Louis D’Origny founded OHMME in 2015, a yoga clothing brand designed and created especially for men. OHMME strives to break through the status quo and rise against stereotypes by inspiring men to embrace their practice and feel encouraged, empowered and comfortable on and off the mat.
Louis spoke to The Present of Yoga about OHMME’s journey and particularly their first year in business.
Why did you start Ohmme?
I started Ohmme because I realised that it was time for me to set out on a project that was really for myself, to prove that I could choose a path of freedom and that it would work. And that was not an obvious thing from the get-go and it did not work for a very long time.
What do you mean that it didn’t work for a long time?
Every single problem that one could encounter in starting a new business, I encountered in a pretty rough way. Then, when I gave up – I gave up at one moment – virtually three weeks later it suddenly blew up.
When you say you gave up what happened?
I had booked myself flights to go to India, found myself a motorcycle and I was ready to go. I packed my bags and I had basically three months. So I gave up in October, I booked my flight for the 26th of December.
At that point had you already launched OHMME?
We had already launched. We launched our first collection and it was going okay but I just couldn’t see it actually working out. We were running out of money and we were about to launch a second collection and then I thought “Well, I’ll just leave the online store out there and it will gradually sell some clothes and I’ll maybe break even.” But suddenly, three weeks after taking that decision, people found the site and started saying “Wow! This is really what I’m looking for.” We suddenly got a crazy amount of orders.
Then I started doing something I’ve never wanted to do, which was calling customers. I’ve never wanted to do it because I was too afraid to hear what they would have to say. I thought I was going to get all this negative feedback and I’m never going to be able to come back from that but I’ll already be in India. One of my good friends pushed me to do this and we were calling together on loud speaker. He did the calls in the beginning. The feedback was consistently “Yes! I love your trends.”, “These are amazing.”, “When are you bringing more out.”, “The brand identity is spot on.”, “I love what you’re doing.” Call after call after call, we just got that kind of feedback. That’s when I started to realise “Wait a second. Why am I giving up?”. I’m naturally a negative person, so at that stage I started hiring people. I surrounded myself with very positive and outward looking people so that I could counterbalance my naturally pessimistic personality.
Now I know it’s very important to speak to your customers all the time. Have a good conversation with them. We definitely integrate that more. A lot of these customers, if you speak to them, will give you positive or negative feedback but it is likely that these early adopters will continue buying your products even though there are flaws and they are pointing out the flaws. By pointing those out, you can make those improvements straight away.
Lately for us the big flaw in our business, and we’ve always known this but it’s being reinforced by customers, was that we aren’t inclusive enough. To do that was part of our strategy but the nudge is clear that we should take this idea of being more inclusive to other body shapes, to less professional yogis and it is going to have to become more apparent earlier than we had planned for because a lot of our customers are actually older than we had expected. Our average customer is 35. We were thinking that we were going to hit a 20 something audience but actually we have to alter our image a little bit because of that but that’s okay, we can do that.
One of the the most powerful quotes I’ve heard on customer feedback is “The only difference between feedback and criticism is how you take it.”
I usually take things pretty badly. That’s just because I’m a pessimist and because this is so close to my heart and I’ve sweat and spent so much time on this. I will even take very positive feedback slightly negatively because I’ll just be afraid. It’s just the fear thing. I guess in yoga we try and defeat that a little bit but for me that fear factor is still there. Any entrepreneur will have that.
Tell me a bit more about how you grew from starting OHMME to hiring people?
In the beginning, the theory I went by for creating this business was “I want to learn how to do things myself”. I wanted to learn everything so I learned how to do all the jobs in my company. The first employee I got was a technical designer because I knew I could draw something but I didn’t have the technical ability and the know-how, so gradually she came on board and she put reality in place and did a fantastic job, she continues to do a really amazing job every day. Gradually I decided that even though I could eventually do the job myself I was happy to outsource it.
Then I found it was important to have relationship with yoga studios so I got somebody to do that and be an outward facing person, which isn’t what I am. I really needed that person to compliment my personality within the company. Finally we have hired someone who does all the communications and social media which again is something I know how to do but I don’t like doing because I’m genuinely not the right kind of person for that. Hiring these people has meant learning to become a manager. I’ve learned how to do something that hasn’t been a natural thing for me.
How does your personal yoga practice help you in business?
I think if we look back at how yoga changed my life, it gave me discipline. I wake up every morning and I do my practice no matter what. If I feel very awful, I’ll still do a little bit so the first foundation was it gave me the discipline to sit down even by myself and think “I’m doing this. We’re getting this thing done.” In business, that’s been vital.
