Give yourself space for making mistakes and release the pressure of perfectionism. Without hard-earned lessons, there would be no opportunity for growth that leads to success.
Brienne has always been her most joyful when building something, solving a puzzle, or pioneering an idea. Growing up in Arizona and France, and informed by an artistic childhood and higher education in architecture, Brienne had a strong penchant and passion for innovative design. After graduating from the University of Oregon with a Masters in Interior Architecture, Brienne was sought out by a well-known architecture firm. After four years at the firm, she decided to go out on her own and follow her dream of creating wellness design for the masses. 2Yoke Design was born. Now Brienne designs eco- and health-conscious homes, health clinics, farm-to-table restaurants, ergonomic workplaces and co-housing communities, and, most recently, Mache yoga mat tubes.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
My journey into a life of health and wellness started over two decades ago when I discovered yoga in my late teens. A few years later in college at the University of Oregon, yoga served me well by helping me to reduce my stress level during a demanding design curriculum, which resulted in my earning a degree in Architecture and a Masters in Interior Architecture.
Post-graduation, and shortly after securing my first architecture job, I discovered I had an auto-immune condition which made it difficult for me to expel toxins from my body effectively, left me nutrient deficient and led to several serious dietary allergies. These physical challenges further-fueled my personal commitment to the health and wellness path. During this time I became uber aware of not only the toxins found in some foods, but also in the built environment. I was setting up an interior architecture department within the firm and began to realize how many standard materials used in architecture and building were full of toxins with high potential for off-gassing dangerous chemicals into the built environment. This was something I was trying to mitigate in my own personal lifestyle and the lack of healthy finish materials, furnishings and home goods choices left me discouraged.
In spite of these health issues, I joined my co-workers in maintaining 60 hour work weeks, mostly stooped over a computer in a light-deprived basement. By this time, I’d held a regular yoga practice for a decade and had become a certified teacher in order to facilitate the health and awareness of others. I instituted lunch-time yoga classes in the office in service to myself and my hard-working team. Riding my bike to work everyday, I’d strap my heavy Manduka Pro mat to my shoulders to teach yoga at lunch and after work I would go to my local yoga studio to drink from the well of my own practice.
One morning, I had a brilliant idea, as I hoofed my bike, work bag, and yoga mat across the Willamette River. I envisioned a multi-tube yoga mat storage system for my local studio, whereby yogis like myself could pay a small monthly fee to store our mats at the studio, benefiting studios with increased customer loyalty and a dependable and recurrent monthly revenue. The studio and its members loved the studio mat storage system I created. What a relief it was to take that yoga mat burden off my shoulders- literally! Other studios began to show interest, so I developed custom mat storage units for several more studios on the side, helping these small businesses to grow and thrive.
After four years working and learning at the architecture firm I decided to start my own design firm and follow my dream of integrating wellness into interior design. My first company, 2Yoke Design was born. In addition to designing and building custom yoga mat storage units for yoga studios, 2Yoke Design’s portfolio includes eco- and health-conscious homes, health clinics, farm-to-table restaurants, ergonomic workplaces and co-housing communities.
It was designing in this capacity that truly opened my eyes to the critical lack of non-toxic materials and manufacturing processes in the architecture, furniture and home goods industries. On both a personal and professional level I could not find anything on the market that was aesthetically pleasing, eco-friendly, and specifically designed to house fitness gear, yoga mat, blocks, foam rollers, straps, etc. So, I designed a totally tubular storage manufacturing company in order to satisfy this need, and Mache was born.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
Most companies were blind-sighted with the emergence of Covid-19 and faced many challenges from lockdowns to bankruptcy, and start-up companies like Mache were no different. In fact, young start-ups, like Mache, do not have the payroll history required to qualify for the SBA’s Payroll Protection Program, and were as a result, were undoubtedly less able to weather the upheaval presented by what later became a global pandemic.
At the time the virus became known, Mache’s business strategy was solely focused on yoga studios, building modular and custom storage support yoga studios and their bottom lines. Although we incorporated in late 2019, we looked to January 2020 as our strong launch into yoga studio storage sales. In the first few months of 2020 Mache had secured purchase orders from several studios for custom yoga mat and prop storage systems. Then Covid hit! Studios were forced to close and purchase orders were immediately cancelled, resulting in a very scary time for a new company in the fitness studio market.
