Be Your Color…

This next collaboration is a modern day love story indeed. Modern day in that Maya and I struck up our friendship over Instagram and we haven’t met in person. Yet. But I can sense that we are like-minded kindred spirits and I look forward to calling her my friend for reals for reals. And it’s a love story simply because I’ve long been looking (and dreaming and visualising) for yoga wear that appeals to my African soul. Something that can cheer things up when the grey Nordic landscape lays it on a little too thick. Something with the color and celebration for life in a way that’s so unique and special to the mother continent (teeny, tiny plug: our Kenya Ashtanga yoga retreat starts oh so soon!) That down to earth swagger. That joy and happiness and art of living. And any chance I get to combine not just the things I feel passionate about, but those which are integral to my identity, feels not only like my duty and purpose, but part of my destiny to share it. With you, yes you, dear reader, the very one who’s reading this 🙂

1. Tell a bit about yourself Maya: who you are, where you’re from, where you live…
My name is Maya Santimano. I was born in Uppsala, Sweden, to a Swedish mother and a Mozambican father. I currently live in Uppsala, Sweden, but I’ve moved around a lot my whole life. As a child, I lived in Mozambique for six years. Later on I moved a lot and lived in Sweden, Lisbon, Shanghai and London. This is the rhythm of my life, moving around 🙂
2. Sounds familiar. And what about your business; can you describe how it came about?
Puka Wear is a leisure wear line of leggings designed for yoga, dance and movement; produced in organic cotton using colorful African print. Puka Wear is an extension of myself and my identity. My father is from Mozambique, but born to Goan (Indian) parents. Therefore Puka Wear is a combination of everything that lies within me: yoga – India, African print – Mozambique, with the company created and based in Sweden.
dsc_0668
This company has also become something bigger than just a being producer of clothes. Two years ago, the practice of Ashtanga yoga opened up a new awareness within me, where I started to question what I thought I wanted to do in life. This lead me to the decision not to continue with my studies in Political Science, where the idea was to work in aid, mainly in Mozambique and Africa in general.
The thought of being an entrepreneur was what first caught my attention. I wanted to create a life where I worked close to the core of a business, something that is not always the case when you work in big organizations and your job is to write reports and organize projects. I want to be where things actually happen!
When I worked as a yoga teacher in Casa Vinyasa  (Lisbon, Portugal)  I was always on the look out for yoga clothes with African print, but couldn’t find any. That’s where the concrete idea behind Puka came, and it was only a few months later when I decided to go for it and produce it myself. It was a huge step. Not only within myself but it also required a lot of strength in relation to everyone around me who had ideas of what I should and should not do.
3.I bet it was and that step took a huge amount of belief and trust in your intuition. You mentioned Ashtanga yoga opening up a new awareness in you which in turn sparked this tremendous career and life transformation. Tell us a bit more about your Ashtanga yoga background…
My yoga journey started in Lisbon where I was living for a year, studying Portuguese.
I had started a meditation practice and became more and more curious about yoga. When I first came to Casa Vinyasa in Lisbon I knew nothing about yoga, and even less about Ashtanga yoga. Casa Vinyasa is Isa Guitana Wong’s shala, who was one of the first yoga teachers of Ashtanga yoga in Portugal.
After my first practice I was completely in love, with the practice, with the space, with the teachers, everything! I started coming everyday to practice in Isa’s beautiful shala and with her wonderful assistants Liz, Stef and Ana. A few months into my practice, Isa asked if I wanted to assist her. I was completely blown away because it had never ever crossed my mind to teach yoga. And I was even more touched by the fact that I would be part of this beautiful shala and one of the team made up of such strong, loving women who dedicate their time and love to us students. So only a few months into the start of my own practice I was given the chance to dive deep into the world of Ashtanga, into the world of me and also see what it means to be there for a student.
Isa is my teacher and a dear dear friend. She studied together with Guruji in Mysore and continues to give the teachings of Ashtanga yoga to others. I know that one day I will go to Mysore and I am longing for that day, but now I feel strongly that there is so much more for me to discover together with Isa and learning from her.
Due to my current lifestyle I haven’t had the time and haven’t been settled enough to find space to continue teaching here in Sweden. However, now the circumstances are different and I will soon start teaching Ashtanga yoga again, here in Uppsala.
dsc_0173
4. What else do you like to do besides Ashtanga yoga and nurturing Puka wear?
I love cooking and reading cook books! I love adventures and everything that gives your day to day life that little extra boost: food, dancing, laughing, small projects at home, building things, being creative.
5.  What are some of the advantages to being your own boss? What about the disadvantages?
The biggest advantage to being your own boss is the freedom you have in your daily life. Being an entrepreneur makes you flexible to whatever comes that day, and for that I am grateful everyday. However, with freedom comes responsibility, which is the other side of the same coin. You are ultimately responsible for making your own money and always pushing the business forward. It requires a lot of discipline and just like you can have days of pure happiness and full power energy, you have days when you just want to quit.
Another advantage is that you can be really close to the core of a business, and at the core is where you can have visions and plan the future. This is a practice that gives a lot of energy and is so fun to be part of. You have the possibility to actually CREATE from your own source.