The other thing it’s given me is self-reflection. For me, yoga has been a fantastic self-reflection tool in which I inspect myself. Am I doing things right? What’s happening here? It’s that moving meditation that in the morning has guided me.
When we were talking about asana, the physical practice, I love that description “moving meditation” because that’s what it is and should be. Coming back to the team, we talked about who you hired and why you hire them but something I forgot to ask is how did you actually attract them? How did you find these guys?
Each was luck! My first hire was entirely luck and we met over the internet. We had a conversation and I instantly knew it was really going to work. My second hire was the receptionist/manager of the yoga studio I used to go to. I needed someone to talk to yoga studios, who better to do the job? I realised how much this guy was underselling himself. This guy is very good, he really likes the project and he works really hard to make this work.
Moving on, the first thing that strikes me about your branding is the imagery, the quality. I understand your view on becoming more inclusive now because there will be people looking at your imagery and saying “I don’t belong here. I can’t look like that.” How will you address that?
The idea is to find the right balance. So, on product images to be more focused on the product and have more inclusive looking people and still have our beautiful artwork which is the essence of the brand and encompasses the idea that you should live your life as freely as possible. This is just my theory, I don’t want to boss anybody around! The holistic idea is be free, live your life the way you want to. Do the physical practice that you want to do. Travel, explore, take photos. That’s why I try and always focus on our photoshoots and doing them wacky places.
Do you have any advice for people who are looking to start businesses in today’s environment?
If you want to start a business, you need to remember that this is going to last for a long time. So you need to be happy about the idea that you are going to make a lot of sacrifices for it along the way and that if you’re not able to dedicate yourself to your project or whatever it may be, 100% for three years minimum, then you should rethink. Just reconsider and take a breather but it will take at least three years – I’m making a huge generalisation – generally, it will take three years to really know if you’ve got something or not. After those three years you can judge but don’t give up too early and don’t give up too late. You need to know when you’ve done something right or not and you need to be prepared to give up a lot of things. The overnight success is a myth that doesn’t really exist. The idea that you may become an overnight success is not a realistic one. realise that you’re going to have to be the earliest guy on the pitch and the latest guy off the pitch to give you the best possible chances, it’s all a game of chance. You may get lucky but if you buy the most lottery tickets, the odds are on your side. Let The Hunger Games begin!
That’s so profound because 99% of the time if you look at the back story you’ll see that there’s a lot that’s gone in before something becomes an “overnight success”. What’s the next stage of evolution for OHMME and what are you most excited about?
What we’re really excited about right now is launching our new website and all of our new products in the USA. We’ve been working so hard for so long on this and it’s finally around the corner. I’m really pleased about where we’re at and what new products we’ve got coming out and just having the ability to do this. Just saying “Look, we launched one year and three months ago, we’re now ready to really become an international brand. At least in the northern hemisphere you’ll be able to get our products within three days in your local currency.”. For me that’s an incredible amount of progress. the amount of work that is required just for the logistics is incredible and it’s a great challenge that we’ve pulled off. Now, the real pride is that we’re going to be able to offer a great product at a decent price in all the countries I know really well and hopefully in a lot of countries I don’t know well, and that will go very well with my passion of travel so I can go and explore new lands!
Our real dream is to be able to produce clothes the way we want to produce clothes. We are not big enough for that yet but we’re one step closer to being able to really fulfil all those ideals with which we started this business that we haven’t put to the side. When you’re small you have to accept what people that are willing to work with you offer you, because you have no bargaining chips. We’ve chosen green options as much as we could but we really want to create a brand in which gradually we can go towards a model of you know our pants would last for your whole life or when your pants are damaged, send them back to us and we’ll fix them. Or buy a pair of pants for life so you send it back to us when it’s broken and we’ll send you a new one and we’ll do something with this old pair of pants.
We’re one step closer to being able to say to our customers “When you’re done with your pants don’t throw them out, send them back to us so that we can do something.” We’re still figuring that out but there is another brand that’s taking that route and it’s taken them 50 years to get there. I hope it won’t take us 50 years, I really think that we can do this. We can really change because our customers are intelligent people that really understand things, we think that we can really lead a little bit of—I don’t want to say a revolution, I hate that word – a movement towards just better business.
The Present of Yoga’s takeaway;
Talk to your customers – don’t be afraid of feedback, as Louis says even though customers may point out flaws, by understanding what they are you can make improvements straight away. It’s a really simple way to learn what your audience wants so that you can build a stronger more relevant offering.