One of Mache’s guiding principles is Embrace Change, which involves assessing the situation at hand, adapting to the situation, and evolving by staying resilient to outside factors beyond our control. Covid gave us a real life opportunity to put this principle into practice, and we did. We were able to survive this unexpected and potentially devastating downturn to our fledgling business by pivoting hard from B2B (business-to-business) sales to exclusively B2C (business-to-consumer) sales. It felt like re-directing a team of eight horses mid-stream, but we did it by directing all of our focus, resources and dwindling cash on hand to offering yoga/fitness storage to the at-home-fitness market.
Most people were starting to come to grips with the new “normal” which required many to contemplate how to balance and accommodate work, school, family, play- all from home. Yogis, some for the first time, were looking at how to continue their regular practice exclusively at home. Mache was fortunate enough to see a window of opportunity to be nimble as we made the quick shift from B2B to B2C. Most importantly, we felt called to help the global community embrace self-care routines and dedicate space in their homes for wellness during a time of chaos and uncertainty.
We learned how important it is to stay fluid as a company, to embrace change without fear. We continue to assess the needs of our customers so that we may continue to generate new ideas, strategies, and products to accommodate ever-changing lifestyle shifts, marketplace trends and the world around us.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Growing the right team for a young startup company can be a struggle and, in the very beginning, I definitely had a few painful misfires. Not everyone is cut out to be a part of a small scrappy team run by a passionate entrepreneur. There are definitely risks involved, not only for the CEO and the long-term health of the company, but for the employees, as well.
Being part of a small crew requires team building skills from the CEO, but also the ability of the team’s members to work effectively as a team. At Mache, all employees are expected to wear many hats during an average day. The ability to move from one task to another and support every department when needed is not an easy skill set to find. We found that even if a person may believe they have this fluidity and team spirit, when it comes to actually rolling with it in real time, it proves to be a challenge.
A start-up company rarely has the resources in the beginning to offer all the benefits it would like to for their employees, and management needs to communicate to employees the start-up mentality and expectations, as well as the potential benefits they will realize down the line. Therefore, finding people who genuinely have a passion and believe in the company’s mission from the start, who are committed to the company-building process, and believe in the shared future rewards is not an easy task, but essential to the success of the enterprise.
Early on, Mache had one crucial employee leave the company at short notice due to fear of Covid and its potential effect on the company’s path to success. We also had to let an employee go within a few months of hire due to their inability to support other departments and work effectively as part of a team. No employer likes to see people leave the company or have to let someone go, and there is no way to eliminate this from happening entirely. We did learn to paint a more realistic and complete picture of life at a start-up company and the expectations that lie within to help ameliorate this human resource issue.
Ultimately, as the CEO, I am committed to raising the company as if it were my child and I am tasked with finding the best co-parents to help me with the job. I learned that I cannot hire employees under pressure and need to take the time and effort needed to find the right people to be part of the Mache family. In both cases above, I had a gut feeling that something was amiss, but my need to get immediate support made it difficult for me to hear my inner (gut) voice.
Since then I have learned to trust my gut, and look for actions to back up words in the hiring process. As a small start-up company with limited resources, we are unable to absorb human resource issues as larger companies are, so it has become imperative that I trust my gut, even though I may not be able to substantiate what it tells me with any evidence.
To be honest, I have been given multiple opportunities to learn this life and business lesson! I even assigned it as another guiding principle for Mache: Align Action & Word. Our words are not just empty vessels, but rather vehicles to express our intent and fodder for manifesting our oral commitments into concrete action.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My family has been extremely supportive of my journey to build this company and fulfill what I believe to be my life’s purpose. This dream started as a one-woman, tube-wrapping show and if it weren’t for the support of my family I would not have been able to position Mache as a lead contributor in the eco-design revolution.
My husband has the patience of a saint when it comes to living amongst and being asked to haul around hundreds and hundreds of jumbo paper tubes over the past two years! Being a scrappy entrepreneur means I take free labor wherever I can get it, and my partner is always there to lend a helping hand, be my sounding board, and encourage me to go on when things get tough.
