James Langer founded Joriki out of a desire to help alleviate global poverty through high-quality, inspirational yoga apparel. Interested in developmental economics from a very young age, Langer studied economics at the University of Chicago and received his MBA from Northwestern University, going on to work in investment management in his early twenties. Throughout his studies and his career, Langer was involved with several charitable organizations and maintained a strong interest in social justice. Along the way, Langer also took up yoga. Looking for an outlet both creative and compassionate, and desiring to focus on more philanthropic causes, Langer got the idea for Joriki. Motivated by his ten-year yoga practice, he set out to build a brand that uses stylish and practical yoga clothing to aid impoverished nations by donating a portion of each sale to fight poverty around the globe.
Today, Langer is a devoted yogi, an avid traveller and collector, and continues to be involved in many charitable causes, including Pencils for Promises, the Gates Foundation, and the Poverty Action Lab. He’s on the constant hunt for Joriki’s latest prints and patterns, drawing inspiration from museums, books, everyday sights, and his journeys abroad. He lives in Chicago, where he can frequently be found in the Lotus position—when he’s not trying to master his handstand, that is.
How did you get into the industry?
I have been practicing yoga for several years and have noticed how individualistic and altruistic yogis are, but I did not think the clothes necessarily reflected these qualities. I also have been interested for many years in developmental economics, namely, discovering the causes and potential solutions for alleviating poverty.
I have been lucky enough to travel to many different places in the world, and through my travels started to discover amazing prints and patterns that women have created in impoverished areas. From these discoveries, I thought it might be a good idea to take these patterns, place them on high quality yoga apparel, and send part of the proceeds from each sale back into the communities where the art originated.
Any emerging industry trends?
The industry itself continues to grow as more women are getting into yoga and wearing athleisure apparel in their everyday routines. We have found that women want more variety in the clothes they wear during a workout; they want something unique that no one else has yet. We see that, although they love the classic black legging, they want the vibrant patterned one as well.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
As the industry grows, there is the opportunity to participate in the growth through brand distinction. We want the products not only to be beautiful but also very high quality. A tremendous amount of time, energy, and effort goes into selecting the fabrics, as well as in the printing and manufacturing processes. Joriki is more than an apparel business—we are a distribution business. We distribute the fabrics and patterns that impoverished woman around the world are responsible for creating, and we distribute these patterns throughout the yoga community.
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?
Our vision for the business is to continue to grow at a steady pace. We measure our success not only on profitability, but also on the impact we have through our giving back program. Social consciousness is part of the fabric of our brand, and a portion of the proceeds from each sale goes to support a carefully selected set of organizations that fight global poverty. We draw our inspiration from around the world, and with each purchase, our customer will be giving back to those communities that desperately need assistance.
We are making an effort to place our clothing in select high-end boutiques, yoga studios and retreats, and even luxury resorts around the world.
What's next for the Business in the near future?
We are a Chicago-based brand and are currently branching out into the West Coast, primarily California. We are growing every month as brand awareness increases and as more studios and boutiques carry our line. We also recently revamped our website to improve the customer experience. In 2018, we will participate in more yoga festivals across the country. We also plan on launching personal one-on-one styling in our showroom, which will be an amazing experience for customers.
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
Direct sales drive the most sales for our business. Festivals, pop-up shops, and Joriki-sponsored events are also very successful for us. Lastly, further developing our e-commerce strategy and continuing to gain more storefronts that carry our products will act to diversify our sales in the future.
Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)
The most difficult moment for Joriki was learning the complexity of the apparel manufacturing business. Initially, I thought placing a unique pattern on yoga leggings would be exceptionally simple. That process ended up taking well over a year as we worked with graphic designers, clothing designers, printing houses, manufacturing facilities, hang tag manufactures, distributors, etc. I learned how incredibly complex the process is, especially in creating a high-quality garment. It would have been easy for us to have clothing made quickly and inexpensively in China, but I learned that, to achieve the highest level of quality, the process must start from the ground up.
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
We hope our customers feel they have purchased a piece of art—an exceptionally high quality garment that looks and feels beautiful and will last for a very long time. We hope our customers understand they are truly making a difference in someone’s life through our giving back program. In addition, we would like to provide an exceptionally high level of customer service that goes above and beyond what our larger competitors can provide. Many times if a question or concern arises, I will interact with the customer directly to ensure his or her needs are met. Furthermore, by providing free shipping and a beautiful handmade bracelet with every purchase, we seek to provide the customer with something unexpected.
How do you motivate others?
Everyone on the Joriki team knows we are doing important work. The more successful we are, the more we can give back, which is a powerful motivation to thrive in the workplace. In addition, all Joriki employees are owners in the business. We seek to create an environment of individuals thinking as owners instead of as employees.
Career advice to those in your industry?
I think the extraordinarily high level of competition in our industry is an important fact to appreciate. Businesses in the athleisure industry must clearly differentiate themselves. We accomplish this through the quality of our products, the uniqueness of our prints, and our giving back program.