Outside their sisterly bond, however, they found that the same sense of encouragement and motivation was not universal.
When looking at the fitness industry and wellness spaces, they saw less and less women who looked like them — women with varying skin tones and body types.
So, the two women decided to do something about it.
After raising $2,000 through Kickstarter, a crowdfunding company, the sisters started selling yoga mats featuring images of women with different hair types, head wraps, skin tones, body shapes and sizes. For a limited time, the brand is also selling mats featuring Black men.
“A lot of things that deter people from keeping their commitment or devoting that time to themselves is that they don’t have much encouragement,” Cornelia Gibson told CNN. “Inclusion is a large part of it.”
“The (yoga) mat kind of serves that purpose: she is the sister you never had,” Gibson said when referencing the designs on the yoga mats. “And you feel like, you know, she’s rooting for me, she’s here for me, she looks like me.”
The idea for the mats came to the Gibson sisters in the most conventional way — it was early in the morning and they were on the phone with each other, getting ready to start their day.
“She’s on her way to work and I’m talking to her while getting my daughter ready for school when she said it in passing and it was just something that stuck,” Julia told CNN. “And I’m like, that’s something we can actually do, something that would give representation, that’s something that would change a stereotype.”
The next step was to look for an artist to design the artwork for the yoga mats and, luckily, the sisters didn’t have to look far: their mother, Oglivia Purdie, was a former New York City elementary school art teacher.
With an idea and an artist in hand, the sisters created mats featuring women that they see every day — the women in their neighborhoods, their families, their communities. And, more importantly, they wanted children to look at the mats and see themselves in the images.
“Representation matters,” said Julia. “I’ve had a customer tell me that their kid rolls out their mat and says ‘mommy, is that you on the mat?’ that’s always a big accomplishment and the biggest reward for me.”
In addition to highlighting underrepresented groups, the images also play an important role in dispelling common myths about the ability of different body types to complete a variety of workouts, especially yoga poses.
“Yoga poses are graceful and maybe come with a connotation that if you are a certain size that maybe you can’t do that,” said Julia. “Our mats look like everyday women that you see, they give you confidence.
“When you see it like this, it can’t be ignored,” she added.
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