My mom, who has recently joined the company, is a rockstar in customer service and sales, and I feel humbled and honored to work with her everyday. She is the strongest person I know and her bravery is a regular and life-long inspiration to me.
My brother, serial-entrepreneur and creative genius, has also been a guiding light as an invaluable advisor and the company’s first investor. Both he and I are most content when solving a puzzle by thinking outside the box.
It is with immense, heart-felt gratitude that I honor these three keystones in my life and all that they have contributed to the success of Mache, thus far.
Ok, Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
Mache is the world’s first healthy living and fitness storage company and we aim to become a leader in the green product manufacturing revolution. The company strives to be an example enterprise for how to manufacture consumer products responsibly.
Mache is a french word for “chewed up” and is, for the company brand name, a poetic gesture to reference the high-level of recycled content that make up our eco-friendly products. Who doesn’t smile when they remember childhood crafting with paper mache? Most of us can still smell the wheat paste! Our Product Development Team leads the Mache charge on seeking out the world’s most innovative and sustainable ingredients from which to grow the creative process.
We have created the world’s first and only jumbo paper tube storage, designed for fitness and style. We carefully select and source all of our product ingredients with sustainability as the highest priority. Nearly all of our raw ingredients are locally sourced from the Pacific Northwest, which effectively lowers our carbon footprint while supporting our local economy. We specialize in the procurement of ingredients that can biodegrade, be recycled, and/or are made from 90–100% recycled, post-consumer content. As a result, we work with a lot of Kraft paper and wood, which is why we like to say: “Brown is the New Green”. Additionally, we take considerable pride in our 100% plastic-free packaging strategy that reuses up to 99% of our product manufacturing waste as packaging material to safely ship our totally tubular products to our customer..
As a sustainable brand that promotes healthy living (and working) on all levels, we believe it is time for our world to rethink how we manufacture and ship products. We aim to show that a planet-friendly, small company can remain viable and thrive in a world gone environmentally amuk, by sourcing eco-friendly materials whenever possible, supporting local economies, lowering the collective carbon footprint and following green processes that can easily be adopted by future manufacturing entrepreneurs.
Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
I believe that the key to wellbeing for many lies in the health and wellness of the body’s nervous system, or electrical wiring.
That said, my five lifestyle hacks are all designed to monitor, honor and in some cases repair the nervous system:
- Meditate regularly to chart a map of the nervous system.
Our nervous systems are not built for all that modern living throws at us. By going inward, regularly, and quieting the noise of everyday life, I have become aware of my subtle body. We have all heard of the “inner voice” or “authentic self”. To hear or engage with either requires quietude, in order to become aware of the breath, and what is happening within my miraculous body and mind from one moment to the next. When I devote time to this practice of quieting my mind and listening to my body, even if for only a few minutes each day, I become more aware of the state of my nervous system. Through continued stillness and attention to breath, I can bring myself back to homeostasis.
2. Give up alcohol, coffee, and all other stimulants or depressants that pull energy balance out of whack.
I am one who enjoys the occasional glass of wine or two after a difficult week and was once fully-reliant on coffee, especially when working long hours. After observing the effects that both depressants (alcohol) and stimulants (caffeine) had on my mind and body over time, I finally became convinced that I needed to make a change. I now limit myself to an occasional glass of sustainably-produced wine, and have given up coffee altogether. It was difficult, of course, coming from the Pacific NW, as I was steeped in the cult-like coffee culture and, ultimately, dependent on it for energy. Now that I am not a slave to its alluring aroma and daily dosing, I can honestly say that I have more energy now than I ever did when riding the coffee bean rollercoaster!
3. Schedule rest as a productive part of your busy day.
As the CEO of an ambitious start-up, it was tempting to buy into the stories I’d hear from successful entrepreneurs who lament about the 60–100 hours work weeks and putting their lives on hold or in danger in order to be successful. I definitely work longer hours than the average human, but to counteract that imperative I have learned to listen to my body and be aware of my edge and not go past it. When I am ‘in tune‘, or tapped into and listening to my body’s intelligence, I am able maintain a healthy balance, in spite of the long hours devoted to my work and passion. I schedule time for rest, even if I have looming deadlines. I’ve learned that I am more efficient and effective when I’ve taken the time to rejuvenate and restore. If I get caught up with work, and don’t think I need any rest, I take it anyway as a preventative measure and a welcome reset.
