for Mysore, the yoga capital of South India. Little did he know the journey would last five years, where he would learn yoga and Ayurveda, and turn him into a businessman yearning to make “the perfect yoga mat”.
In Mysore, natural mats were limited and PVC mats would smell, shred and make him slip. He disliked whatever mats he bought in India, and so would get his shipped from the U.S. or Dubai. “There was a lot of synthetic stuff in the mats. It was unnecessarily marketed as premium, but it was really all fluff,” he says. “Low quality rubber with a very strong smell.”
He took it upon himself to create a good mat that he could use. He started talking to traditional craftsmen who used natural loom to make textiles, got introduced to a weaving company that saw his interest as an opportunity to revive a dying traditional trade, and met engineers who were ready to help him design something “for yoga”.
“I spent time listing out the 15 things that people look for in a good yoga mat and that included practicality, performance and the feeling, which is what I entirely focused on,” says Ritesh. He and his small team got to work with natural rubber from Kerala, fine loom from Tamil Nadu and eco-friendly dyes; and the sun was in abundance to help cure the dyes and make the fabric stronger.
He distributed the prototype to his friends in Mysore and slowly started shipping to people he knew around the world to receive their feedback. What came back was a thumbs up from everyone. He garnered a lot of support, so much so that there was no option but to make it into a production line. He made sure his product was patented as organic with all required intellectual property rights sealed. “The old guy in Tamil Nadu still uses his looms to weave our fabric and we make our product in a factory in Kerala.”
Earth Mats, as they are appropriately called, are now available across India, Middle East and the United States. Ritesh has also expanded his presence into Japan and Bali, and also distributes in Thailand and Singapore too. He says the feeling of the fabric of his mat is exactly what he had craved for when yoga became his passion. “It’s flexible, grips the ground firmly, and you can fold and put it away or carry it in your suitcase when you travel.”
Kavita Chandran is the editor and publisher of Yoga Journal Singapore, and author of The Head that won’t Stand.