Yoga ethic behind new store

FIONA ROTHERHAM
Last updated 05:00 16/02/2014
Jyoti Morningstar
PETER MEECHAM/Fairfax NZ
STAYING FOCUSED: Jyoti Morningstar says about one-fifth of her revenue comes from online and the rest from bricks and mortar stores.

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When you walk into the new We'ar Ponsonby store it looks much the same as many others on the Auckland retailing strip - varnished wood floors, trendy clothes, good-looking sales people.

But Jyoti Morningstar, founder and designer of the yoga and off-duty fashion brand, has a business model that differs to most.

It's based on yogic principles of authenticity and truth and is focused on conscious consumerism. With four stores in Bali and Auckland and an e-commerce site, Morningstar aims to run a holistic business using sustainable production methods including organic and fair trade fabrics where possible and ethical practises. A yoga devotee and former teacher, Morningstar runs the business on the ten living principles - yamas and niyamas - of yoga. The yamas are concerned with how you use your energy in relation to others - not stealing or being violent, that sort of thing. Niyamas relates to living in a way that fosters your soulfulness, being the best you can be and achieving your potential.

"It can be a complex process and there are much simpler ways of doing things," she said. "I'm not interested in making money alone. It's important for the sustainability of the company to be profitable, but making money for its own sake is not particularly alluring."

The business was founded in Bali in 2008 mainly because Morningstar wanted somewhere where she could provide work to those living in poverty through small scale ethical manufacturing. "It's a benign place to incubate an idea," she said.

We'ar started making clothes in Ubud in Bali in a family-run manufacturing house and now provides work to around 150 Balinese in a number of small home workshops and factories in the Chang Gu area.

Morningstar divides her time between New Zealand and Bali, ensuring the work is to the required quality and design brief. While the home-based workers were chosen for their sewing and cutting skills, the We'ar team has had to upskill them on other areas of business including transparent financial accounting. "This can be a challenge in Indonesia which is a very corrupt country," she said.

One of the world's endemic disasters, in her view, is poverty and inequality and yet many of us feel remote from the problem.

"I understand why people feel like that if they're not engaging in those communities, it can feel very remote like when your mother told you to ‘eat all your dinner because there are starving kids in Africa'."

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But educated consumers can make a difference by their shopping choices, she said. She wants consumers to question "who really profits from this?" before they buy.

Morningstar often gets asked if that is her real name. In fact, she's listed on the Companies Office records as Jyoti Morningstar Addison but now prefers to go by her middle name rather than her surname. She parted ways with her business partner about 18 months ago and is now the sole director, though there is a silent partner 15 per cent shareholder.

But it's very much Morningstar's baby. The former Victoria University student graduated with a degree in environmental science and a BA in social anthropology and religious studies. She travelled the world teaching yoga before setting up what is her first commercial venture. A self-taught designer, she decided there was a gap in the market for comfortable clothes for activities like yoga and casual wear that would suit both men and women.

Later this year Morningstar may run a couple of pop-up stores in other New Zealand locations to test consumer demand as she did in Ponsonby before committing to a lease and she also plans to wholesale to a new Chinese partner who retails a number of fashion brands in China.

Despite sales growth of 52 per cent year on year, Morningstar's not interested in getting too big, too fast. In fact, she's not that interested in getting big at all.

"I want to stay small with ideas that are well-crafted, highly profitable, and beautiful."

A MATTER OF CHOICE

Conscious consumerism is where customers vote with their dollar to support businesses that match their values. A nationwide survey by the Sustainable Business Council/Fairfax Media last year found two thirds of companies would switch brands if their regular brand or service provider was having a bad effect on the environment, people or society, or behaving unethically.

In the last year 23 per cent of consumers surveyed had switched for one of those reasons. SBC executive director Penny Nelson says people won't necessarily pay more to support sustainable brands but they will switch if they feel a brand is not doing the right thing and take a long time to win back. Conscious Consumers is a not-for-profit which launched a programme to audit companies on sustainability claims in the hospitality sector a year ago. It now has 170 companies on its books – half of which supply the retail outlets, and its Facebook page has grown to 11,500 users in a year. Spokesman Ben Gleisner says consumers like the certainty of knowing they're not being greenwashed by companies and environmental/sustainable/socially responsible values are growing on people's radars. His organisation is planning to expand beyond hospitality within 18 months to include food retailers and then fashion and beauty, and also for the first time this month audited a festival for its waste management practises.

- Sunday Star Times

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