6. What advice would you give women, particularly women of color living in primarily white contexts, about starting a venture of their own?
First of all I would like to share that there will be no perfect timing. The time when you decide to follow your dream, there will be fear, there will be doubt, there will be people questioning you, you will be questioning yourself, there will be so much fear that you’ll feel it physically. Therefore, there won’t be a time where it just feels right all the time. I can guarantee this 100%. What you should remember though, and what kept me going, is that this is part of life as a whole. There will always be ups and downs because it’s the rhythm of life and it’s within this rhythm that things move forward. And on those down days filled with doubt, you should remember that this will pass, the fear will calm down eventually. It’ll probably also come back again, but you learn not to get too attached to it.
Secondly, I cannot stress enough the importance to start early with manifesting your dream in this physical world. In the dream, everything feels so distant, so unattainable, so romantic and this can make you passive because it seems so far reaching. Therefore, it’s important to start writing about what it is you are creating. Start writing down, talk to others about it, and start working with it in this physical world. One of the things that made all the difference to me was the amazing support I got from being a part of an incubator for start ups. What this incubator gave me was 1) they believed in me and my idea and 2) they helped make my dream real, into something workable. In the beginning you don’t really know where to start but I was given tools to work with and in this way, it was much more do-able.
Being a yogi, I will of course advise everyone to practice yoga or at least do something that is only yours, where you dedicate time only for yourself. I start most days with my practice, and I think that this grounded me in a way that was important during the beginning stages of Puka, where you deal with a lot of emotions, both good and bad.
Believe in what YOU are creating. Believe that you do not have to do like everyone else. There are a lot of ideas on how to run a business, what to do, how to behave, but many of those things didn’t feel right to me so I did it my own way. Always stick to what feels good, because when you do, you’re creating from a deep source of energy within yourself and you are working in line with your path, not against it.
7. Wow, this is so inspiring Maya! Where do you see yourself (and your business) in the next five, 10 and 20 years?
The thing with life is that you can only respond to what you have at the moment. At this moment, I want to explore this adventure that Puka is giving me because I believe that it will lead me forward and make me grow in a way that is stronger and wiser. But one day maybe something else will excite me. I am not too attached to Puka Wear itself. I am more interested in what it can give me at the moment. Therefore it is hard for me to think about Puka in 10 or 20 years, because so much can happen. In the last two years only, my life has turned upside down at least three times.
Having said that, I do see myself working creatively, with the African continent, with design, with culture. I also see yoga as a big part of my life, teaching and practicing and never stopping going deeper inside myself and exploring within.
8. As a yoga practitioner, do you feel you make choices in your business that reflect some of the values and ethics written and discussed about in yogic teachings and philosophy? What is one example?
As a yoga practitioner, you practice listening to yourself, your body, your spirit, your inner voice, and this is what I always do with my business. I probably could have made the start- up process faster and shorter and started earning money now now now, but I wanted to let Puka Wear grow organically and not force anything. On the yoga mat I know what happens if I force myself, I have learnt the hard way just like most do when they start their practice. You are eager to move forward fast, next posture, deeper, open up, more more. But with the practice over time comes patience, patience to wait for the right moment and the right decision. And trust that that moment will come, 100% sure. Of course I have days when I’m too much up my head and not enough grounded inside myself, and I want to move faster and I feel like I’m shit at what I do and nothing good will come out of this. But then thanks to my practice and my experience on my mat I have that grounding feeling in my stomach to relax and not force anything.
9. To end the conversation on a lighter note, what’s your I’m a Dope Ass Queen anthem that you listen to when you need that little reminder that you are, indeed, a dope ass queen?
Haha, I love this question! In Uppsala, where I live, everyone cycles, so pumping music in your headphones when you cycle… it’s just CRAAAZY how much energy it gives. You almost get high from it! But my choice at the moment is probably Can’t Hold Us  by Macklemore. Especially listening to it with headphones, you’re full power!
You can check out Maya and Puka wear on social media @pukawear and www.pukashop.com
The Kickstarter campaign has now reached it’s goal (good job, girl!) but you can still put your order in for the first shipment of super cheerful leggings, set to ship out in January!*
Watch the super inspiring story of Maya and  Puka Wear here…
*I’m not sponsored in any way by Puka Wear… I just believe in Maya’s vision 🙂
Advertisements

Suomesta Rakkaudella…From Finland, With Love

Hello hello,

I’m excited to start a series on the blog that has been bubbling around my head for awhile: a look at women entrepreneurs, or femmepreneurs as I like to call ’em, who are working in some creative field or capacity. The purpose of the series is to interview several women of color here in Helsinki (and beyond) who run their own small businesses. It’s to feature women who are working for themselves and/or are leading a group of employees. The main themes I’m looking to highlight are to inspire women of minority identity to take risks, believing in themselves as business owners and to make choices which come from a place of purpose, passion and creativity.

