As part of our founder interview series, we speak with Ellie Foden from NITARA about creating honest, fair and sustainable yogawear.
You are an artist, yoga-teacher, Ayurvedic masseuse, and founder of NITARA. What made you take the leap from practicing and teaching yoga, to designing for yoga?
I was actually a Fashion Designer before I started teaching yoga, but I have been practicing yoga in the background since I was 17. After I finished my Fashion degree I ended up travelling to India with a friend and decided to do a month- long 200 hour yoga teacher training course while I was there. In all honesty I had no intention to actually teach at the end if the training; I just wanted to do it for myself, to learn more about the roots of yoga in its home...But that month completely ruined my life in the most incredible way, and I left with a burning desire to share all that I’d learned!
It was about a year after that before the seed was planted to bring fashion and yoga together to create NITARA...it was an obvious next step I suppose! But the thing that actually sparked that step was a need for yoga clothing that was aligned with yogic values (non-harming: ethical/sustainable) that was also cool, modern and design-focused - At the time I couldn't find anything! So I decided to make my own.
Why did you choose to work with Recycled-PET for your collection? Does this material stand the test of one of your yoga classes?
Making the future of fashion sustainable has always been a big interest of mine, ever since I went to a talk by Katherine Hamnett in my teens! Also, when it comes to living a yogic lifestyle, we are taught to practice Ahimsa, which means ‘non-harming’. So I try to live in alignment with that.
It’s no big secret that the planet has a little bit of a plastic overflow problem - Every piece of plastic ever made is still here, on earth, somewhere! So I thought that: if I am to bring something new into the world, I have to do my bit to clear some of that old, stagnant plastic away somehow!
Our fabric is made from 86% recycled plastic bottles and you would never know! It’s super soft and durable - we tested the samples before we went into production for: fit, sweat-wicking abilities and the all important opacity at the school I go to in Mysore, India (which is the hottest place on earth!) and it passed with flying colours!
You hand-draw all of the patterns featured in the NITARA collection. Where do you get your design inspiration?
Everywhere! I travel a lot so I take inspiration from the places I visit and people I meet...but I am equally inspired by London! Inspiration is honestly, everywhere.
Yoga and meditation help me to calm my mind a lot too; which has helped me become more observant and less self-critical about my designs. I see and take in more day-to-day than I used to and, as a result of that, I am more creative I think.
What is the significance of the name NITARA?
NITARA is my spiritual name which was given to me by my teacher at the end of my teacher training, it’s a Sanskrit word meaning ‘to be grounded/deeply rooted’.
When I was choosing a name for the brand NITARA was an easy winner because it describes our values so well: ‘grounded-ness’. Both in terms of honouring the earth and by doing what we can to protect it’s beauty and also the yoga practice itself, which helps us come back to the roots of who we really are.
How do the principals you teach in yoga influence the way you set up NITARA?
The word ‘yoga’ means union. To unite mind, body and spirit, but also to unite self with others. Everyone and everything being one expression of universal energy/divine grace/god/higher power (or whatever you believe in).
So, to explain that in terms of a fashion brand, union comes in the form of: respect. Respect for the planet, an honest and fair relationship with the people who make the clothes and an inclusive community where anyone is welcome.
We want to make really amazing clothing that will support an active/yogic lifestyle for people for all shapes and sizes, but also create a community of people who share the same values and influence more people to live consciously - which is done through events/influencers and also in the content we put out to our audience. We just want to make it simple, modern, inclusive and realistic to live in an honest, grounded, yogic (if yoga is your path) way; without compromise.
When your roll out your mat, what is your favourite NITARA piece to wear and what type of yoga are you practicing?
The sports bra - My favourite print is the Medina at the moment but I change my mind on that one all the time! I love it because it’s supportive with out being restrictive, it does not move at all through your practice and, as the neckline is high, you don't have to worry about anything falling out when you're upside-down!...I’m a total sucker for a strappy-back detail too!
“Ethical fashion” is an extremely broad topic. What does ‘ethical fashion’ mean to you?
To me it’s about relationship - give and take. For a long time there has been a lot of ‘take’ within the fashion industry, at the expense of the planet and the people involved in making the clothes.
There’s also been a massive confusion between fashion and shopping, which I believe are two totally different things. ‘Fashion’ has soul: Its art, its expression, it’s about craft and detail; whereas ‘shopping’ is purely a business exchange. We need to balance both for the industry to grow, but in the past 20/30 years that hasn’t been the case: it's been big business, a lot of shopping! and as a result, creativity and soul has suffered massively.
So I think this new era of fashion - ethical/honest fashion - will be the era of slowing down enough for creativity to thrive, giving back to the planet, only taking what is really necessary and respecting the makers.
What do you look for in other brands that you support?
Authenticity and a positive purpose without compromising on design!
What advice would you give to someone looking to live a more conscious life?
Start with you - light your own lamp first, before you try to save the world!! When you learn to wholeheartedly accept yourself and do what you can to grow as a person: you can’t help but be nicer and more understanding of the the person standing next to you. Then that’ll trickle down to making more sustainable choices when it comes to food/fashion etc.
I say that because when you carry the weight of the world on your shoulders without having the foundation in yourself, its easy to become quite angry with the people around you who aren't doing the same as you, which can actually cause more separation. When you focus on yourself first, without realising, you’ll inspire the people around you to do the same..and it has a ripple effect!
How would you like to see NITARA grow in the future?
I really want NITARA to grow to serve all aspects of kind-living. I’d love to expand into designing loungewear, homewares and body care. But my big plan for NITARA is to grow the community into a physical space: a shop and retreat centre, where people can be immersed in this way of life but also come for growth. I am very fortunate to be close friends with so many incredible teachers, healers and coaches who I would love to have host retreats/trainings at the centre.
NITARA is about honouring our roots: the earth and the thing that keeps me grounded, which is yoga! But we’re also here to inspire people to grow in to the best, most mindful version of themselves...so I’d love to have a space which reflected that.