This is how we built a brand, lost our way, went broke, and rediscovered who we truly are.
I taught myself to dye with plants, screenprint designs on blank American apparel flare cotton pants, and opened up shop on Etsy to sell them. The biz grew steadily year over year, so much that I quit my waitressing job and went all in.
My boyfriend (now husband) Pat and our beloved yellow lab Liam packed up a small uhaul trailer and moved from Connecticut to Los Angeles to grow the brand. I quickly met Nadya, our seamstress, via a Craigslist ad so we could begin selling a product that was 100% handmade by us. We’d meet up downtown under the freeway and exchange the goods. We called ourselves yoga pants dealers haha!
One dry, hot, SoCal fall day, I took my weekly visit into the garment district, and on a whim I purchased a few yards of sparky nylon metallic fabric. Printed yoga leggings were EVERYWHERE at the time, and I wanted to try something a little different. Prior, I was incredibly staunch on all our creations being pure, organic, natural fibers. (I also didn’t know that microfiber pollution was a thing, no one did - ugh.)
Here is the ironic part: My first pair of shiny synthetic leggings I called The Sea of Cortez leggings, because the turquoise blue reminded me of sparkly and pure ocean water. They were SUCH a hit that I came out with 3 other colors, and almost solely sold shiny leggings for around 4 years. I sold at urban outfitters and had a handful of other large-ish retailers buying our leggings. I thought I’d made it - smooth sailing ahead and we’d just grow, well, forever. Hand dyed organic stuff was a tiny tiny segment of Purusha People, making the overall brand a little confusing.
I’d never owned a business before, so to me, I felt that as long as we were profitable, we were a success. Little did I know at the time, this was the beginning of the losing my WHY. I didn’t wear the sparkly metallic leggings, I didn’t know why people did. But it made money, my business was growing, I was doing it right, right?! I thought I was being smart in letting the sales lead the way. Until they all about stopped completely.
It wasn’t a loss overnight, it was a slow and steady leak. After reaching a peak in 2014, we began to experience financial struggle. No longer could we take a trip to Big Sur, no more going out to dinner, eventually it was hard to pay rent, groceries were a strain, and finally, we couldn’t afford ANYTHING beyond bare necessities. I remember not being able to afford new running shoes, I’d run with holes in my sneakers covered with duct tape. I reluctantly began to understand this wasn’t a bad collection or a bad year... it was a bad business.
By 2017 Purusha People was dying. Month after month sales went down. Other brands came out that knew their shiny leggings customers well; I didn’t know her. I woke up in the mornings with a tremendous sense of despair, sometimes starting my day crying. My mind would race with the uncertainty and fear. How would we provide for ourselves? Who would hire me, and for what job? Where could we afford rent? Should we force ourselves into my parents basement??
The thought that gave me the biggest rock in my stomach was: WHY should my creations even exist? There was no reason why. On top of feeling like I should take my brand behind the barn and shoot it, we were absolutely broke, now with a 2 year old son Shep, and just totally overextended in every way financially. I remember having just a few dollars in our bank account, often overdrawing our funds on groceries, and regularly begging for money from family. Purusha People only survived at this point by offering huge sales, like 50% off.
I thought, well obviously there’s something wrong with Purusha People. I changed the name of the brand to my name for a few months, Hayley Elliott. A customer told me it sounded like the name of a pyramid scheme jewelry brand LOL. It didn’t take. I attempted to launch a maternity brand called Willa Avery, a New England inspired clothing company called Biological VT, a lint roller company (yes, I said lint rollers) called Milton Elm, a basic cotton legging brand called CA Yoga Supply, a kids line called Shepherd LA, and a discounted yoga retailer site called Yoga Deals HQ. Literally ANYTHING BUT Purusha People, as I had known it in 2009. Needless to say, I was flailing around, and felt like a complete failure. Friends and family basically encouraged us to quit, me consider returning to waitressing, Patrick get a job at a local hardware store (nothing wrong with these jobs BTW!).
Yet... I still felt like I had something to offer. My desire to create and share just would not go away. There was nothing to lose anymore because I didn’t really have anything. Pat asked me one broke ass summer day, what is meaningful to you? Immediately I said it was to make something beautiful. What’s beautiful? Clothing that is authentic, inspired by nature, conscious, ethical, sustainable. Clothing like I used to make, the epitome of what yoga is in a material form.
Just before my daughter Marigold was born in August 2019, I designed and made my dream yoga wear. I had no expectations, it purely was for its own sake. I found a beautiful organic cotton tencel (forest fiber) fabric, had nadya sew some tops and leggings, dyed and printed them by hand, and shared them with whoever was still with me after all this time.
I’ll never forget the July day I photographed the clothes. It was about 90 degrees, we were downsizing from our gorgeous rental home to buying a very small old house (borrowed money for the down payment from angry and confused parents), and my in-laws were all around helping us move boxes. I had such a hard time setting up the clothes on my faux marble background on our porch, with my ginormous 9 months pregnant belly getting in my way, dripping in sweat. I felt like a sham, embarrassed to still be at it, trying to sell clothes. I’m sure I looked crazy. That poor pregnant woman, refusing to face the truth and give up already.
I listed the new pieces, earthy tones with moons and ferns, on my website and Instagram, and the response was immediate. People actually liked what I made!!!! I forgot what that felt like! And these people, these incredible light beings, weren’t your average people. They were open hearted, rebellious, compassionate, conscious, kind, smart. People that loved the earth, yoga, animals, healing, nature, dogs, everything I liked! On top of being able to sell my work, now I was connected to the best people I’d ever met! How did I get so lucky?!
And that’s when I realized, authenticity MUST lead the way. It has to be YOU behind it all. And chances are, if it is you and your truth, people will resonate with it. You WILL thrive because people will see you and value you. Don’t get me wrong, I meditated and aligned myself with the universe daily while I got it all wrong, so I’m not some Tony Robbins devotee here. It really is as simple as creating something you love and understand.
Since I returned to my roots and learned to trust myself again, Purusha People has grown 500% in the past year, we’ve taken on an investor, I’ve been asked to speak on notable podcasts, our clothing has been written about in Yoga Journal, Forbes, and Good On You, and most importantly, we’ve established the most beautiful community of conscious like-minded women. I don’t know where we’ll go from here, but I wake up each day happy and excited to work and share our creations. This is success to me.
It feels a little like luck (and the privilege of having a family to help you), and also a lot like rediscovering who you truly are. I hate that I lost my way and compromised Purusha People, but I see now it was THIS journey that brought me to where I am today, and for that I’m eternally grateful. I know what the alternative reality could’ve been, so this reality? I’m 100% here for it, in awe of it, endlessly inspired by it. I’m here because of you, you are my Purusha person, and you are my why. I’m bowing so deeply to you. Welcome, and thank you with all my heart. I am so excited to make something sincere and beautiful for you.
Lots of love,