Maveriqs Profile: Larissa M. Miller, Founder, Pi Yoga Pants
Video Interview Recorded on January 16, 2017
By Lamin Turay
As we continue our series of video interviews with entrepreneurs across all walks of life, we are proud to have had the opportunity to discuss the journey of Larissa M. Miller. Larissa is a well-traveled and very worldly yogi and entrepreneur, who's founded a fast-growing yoga pants company called Pi Yoga Pants. Through creative ingenuity, natural inspiration, and a zest for connecting with her community she has experienced rare forms of success in only her first year of doing business. It was a pleasure to discuss her path to success and learn more about her overall vision for the company. Here's how our discussion went...
How did you get started with your company, and what problem is it that you solve?
When I first started Pi Yoga Pants I was originally traveling in Southeast Asia, and had just quit my previous job to travel the world for a year. I invested two year of my saving into the trip, and decided to finally make the move - make the jump and start traveling. I always knew while I was doing it (traveling) that I wanted to start a business. That was always in the back of my head. I always had my eye out for different business opportunities or different things that other countries were missing. I thought that, eventually I would bring a new business to another country, but what I didn’t realize was that I could bring a product or an idea back to the United States.
While I was traveling over there I was wearing regular yoga pants, and I was trying to do yoga. When you’re in Thailand you have this vision ya know? You’re gonna go to that pool by the beach and do some yoga (laughs). But it was really hot over there, like 90 degrees with 80 percent humidity. Super hot! The pants (regular yoga pants) got super uncomfortable super quick. If you’re walking all day, (which you do) and you’re in Bangkok which is 90 degrees, the first day I walked 13 miles and you start to get some chaffing. That’s a little uncomfortable. Your pants start sticking, and yoga pants in general since they’re so tight, actually start to block up your pores and your skin is not really breathing either. Day 1 I realized that, and decided that I needed to find some different clothes. All of the clothes I had brought pretty much weren't going to help.
I started designing in my head a yoga pant that would be more versatile for hot weather, while also being a little bit more comfortable. In the back of my mind I was trying to solve this problem of what would work for yoga or for travel, and would be more comfortable. So I started looking for a seamstress in Thailand. I look around for about a month, and no one wanted to give me their seamstress. I was having such a problem (finding a seamstress). All of the little boutique shops that I went to only wanted to sell me their merchandise. They didn’t really want to do any custom work. They just say, “Oh, you can buy one of these or those!” No one really wanted to help me.
My visa was up and I decided to go to Bali. That was the next place on my list. When I got there I was super excited to start the brand. I was telling a guy (my taxi driver), “Ya! I really want to start this brand of yoga pants called “Pi” Yoga Pants!” I had the name, and I had the vision. I was also telling him about how I wanted to give back, and have a conservation aspect be a big part of it. My taxi driver was like, “You’re kidding!? I actually know a seamstress!” It literally fell into my lap. I was like, “Are you kidding me!? This is the moment I’ve been waiting for!”
So where did you take it from there?
While you’re traveling for such an extended period of time you can kind of change your plans any minute. While we were taking the taxi toward our destination, the driver told me about the seamstress. I was like, “Oh my god! Turnaround!” He literally took us back down, and we met the seamstress. I ended up staying another two or three days down there working with her to make a prototype.
It was a little bit of a struggle to be honest, because when we first got down there I realized that she (the seamstress) didn’t speak any English. Obstacle number one! That was definitely a big struggle, and it was really hot in Bali during that time, which was March of last year (2016). It was 100 degrees and 100 percent humidity. There was rain and lightning every day, and we’d be in her little house trying to make the internet work so we could use Google Translate to try and explain the designs and get the prototype made. The next day she came up with the prototype based on the design that I had given her. She said, “This is really good. Let me take you to my label maker, who’s my friend.” She always has a friend! (laughs). She then said, “I have a friend who can make a tag for you.” So after that we met with the guy who could make the tag for the labels. As soon as we got the prototype for that made, and put it on the pants, that was definitely the moment when I was like, “OK, I’m 100% in! What do we need to do to take this to the next level?”
So essentially the problem that your company solves is the same problem you experienced while traveling. You needed versatile and comfortable clothes for both yoga and travel?
Yes! Especially in the heat, and when mosquitoes are around, if you’re wearing long pants for protection in that kind of heat you’re going to be sweating. However, with the pants that I’ve designed, we use rayon instead of cotton. It’s much more breathable than cotton and actually dries a lot faster too. In high heat, especially doing hot yoga, sweat or water evaporates much faster and leaves your skin feeling more comfortable. Not only are the pants not tight (like normal yoga pants), but they’re flowy so you get air ventilation and a product that dries faster. We’re solving that problem for travel and yoga at the same time.
What else is unique about your brand or product that helps you to differentiate?