I start the series with Bianca, an African-American by way of the West Indies who’s lived in Helsinki since 2008. Her father was a military man and the family moved around when the children were young, eventually settling in Texas. She went to a predominantly Mexican high school in El Paso and was one of four Black students there. Bianca was Texas state champ in high jumping, won a track scholarship and attended Southern Methodist University.  In terms of study interests, she found out she was more creative rather than technical and had a desire to study Ceramics. She earned a degree in English and Journalism in 2000 and after graduation, decided not to continue with her athletic pursuits by going to Olympic training camp. She felt it was something she’d been doing for so long that it had begun to feel a bit empty and she wished to see more of the world. She felt she’d done what was expected of her by graduating and that now it was time to strike out on her own.

She worked as an editor in Dallas for a bit but felt ready to leave Texas so she went out to New York City to stay with a friend, Sharon (you’ll hear more about her in another post) from university. Funnily enough, the day before 9/11, she’d taken the red-eye back to Dallas and about a month later she packed up her things and, with the help of a friend, drove a U Haul out to the city. Once there, she began the transformation of reinventing herself in the city, working as a bartender and a model; gathering education and skills along the way by studying acting and the culinary arts. She did this for about nine years and felt it was a great period of growth. She’d felt that as far as high-school and college athletes go, they led quite sheltered lives, where everything is taken care of for you. In NYC, which she considers to be home, she felt she truly came into her own, on her own terms. However, after close to a decade in New York, she started feeling that wanderlust itch again and began to think about possible moving out to LA to pursue acting, when fate stepped in and determined that she would actually continue her story in Finland. She met a Finn and after two years of doing the long-distance thing, when she was invited to move to Finland, she accepted and arrived to Helsinki in the summer of 2008.

And thus begins the Helsinki chapter of the tale…

So why don’t we start with your business and the story of how it came to be?

I run a tourist and souvenir T-shirt retail company called Suomesta Rakkaudella*. It’s based at Kauppatori by the harbor and I do the design, printing and embroidering for the shirts. When I first moved to Finland, I was working my boyfriend at the time with his Kauppatori stall. After the relationship ended, I was sort of forced to work for myself and the reason I stayed at Kauppatori was because I felt limited with what I could do career wise due to language limitations. In 2010-2011 I started my own stand with one of those low-key, informal umbrella stalls, four designs and two colors of shirts. Now I have 16 different designs and several colors to choose from. I’m proud of it because I love the design aspect and while there are more glamorous things to design than souvenir T shirts, at least it’s a built-in focus with a market. I’m currently learning to delegate better so that the business can grow.

*From Finland, With Love (which also happens to be the title of Roman Schultz’s tongue-in-cheek book on life in Finland)

The nature of business at Kauppatori is seasonal and tourist dependent. Can you describe how you structure your on and off-season schedules? 

Basically, during the summer, I wake up 6am so that I can get to the market by 7am. This past season I didn’t take on an employee, so I sold alone at the stall. I’d only stop for a quick food and bathroom break and it was back to the stall. I’d finish at around 6:30 or 7pm, take a look at the inventory and go straight to print whatever’s out of stock usually until midnight. I work crazy hard in the summer, 20 hours a day, seven days a week. Not much sleep, not much eating, just work. Winter is the quiet time and now the question has become, “What do I do in the winter?” The first winter or two, I enjoyed the time off but after a while, you need to do something to feel worthwhile.

Are you involved in other projects?

I’ve done some TV work. I recently wrapped up filming as an extra on a TV series and when I first came to Finland, I was on Top Chef. Last year, my brother and I made Trinidadian food for Ravintola Päivä. I made roti, chicken curry and several sauces. I’ve also done a bit of modelling but the market is different here. It’s not my market but it’s a nice supplement. Right now, food trucks and the whole concept of street food is booming in Helsinki. And you know, coming from Trinidad, it’s all street food so I’ve had a small thought to have a Trini food truck. It’s hard to make a profit with food though so you need to really love it.

What are some of the advantages and disadvantages to setting up your own business here?

