CREATING A YOGA BRAND: MEET NICKY HOLMES

Originally from Newport Beach, California, Nicolette moved to Lisbon, Portugal in 2016. “Prior to that I was living in Boulder, Colorado. Besides yoga, my favorite things in life are (in no particular order): the beach, Mexican food, traveling, and good wine. Combine all of these and I’m the happiest girl there is”, she tell us.

In this interview, Nicolette opens up about how yoga can be a powerful tool.

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Her friends call her Nicky, Niki, Nico, Nick and according to her any variation is welcome. We met two years ago through mutual friends. Her easy laugh and creative energy immediately caught my attention. Last year, she quit her marketing job to start her own brand: Gecko. In 2021, she launch her flagship product, the “OG” Original Gecko Cork Yoga Mat.

What do you love most about Lisbon?

This is a two-fold question: what do I love most about living abroad, and what do I love about living in Lisbon in particular. I love living outside of my home country because it consistently challenges me to see things from a different perspective. So much of our behaviors, values, and identities are conditioned by the environment which we grew up in. There’s no better way to truly get to know yourself than by plucking yourself from your comfort zone and replanting yourself in an unknown context. I would encourage everyone to try living abroad for at least a few months. As for Lisbon, I fell for this city for the same reasons as everybody else who comes here: the colorful buildings, the narrow streets of Alfama, the great food. But good views and cheap wine will only keep you in love with a place for so long. What truly connects me to this city is my partner, Bruno. Lisbon is his hometown, and he is without a doubt the thing I love most about this city.

How long have you been practicing yoga?

I’ve been practicing yoga for about a decade now. My practice has ebbed and flowed as I’ve gone through different seasons of my life. There have been phases where I practice every single day, and others when I’ve only managed to practice once a month, and that’s OK too. I think it’s important for people to understand that taking a yoga class every day is not what makes you a yogi. Being present, conscious, balanced, and following the yogic values in your daily life- that’s when you’re truly living the practice.

Can you tell us about your journey, and how you first got interested in yoga?

When I was 16, a friend of mine received a voucher in the mail for a free yoga class at a studio that just opened up in her neighborhood. I was a competitive dancer and cheerleader growing up, so I went to the class thinking it would be easy for me. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I had never sweat so much in my entire life, and the next day I had aches in muscles I didn’t even know existed. I absolutely loved the feeling.

I started going to classes regularly, but I was still only going for the exercise, not fully understanding that yoga was so much more than just a physical practice. But over time, yoga started to reveal itself to me as a mental and spiritual practice as well. As a teen, I, like many girls, struggled with self-esteem and body image issues. Yoga was the first thing that gave me release from the feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy. That’s when I knew that yoga was more than just something I did, but a part of who I was. In 2013, I completed my 200-hour teacher training in Vinyasa Yoga.

What made you start your own brand?

Gecko was actually born out of the pandemic. When the lockdowns first started, I was overwhelmed and burnt out from my marketing job, so I turned to my yoga practice. All those hours practicing yoga in my apartment got me thinking about the origin of my mat, and I realized how little I knew about it. I knew the name of the brand, but I didn’t know where it was made, what it was made from, and why it cost so much. And the more I sought answers to these questions, the more I came to realize how unsustainable and unyogic it was. My mat, like most, was mass produced from cheap materials and cheap labor, shipped halfway across the world, and then marked up and marketed to girls like me. The incongruence between my yoga mat and what I wanted my yoga practice to stand for made me feel like a hypocrite. So, I decided to do something about it.

What’s the story behind the name “Gecko”?

The name was inspired by the non-slip grip of cork. Geckos have grippy little finger pads, and they can stick to any natural surface in the world. Similarly, cork has a non-slip grip, so when you practice yoga on a cork mat, you kind of feel like a gecko. Actually, the more you sweat, the better the grip becomes.

In your opinion, has the pandemic changed consumers take on sustainability?

Sustainability is definitely a growing trend, I think a lot of people compromised on these values during the pandemic. Sustainability came second to sanitation, and we had a huge resurgence of single-use plastics and non-biodegradable items (food delivery, takeaway, masks, etc.). But while we may have taken a few steps backwards during COVID, I’m confident that we’ll keep improving and becoming more conscious of the environmental repercussions of our actions.

What inspired you to create Yoga Mats using cork? What are the main benefits of this fabric?

Living in Portugal introduced me to cork; it’s the National Tree, and cork production is a huge part of Portuguese culture and economy. I was particularly drawn to it because it’s fully renewable and sustainable. Cork trees are never cut. Instead, the outer layer of bark (the cork) is harvested from the tree in a process that can be done every nine years. In fact, removing the bark helps the tree live a long, healthy life, and increases C02 absorption. As a yogi myself, it was also super important that the sustainability of the product didn’t compromise the functionality (I’m looking at you, paper straws…). But cork performs better than most materials. As I mentioned, it has an incredible non-slip grip, and it’s naturally antimicrobial, hypoallergenic, and super lightweight. It’s a win-win.

What are the best and worst parts of running your business?

I love being a small business owner because I get to explore different aspects of myself professionally – some days I work in accounting, other days marketing, and other days operations and customer service. It’s a very dynamic job, which I love. It’s also simultaneously the worst part, because I don’t like accounting!

What would you recommend to new entrepreneurs?

Do your research, make a plan, and then prepare for things to not go according to plan. Businesses don’t happen on spreadsheets – they happen in real life. And real life is messy and unpredictable. We can’t force our businesses to adhere to clear trend lines and growth projections, so if you’re going to succeed, you need to learn to pivot and adapt.

Best piece of advice you have ever received?

“Don’t let perfection be the enemy of action.” My dad told me this because he knows that I can be a bit of a perfectionist. I tend to get stuck in the details, and this can make me lose sight of the big picture. What I’m learning now is to strive for progress, and not perfection.

What has yoga done for you as a person?

Yoga has taught me to live out of love, and not fear. When we choose love, we’ll always find our True North. But it’s not easy. That’s why we have to keep coming back to our mats time and time again.

Do you believe it is an alternative form of healing and medicine

Absolutely. Like many ancient healing practices, yoga doesn’t recognize the body, mind, and soul as separate entities, but as interconnected components of the self. If one of those pieces is out of alignment, the entire self is out of balance. Sometimes anxiety can manifest as a stomachache, or unaddressed emotions can create skin issues. When we take this holistic approach, we can heal on such a deeper level.

Any advice for people who think they don’t have time for yoga? How can they fit it into daily life and make it a habit?

It’s better to do a little bit of yoga every than a lot of yoga every once in a while. If 10 minutes of asana or meditation in the morning is all you can squeeze in, then that’s enough. If we wait until we have the time, then we’ll never start.

How do you want to help move humanity forward?

I truly believe that yoga makes the world a better place. It’s my mission to help spread this practice. Whether that’s by introducing a friend to a breathing exercise, teaching a class, or making yoga mats that align with the yogic values. For me, Gecko is more than a business. It’s part of my dharma.

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