The fact that they’re made from rayon instead of spandex or Lycra material definitely sets them apart. We also have a wide range of colors and designs. I currently have over 50 different styles and patterns available online, and I’m looking to develop more for the spring collection that I have coming up. There’s a lot of variety there, and I’ve tried really hard to make sure that there’s something for everyone.
We have dark color schemes, boutique designs, solid colors like the “Crimson Confidence,” just something for everyone. It’s great! Now when I see customers, there’s so much selection, but there’s always one that they’re drawn to, and they (the designs) all have their own name. When Someone picks out a pair of pants they start to create that bond with those pants.
When did you decide that you were 100% in with entrepreneurship, and that you wanted this to be your career and profession?
The moment when they put the label on the prototype was when I knew that I definitely wanted to fulfill the dream of making the pants and the company. However, it wasn’t until about 4 months later that I really decided this was where I wanted to put 100% of my attention. At that time, business was going good. I was going to a lot of yoga festivals in San Diego, Los Angeles, and Seattle. I was getting good feedback from a lot of people from all the places I went. That’s when I was like, “I could really make a lifetime career out of this.” Knock on wood! (laughs) It’s only been about eight months, but I think that if I continue in the direction I’m going and I’m able to adapt to change, which is one of the biggest problems that a lot of companies encounter that I’ll be OK.
I’m not sure if you’re aware, but I quickly learned, that the fashion industry is nine months ahead. Let’s say I’m selling clothes to everyone here (in San Diego) in the winter time, but the big stores or big chains are actually shopping for Fall of 2017 already. So even when I started doing business I was already nine months behind.
What are some challenges that you have faced during this eight month entrepreneurial journey, and how have you overcome them?
Starting from the beginning I feel like almost everything was a challenge. Aside from meeting my taxi driver who introduced me to the seamstress. That was an honest blessing. It was something I just had to take. Up until that point it was challenging to find a seamstress to work with. Another challenge is the communication barrier. I still work with this woman (the seamstress), her husband, and their daughter. None of them speak English. We’ve had to get her daughter-in-law to help us translate. So we’ve got a way. It’s kind of a roundabout way.
The next challenge I think, has been the internet. I was hoping that I could do all of this overseas. I wanted to start it in Bali, and be based over there. I wanted to live in Bali in order to really embody the culture of the brand, but the wi-fi is so terrible. We are so lucky to have good and fast internet. What took me almost a week over there, took me a matter of hours when i came back.
When I came back to the states from Bali I got things launched in about a week. Since then I’ve been going to events. Those have been a bit of a challenge, but also really insightful. I see a lot of different demographics, and how I can work in different markets. Every market has different trials and errors. I’ve taken chances to see if this market is good for me. Some events are good, some are bad. I’m quickly learning that the demographic is very important. Yogis! You’re my girls, you’re my guys! I love my yogis!
With all the different methods you could use to promote your brand what made you decide to attend events? What have you gotten out of it?
The inspiration behind the events actually started because the first two events that I went to were hosted by friends that I met. One was the International Day Of Yoga in San Diego. She’s (the event runner) actually hosting it again soon. She has an event coming up at Balboa Park. She’s been doing it for almost three years. I told her, “OK. I’ll go to your event. I’ll support you, and you’ll support me.” It’s good to help out with people in the community. That’s how you start to grow an audience, which is so important when starting a brand.
Another one of the festivals that I’ve been to is Tulafest up in Seattle. My friend Alondra started that. She also a big influencer in my brand as well. I met her about a week after I had this idea. She was telling me how she wanted to start a yoga festival in Seattle. She doesn’t live in Seattle though. She lives in San Francisco. She definitely gave it her all. She was working on the website while we were traveling. I just thought she was so ambitious for trying to do it ya know? I was like, “If she can try to start a yoga festival that takes place in Seattle, a place where she’s never lived, while traveling in the Philippines, then I can certainly accomplish my goal.” She’s gonna try to pull it off, and she probably will. If you never stop trying, then you’re going to make something happen. So I promised her that if she started the festival that I would drive up from San Diego to Seattle to support her. I then ended up going up there for the actual event. It ended up pretty good. She had about 300 attendees.
What are some interesting partnerships that you have been able to establish from attending events on behalf of your company?
Yeah! I think collaboration is the funnest part for sure. When I met you (Lamin Turay of Maveriqs) at the Pineapple Project event, that’s collaboration right there. Collaboration is key because you may meet people in person, or meet them online, or you see that their Instagram is in parallel with what you’re doing. One of my big marketing aspects is Instagram, so if I find someone who is in parallel with that who I can cross-market or work with, it really opens up your audience and brings people together. That’s one of the really big things you can accomplish with collaboration. Working together to expand your market.
How do you interact with, and bring value to the following that your brand has generated?