As an entrepreneur the scariest thing is thinking that I don’t have a retirement plan. You’re living by the seat of your pants. When you’re doing it by yourself, it’s a lot harder. With a career and a job, all that comes with the package. I think about retirement everyday. In the initial and middle stages, you need to live with the fact that you and only you are providing for your future. There’s no 401K or retirement plan and you need to make enough so that you can retire in the future. There’s more responsibility in your own life which is great but it’s also harder than leaving it up to the government or your job to take care of you. Here in Finland I’d say it’s a bit easier, especially for women. I personally had enough savings so I didn’t need to use a start-up grant, but it’s not like in the States. Finnish offices are supportive and helpful and they want to help you and work with you, as a small business owner.

That first season in Kauppatori, it was make or break. I said a Hail Mary and threw in the rest of my savings. That first year I was thinking to make enough money just to go back home. It’s pretty isolating within Kauppatori as well and you do need some working knowledge of Finnish with them (Kauppatori), to get through the bureaucracy. You need to work very hard yourself because employees are so costly here. Opening anything, you have to love it. You don’t have to know you love it, not in the beginning, but once you’re in it, if you don’t love it, get out, it’s going to suck you dry.

Where do you see yourself (and your business) in the next five years?

I am happy in Finland and Helsinki and so I plan to stay here for the foreseeable future. When people ask me where I’m from I say New York but currently I consider Finland to be my home. Over the next three-five years, I’d really like to have a yoga wear line and move more into the cut and design of fabric. I love the quality of materials coming out of Bangladesh but there’s a lot of stigma attached to it as a result of the unethical and exploitative treatment of textile and garment workers. It’s tricky because when I look at the quality of the products, it really is Bangladesh that’s making the best stuff and, in the end, I want to give the consumer a good, durable product. Another place in consideration is Portugal where there’re some factories within the garment industry which use organic materials and provide fare wages for the workers.

This leads nicely into my next question: As a yoga practitioner, do you feel you make business choices which reflect some of the values and ethics written and discussed about in yogic teachings and philosophy? 

The idea of fair pricing. I don’t buy the cheapest or most expensive shirts on the market. I find the best product for my needs and deliver it in the best possible way. I try to keep prices within an accessible range. Honesty, honor, truthfulness, many of the yamas and niyamas are in there. It also comes from a moral core that my mother enforced and just by trying to be a decent person.

Tell is a little bit about how you got into yoga…

I’ve practiced yoga for ten years. I’ve only had a dedicated practice for four years. I started in New York at gym classes, etc. I didn’t become really interested until I went to Jivamukti Yoga there. They introduced me to proper alignment, counterbalancing forces, chanting and meditation. I had only experienced the asanas before and they gave me my first glimpse into what yoga really is, and I was hooked. Then I moved to Finland shortly after. Here I haven’t really found a home studio. I did Bikram for a while at Yoganordic. While they were lovely, it was back to just asanas and I was really missing what I’d met at Jivamukti. So once the breakup happened, I decided to take my “Eat, Pray, Love” journey, went to Bali and got my 200hr teaching certificate. I really never intended to teach, I just wanted to immerse myself and learn and heal. That totally worked, but it also developed a desire in me to teach. Since I’ve been back I’ve been “home schooling” myself by following Meghan Currie’s classes on Cody App. I consider her my guru. I’ve taken on some other teachers whom I respect as well, including Dylan Werner, Ashley Galvin and Talia Sutra. I’ve taught a few private classes, but the market keeps me too busy to really focus there. I also feel that in order to teach, I need to gain more knowledge. I’ll most likely take my 300hr training at some point and I’m continually reading and expanding my own practice. I do a mix of yin and vinyasa. It’s not rooted in any particular style. I couldn’t call it Ashtanga, as I don’t follow the traditional sequences. I like to move but I also like to find stability and ease in static holds. I like powerful flows that are challenging, but I’m hyper focused on alignment and gentle progress. I think your yoga should always help you, not hurt you. Everything comes in its own time.

What advice would you give women, particularly women of color, who may not have much Finnish under their belts, about starting a venture of their own?

When you think of savings, you don’t need to necessarily think you need to make such a large contribution to get started. I started with four designs and put 5K. The important thing is to just start. Really be willing to work for it. I didn’t know I liked tshirts. I’m just lucky that I did. Give it up right away if you don’t love it. You don’t need to know that you love it before you start but when you are in it, you gotta love it. If you find yourself lacking in love, give it up, let it go and start something else!

To end the conversation on a lighter note, what’s your I’m a Dope Ass Queen anthem that you listen to when you need a boost of energy? What are your hobbies?

If I want to get pumped up, I listen to Robyn or Sia but honestly yoga and meditation keep me sane. I’m planning to do a Vipassana meditation course early next year. I also love to play golf. I’m artistic so I like to draw and paint and plan to get back into ceramics at some point.

Alright dear ones, that wraps it up for me. I’ll be keeping you posted on developments on the yoga wear line. The next thing to do is book your flight to Helsinki and visit Bianca at Kauppatori. Tell her I said, “Hiiii!”

xoxo