What moves you? This is the question we ask people who are getting the ball rolling and making the world a little better. Who are driving ideas forward, daring to do something new, and blazing new trails.
Entrepreneur, mother, model, mechanical engineering student, yoga teacher – Isa Konga has a number of hats to wear in her life, but there is one thing she is above all else: a doer. In 2018, she founded her own yoga apparel label, Yoga Konga, since she couldn’t find a brand on the market with products that met her needs. (Anyone who is familiar with the story of how Wildling was founded may be experiencing a bit of déjà vu when they hear that).
We met up with Isa by video conference in her home and chatted with her over tea and pasta about the story of her company’s foundation, the courage to make mistakes, and about beliefs that we urgently need to throw overboard.
Just do it (yourself)
“I wanted to have yoga wear that had more of an African print theme but I couldn’t find anything, so I thought, ‘Okay, then you’ll just make it yourself.’
What’s special about my company is that I have specialized in African yoga, Smai Tawi, and have also designed the apparel to reflect these African roots.
In the beginning, the designs I had in mind were completely different and then I came to the point where I really wanted to use traditional African fabrics as the basis. This African print doesn’t actually have its origins in Africa, but rather in Holland, and even though it’s now part of the culture, I wanted something more traditional, something that had been there before. A friend then suggested tie-dye and I thought that was a brilliant idea! I think it’s visually appealing and I also think that the indigo plant used to dye the clothes is really fascinating because it also has a great many healing properties and an intriguing history.
Naturalness and fair conditions
For me, it’s important that my products are as natural as possible so they don’t pollute the environment even more than it already is, and I also want to have a product that is long-lasting and feels good on your skin. I really don’t like the feel of sportswear made of fabrics like polyester, even recycled polyester.
That’s why my clothes are made from organic bamboo and dyed with indigo.
I have my products produced in Indonesia by a company owned by an acquaintance of mine who also shares my belief that it’s incredibly important for everything to be natural, for people to be paid fairly, for people to be paid even when they’re sick, and for them to have normal working hours. I am totally happy that it was so easy for me to find someone right away whose values match my own. When it comes to setting up a company, good connections are priceless.
Allowing a margin for error
When we had everything ready to produce the samples, I was already super happy with some parts of it but wanted to make a few more changes, so we sampled again. Unfortunately, the revision samples turned out to be no good at all, even though only a few minor changes would have been necessary. I am genuinely surprised time and again at how people can misunderstand each other – in other words, what you say and what the other person understands. But I think that is something that all people who start a business will encounter, and I think it’s crucial for founders to allow for some margin for error. Maybe that way you sometimes end up coming across things that you didn’t even have on your radar before and you discover new possibilities by chance.
For me it actually happened like that because things with the clothing took so long, in the meantime I came up with the idea of making a mat. And I am totally happy about that because the travel mat is such a great product since a lot of people, when they meditate or do yoga, really like to look at the symbols and are glad to have something from the African culture at home that is a kind of support in their spiritual practice. And that just came about because things with the clothing samples didn’t go as planned.
From self-employment to entrepreneur
I think it helps not to look at the totality of the project you have in mind, but to really take one small step after another. The most important thing is to get started and once you do that, a lot of possibilities arise.
I think another reason it was easy for me to start a company was that I was already self-employed before – for eight years already. I got very little student financial aid while I was studying and I always had a side job. But that also meant that I had less time to collect credits during my studies, so the financial aid was eventually cancelled altogether. So I had to find something to be able to feed myself and my daughter and then the modelling just happened and I basically slid right into self-employment. So I knew what I was getting into with setting up my own business.
I started studying mechanical engineering because I had actually wanted to study astrophysics, but I was pregnant at the time and thought to myself, “That might be a bit complicated and tiring as a mother, so I’d rather study mechanical engineering and then I can study aerospace engineering for my master’s degree and then I’ll be back in a similar field.” I’ve always had a great interest in the natural sciences. When I was little and people asked me, ‘What do you want for your birthday or for Christmas?’ the answer was always, ‘Lego Technic!’ That and the cosmos have always been my big passions.
Looking back, though, I don’t think that mechanical engineering was actually any easier than astrophysics. Over time, however, my studies have actually become more of a sideshow, because I just really enjoy working and doing things related to yoga. I’m finishing my degree now because I don’t want to waste the energy I put into it, but if I was still in my first semester, I’d say, ‘No way!’
Lose the old dogmasMy wish for the future is that every person, every individual, finds their way back to themselves again and frees themselves from beliefs that they were raised to accept – be it by their parents or by society – which just don’t serve them at all. Sadly, we often replicate those beliefs ourselves because it’s ‘normal,’ even though, when you think about it, you’re not really convinced that it’s true.
I think what has happened in the last few weeks was also the first time for a lot of white people to come to terms with their whiteness, because before that, whiteness was just normal. But the consequences this has for non-white people haven’t been taken into account in this kind of normalcy. That’s why I’m really glad that people who have never dealt with it before are now doing exactly that. I’ve also seen some All Lives Matter posts. Of course all lives matter, but for me “All Lives Matter” starts when black lives really do matter. Only then does everyone matter.
I saw on Spotify that the audiobook Exit Racism by Tupoka Ogette really went through the roof. I think that’s great because it reiterates the message that, ‘Oh wow, we really have a problem here and just because it doesn’t apply to me doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.’ That’s why I would love to see a book like this read in schools.So much is happening this year, so many big things are happening, and if that includes getting rid of racism, that would be a really good thing."
Thank you very much for this wonderful, inspiring interview, dear Isa!
If you would like to learn more about Isa and her work, you can follow her and Yoga Konga on Instagram – including some amazing yoga pictures.