That’s a really good question, and to be honest, it’s one of the vital parts of my company. I think that for me personally, it’s not just about starting the business, it’s more about creating the lifestyle. With fitness, with yoga, with staying healthy, and having a positive life. I’ve really tried to embody that with the brand, but also with all of my friends. Everyone that I’ve met, all of my girls that come to my photoshoots, and the constant events that I’m hosting in San Diego, are all part of it. I’m constantly posting events on my Facebook page if you guys ever want to come. Everyone is invited.
We’ve really created a nice community that is all of my friends, and all the people I’ve met who are friends of other friends. I’ll post something on Instagram, and four people may show up who I’ve never met before, but they’ll give hugs and be like, “I’m happy to be here. Let’s make some magic happen!” It’s grown into this really nice community that is my personal favorite part of the business. It’s also nice in that, as my friends travel, they’re taking their yoga pants with them. I have a friend in Minnesota right now, and she’s taken some really nice photos. She’s spreading the word. It’s not only the community, but I think it’s become a sort of “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.” It’s brought things to life!
What techniques beyond events are you using to grow your business?
I’m constantly trying to grow my business online, mainly through Instagram. That was the main marketing tool that I used from the very beginning. Even when I first had the idea I was like, “OK! (I’m gonna use Instagram)” . I bought the website, which was like 99 cents. Then I went on Instagram and it (the name Pi Yoga Pants) was there, so I started building that by posting travel photos. Even though it wasn’t directly related to the yoga pants yet, I knew where it was gonna go, and I didn’t add any of my friends from back home. I just wanted to create a real organic audience based around travel and yoga.
So I decided to take that (the brand message of travel and yoga), and grow the Instagram with that. I would use that as my main outlet. I’d get that going from the beginning. Pre-marketing is a really big part of business too. You can’t just come out with an iphone and have no marketing, then no one knows what it is and they’re like, “OK. Well why should we buy it?” You have to give people a reason to want it, or to want to be a part of it.
We’re doing our own events all the time as well. We have an event coming up at the San Diego Yoga Festival. We’ve also done a couples yoga retreat that took place on Valentine’s day. We were also at the Sedona Yoga Festival, and brought a three-car caravan to that event.
What about the design? How do you come up with the various looks for your products?
Part of it is my own personal design, and a lot of it is collaboration with my seamstress as well. I really wanted the pants to have a Balinese, international influence. I wanted them to be something different, something that people in America or in other countries have never seen before. I’ve been working directly with them (the seamstress group) to make sure the pants have the Balinese influence...to keep it tropical.
I originally started with a bunch of bright colors, and a bunch of white. Everyone was like, “We need some black. We need some blue. Tone it down a bit!” (laughs) So the crimson one and the “Onyx Flower Of Life” were later editions, but the bright ones are still very popular. We still get a lot of people that are very interested in the bright ones. However, for everyday wear the “Blue Boutique” is really popular, and the “Bohemian Princess” is really popular. They’re something that you’d wear right now.
San Diego is more of a metropolitan city, but we still have the beach. We have the best of both worlds in a sense, but in some places where they don’t I want to make sure that they’re not wearing this (the pants) and feeling totally out of place.
Moving back toward you as an entrepreneur, how do you self-educate so that you can continue to improve your knowledge?
That’s a good point. I feel like I know things, but also, when I started I felt like I didn’t know anything at all. I’m constantly going online and reading forums. I also watch a lot of YouTube channels on advice for how people have started their businesses. I just started listening to some podcasts as well. I’ve come to the conclusion that starting a business is like taking a class with no teacher. You just kind of have to figure it out. Talk to your friends who have done it before. At the events that I’m going to I’m constantly asking questions, because those people have been through the same things, but are a year or two ahead of me. They have the answers, and people are so willing to help out especially when you want to collaborate with them right then and there or in the future. It’s all about working together, and knowledge is power. You definitely have to harness those opportunities when they come by.
What advice would you give to someone who has an idea or solution that they want to put out into the world?
There are two things I would mention to someone that wants to start their business or start their idea. The first one is to test it. Test it in your market, and ask people if they would buy it or use the service. Ask online as well. Sometimes your friends and family don’t exactly know the industry that you’re trying to get into to so it doesn’t hurt to go online. If it’s on Instagram, post about your product and see if people are even interested in it. I’ve seen a lot of mine friends want to start businesses where they have this idea, but it’s very very similar to a lot of other things that people are doing. For example, t-shirts or water bottles, more generic things. You have to give people a purpose to want to buy yours versus somebody else’s. So I would say definitely test the waters before you just dive on in.
If you’ve done that, I’d say don’t be scared. Everyone is scared. I’m scared! (laughs) You’re starting something new, and you don’t know if it’s going to succeed, but the worst case is that if you try it and you fail, you know another way to go about it. That takes you a step ahead of where you were before you started.
