An entrepreneur from Harvard, Massachusetts, is heading to Hollywood for a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Donna Lee, the owner and inventor of the R-Yolo washable yoga mat, was asked to distribute her product, that’s manufactured in Cranston, Rhode Island, at the 2022 pre-Oscar event.
“It was very, very overwhelming at first. I'm like, someone pinch me. I felt like Cinderella in a way,” said Lee. “It all came together so nicely.”
Lee said the idea for her business began before the pandemic.
She attends yoga, barre and Pilates regularly and said she had been at a gym wiping down her mat when her friend, who’s a nurse, told her not to use the wipes on her mat because they consisted of harmful chemicals.
That conversation stuck with her.
“So, I had the seed planted in my head that, wow maybe if I came up with a machine washable yoga mat maybe that would solve the problem,” said Lee. “I did some research, patent research, and manifested my idea into reality.”
In 2020 she began researching and testing out different materials for her mat and made a prototype.
She decided to name her business R-Yolo which stands for "Remember, You Only Live Once.”
“I also wanted it made in the U.S., so that was another big challenge to find a manufacturer in the U.S. They’re hard to come by, especially to make a product like this,” she said. “The mat consists of three layers here. I get the towels from Turkey, so they get shipped in from Turkey, the foam is a single-sided foam from a company in Maine, and the rubber comes from a company in Plymouth, East Tech.”
Around the time she had been trying to launch her product, a friend of hers, who studied textiles at the Rhode Island School of Design reached out.
She told Lee about Cranston manufacturing company, Amerisewn.
“Amerisewn designs and manufactures textile-based products with our focus in military and industrial and consumer products,” said Layne Mayer. “We also work with a lot of smaller consumer brands doing things like backpacks and hunting gear and very durable rugged products.”
The family business has been around for 40 years. The current owner took it over about 15 years ago.
Lee contacted them before the new year.
“It’s an unusual project for us since most of what we do is very rugged, and a lot of our work is for the military, but doing a yoga mat was kind of a breath of fresh air because it’s something a little bit different for us,” said Mayer.
To promote her product, in January, Lee took a trip to visit her cousin in Pasadena, California, where a yoga expo was being held.
“I was realizing that I needed to find influencers because that’s how you market things these days,” she said. “I’m old, so I don’t understand the whole thing."
While she was in California, she had set up a meeting with a representative from Kimpton Hotels to market her mats.
She was directed to another hotel and while there, she and her cousin stopped inside of the GBK Brand Bar, which she described as a high-end gift store that sells unique products.
Lee got to talking with the owner and learned his mom was from Worcester, Massachusetts.
The two of them hit it off and then he offered her an opportunity she wasn’t expecting.
“He said, ‘Would you like to participate in the luxury gift bags that they give out to the nominees for the Oscars?'" she said. “I said sure, yeah that sounds, I could do that. I couldn’t believe what was happening. When we left my cousin was like well, wait for the email for confirmation and I received it in the car.”
With only a few months until the event, Lee traveled back to Massachusetts and immediately called Amerisewn.
“I came back home and I called Amerisewn. I said, ‘I need 100 mats made’ and we made it happen. They pulled this all together in like three weeks,” she said.
“We really were just behind her and wanted to help her out and make this happen for her,” said Mayer. “Suddenly it became a rush job because she had this opportunity. We needed to get the first 125 out as soon as possible. It was a little crazy to say the least. We had to figure out a production method to set up the equipment, but we have some amazing team members that jumped into it and gave it 110% and everyone on the whole team made sure we got these out on time.”
Fortunately, Lee had already purchased enough materials for her products.
Had she not, it most likely wouldn’t have happened due to supply chain issues,
“Amerisewn, they’ve been great, they've been really supportive, they're super excited about it. I was down there last week, did a little celebration and brought some cookies,” said Lee.
Lee said last week she shipped about 85 mats to California.
She was told she is one out of about 30 vendors from around the world to be included in the duffle-sized swag bag giveaway to celebrities.
“The total contents of the bags equate to $60,000 all the gifts in there per person,” she said. “The R-Yolo yoga mat will be the only mat in the bag.”
Lee left from Boston's Logan International Airport Tuesday and is spending the week in Beverly Hills.
She’ll be staying at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel where "Pretty Woman" was filmed, and she will personally pass out her yoga mat to celebrities on Friday and Saturday.
A designated photographer and videographer will be at her booth to take pictures for her.
“It is an invite-only event, and this is the first time it is happening in two years because of the pandemic. So, I was told they are also inviting winners of the Grammys, People’s Choice and Golden Globes,” she said.
Lee told NBC 10 New that she is really hoping to meet actor Bradley Cooper.
“Anybody I meet at this point I’ll be so grateful because it’s really, really exciting,” she said. “It’s almost surreal. I just I didn’t see all this coming, so it’s kind of hard to process. When I first came home from California, I was like, ‘How did this just happen?'"
“We’re really happy for her,” said Mayer. “I think everyone’s eyes light up when they know something they're working on could end up in the hands of a movie star.”