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.
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.
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 🙂