What about your role models. Do you have any rock star entrepreneurs that you follow?
I know there are a lot of entrepreneurs out there, but the people who have influenced me the most are my mom and dad. Don’t let that go to you guy’s ego (to mom and dad). They’ve been entrepreneurs since before I was born. My dad started his own business buying and reselling antiques. He got into that industry by buying stuff, and learning the industry, which is hard since every industry has something that you need to learn. So buying stuff, fixing it up, and then reselling it. He even got to the point where he started creating his own furniture. Even if it would be a mock of a name brand, he’d still do it in a good way, and making a profit on it. He’d be selling his own art. He’s been doing that ever since I was born.
In more recent years they’ve (my parents) started turning their entrepreneurial side to real estate. They got their first house , and started to pay off their mortgage to the point where they could buy a second property. Now they’re at the point where they have seven different properties all around San Diego, and they’ve finally found storage for all that furniture. So they’ve put the furniture in the apartments that they have for rent, and they’ve been using them on AirBnB. They’ve definitely given me a different outlook on entrepreneurship. There’s no wrong way. It’s always OK to take a different route. If my dad had stuck to just antiques I don’t know if he would have been as successful, but by adapting to his environment and adapting to change, he found a way to maximize profits while learning a new industry. So they’ve (my parents) definitely taught me the most.
What are some habits that you’ve acquired in working as an entrepreneur that you may not have possessed before?
The number one thing that I’ve adapted to doing everyday is self control, and the aspect that if you try to do everything then you get distracted. You lose your self control because you’re focusing on ten things at once. For example, when I first started the company I promised myself that I would give the business 100% of all my energy, all my effort, all my time, and make Pi Yoga Pants become successful as a company. I’d take it like I was approaching school, and try to get A++’s in doing as good as a job as you can. Trying to impress yourself! I was really trying to do something where I could look back on it and be proud of myself. I feel like a lot of times people get scared and aren’t willing to fail. I’ve really wanted to make this my best.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given, and what’s the best piece of advice you can offer to our audience about entrepreneurship?
I think the best advice that I’ve acquired over time is that you want to fail faster. That way you can also achieve things faster. I’ve taken that and applied it to myself. I used to be very frugal with my money, and didn’t want to invest in things. I’d think, “I don’t want to spend that much. I want to save it.” So for me it’s been learning to not be so guarded on my money, but to accept that something is a business expense, that’s it’s going to cost money - it doesn’t come free. So you have to just take the risk and let your money go, know that it’s going to come back to you, and hopefully you’ll get more in the long run.
That was definitely a hard thing for me to do because it was so embedded in my mind that I needed to save, save, save. However, you have to spend if you want to get something back.
What’s new and exciting with Pi Yoga Pants that you can tell us about?
Several good things have come my way recently. Number one, my really good friend Jillian that I met a couple years ago, has reached out to me saying that she’s going to get set up with Amazon seller accounts. So we got on the phone, and got to talking and she said, “Ya, it’s easy, I know how to do it. I’ll get you set up!” I was like, “Oh my god! Thank you!” It’s hard to get set up with an Amazon seller account. They have so many requirements and there’s a lot of back-end work. I’ve been trying to do it for about four months. We’re going to get on the phone and go over all that, and hopefully have it set up within the next couple of weeks.
Also, I’m going to launch my Indie Go Go Campaign this year! I’m really excited for that. I’m hoping to launch it on National Pi Day, which is March 14th (3/14). The date is to be determined. It depends on how much back-end work (needs to be done). I got a lot of the footage for it the last time I was in Bali. I did a lot of work with a few dive instructors and got to talk with them about the sea turtle conservation aspect of my brand. I give 10% back to sea turtle conservation. I really needed to get that expert advice, and deeper knowledge on what I can do. I think that will really help launch the Indie Go Go campaign and take it to the next level so the brand can get big and we can give more back to conservation efforts.
What kind of perks and incentives can we expect from the Indie Go Go campaign?
I first need to restructure the Indie Go Go. When I originally wrote it I was like, “OK guys, let’s give away hundreds of pants!” Now I’m realizing I need to slow down. The business is growing fast, so I need to make sure that things work out. I’ll still hook our customers up, and make sure everyone is taken care of. I want one of the prizes to be an all-inclusive trip to Bali to do a yoga retreat. How cool will that be! Some way to create community involvement. I feel like that’s the best way to go about it.
How can we find and follow you?
Indie Go Go Campaign: https://goo.gl/xVKMSE
We'd like to thank Larissa for taking the time to speak with us about her entrepreneurial journey and her wonderful company Pi Yyoga Pants. We wish you all the best with your coming Indie Go Go campaign. If you're interested in supporting the campaign click the button below, and let us know what you think about Pi Yoga Pants in the comments below!