4. Spend regularly scheduled time in nature, preferably alone.
Spending time in nature is a wonderful way to get out of my head, be present, get nourished, be grateful, and feel joy. Although I have a dog who gives me a dirty look if I go for a walk without him, I’ve found nature to be a jealous goddess who prefers to commune with me alone in order to reveal her secrets. Of course, I take my dog for walks, but I reserve time to spend with nature alone. Being alone in nature, even if it is in my own backyard, reveals so much magic in the world, happening all around us, every moment, but mostly missed. If I don’t have time to take a hike, go to the river, or drive to the beach, simply walking barefoot in my own grass can bring me the peace I crave and the direct and uninterrupted interaction with nature itself.
5. Re-design your daily physical environment to soothe your nervous system.
If you live and work in this world, your nervous system is at constant threat. Humans are not currently engineered to withstand the constant barrage of stress to our nervous systems that modern life throws at us. In order to counteract this, I pay close attention to my home and work environment. Choosing life affirming products and avoiding potentially dangerous off-gassing products is paramount. I also limit extensive use of blue-light-emitting LEDs and flat out avoid fluorescent lighting. Consulting Vastu or Feng Shui principles, whenever possible, when situating the rooms and activities of your home or work place can positively impact spatial energy flow and overall comfort. Creating what I like to call my “Happy Place” is of the utmost importance to me. This is where I practice yoga, meditation, and pranayama (breathing exercises). I encourage all to create their own unique self-care space that is conducive for relaxation and rejuvenation.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
In my opinion, the most effective way to improve the health and wellness of people is through education and empowerment. Large corporations have been selling chemical-laden products in the markets of food, beauty, furniture, building materials, and textiles for many decades now, and without the explicit knowledge of the average consumer. We have made strides in the food industry by mandating nutritional information on packaging, but this is not so for the interior design industry. It can be overwhelming for the average consumer to do their homework on how best to recycle, or what food additives to avoid, or what products in their house are likely making them sick, and so much more.
Because of this, Mache is in the beginning stages of developing a “Sustainability Support Group” where like-minded people can engage and share in fun, simple-to-follow and actionable tips and tricks to pursue healthy living. We currently host a business directory on our website of eco-friendly brands to assist conscious consumers in finding more companies and products that reflect their values. We also have a blog dedicated to Wellness and Design, which aims to empower readers to make greener lifestyle choices. The evolution to healthier consumption choices will drive the market for cleaner global manufacturing practices, thus resulting in healthier people and a happier planet.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- Honor your body’s wisdom, while driving steadfast towards your dream. A daily routine of self-care will never be a waste of your time… in fact, quite the opposite, a regular practice of self-care will only optimize your overall effectiveness in the world. Carve out the time and commit to the routine.
- Follow your gut, 100% of the time, even if the messages you receive conflict with those of your heart or brain.
- Give yourself space for making mistakes and release the pressure of perfectionism. Without hard-earned lessons, there would be no opportunity for growth that leads to success.
- Regularly rebrand anxiety as excitement in order to find joy in the unknown and operate without fear. Remember that the experience of anxiety and excitement results in the same physical reaction in the body; choose to experience joy.
- Do not spend too much time or energy with low-vibration people. You will be lifted up by the people that authentically and enthusiastically connect with your passion or project, and conversely, you will be dragged down by those who do not. Spend your social time wisely.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
Sustainability seems to me to be the overarching theme for the topics mentioned in the question and why I have elected to focus on sustainability in manufacturing. Make More With Less is central to Mache’s mission and is the driving force behind every decision made at the company. We hope by working with new materials and adopting sustainable practices throughout the entire production process, we can not only bring beautiful, people-safe and planet-friendly products into homes and businesses, but inspire a new generation of eco-friendly manufacturing companies. By urging the manufacturing industry toward greener, life-affirming choices and processes, and embracing the core of sustainability, many of our current global environmental issues can be positively impacted. By embracing the simple idea of making more (value) with less (waste) and encouraging our vendors and customers alike to do the same, together we can shift the paradigm of waste as inevitable to waste as unacceptable.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?https://www.pinterest.com/heymache/
Thank you for these fantastic insights!