$100 yoga mat stretches body, budget
It’s the yoga mat built to take a beating, though for what you pay you might not want to risk so much as a scuff mark.
The nondescript slab of rollable rubber on which exercisers perform downward dogs and upward bows has been reengineered by Boston startup Perfect Burpee into an octagonal super surface coated in nano particles designed to lend extra grip when things get sweaty.
The price has been reengineered, too. While you can find a standard mat for less than $20 at the nearest sporting goods retailer, the Perfect Burpee mat costs $100.
Perfect Burpee is the latest entry to a blossoming luxury fitness market that aims to upsell exercisers on gear they can buy for much less — and plan to douse in perspiration, anyway. Sure, you can buy Nike compression socks for $16 and Saucony running shoes for $60. But aren’t the $60 CEP socks with aerodynamic knitting and the $230 ECCO shoes with uppers made of yak leather all the better?
“It’s crazy,” said John Peters, business development manager at the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. “But there’s definitely a market.”
The athletic apparel business grew 17 percent between 2009 and 2013, according to the fitness industry group, hitting $31.6 billion. So-called “performance” apparel — the moisture-wicking, ventilating, insulating stuff — grew even faster, 23 percent, and represented a 10th of overall sales.
Reasons for splurging vary and include fashion, status, and increased motivation to work out.
“What I really appreciate about brands like Lululemon is that they have made people want to come to the gym, even if it’s mostly because they feel good in their new workout clothes,” said Hannah Raudsepp, a personal trainer at Healthworks Fitness Centers for Women in Cambridge.
“The downside to many luxury fitness lines,” she added, “is they are not accessible to individuals of size — the people who might need to feel good and confident in the gym more than most. Health and fitness should be accessible to everyone, and I don’t appreciate the elitist attitude that some of these companies embody.”
Manufacturers insist there are real quality differences that make the extra costs worthwhile. Lululemon sells $108 yoga pants that appear similar to the $15 version at Old Navy. But while the Old Navy pants are 93 percent cotton, Lululemon’s fabric is a blend of muscle-supporting nylon and Lycra that feels “like wearing a hug while you move,” according to the company.
Under Armour’s $100 hoodies may resemble the sweat shirts Russell Athletic sells for $12, but Under Armour boasts on its website that “everything from fit to fabric is a step above.” That means a patented “moisture transport system” that draws sweat away from the body and a zipper that’s slightly off-center. No chin irritation here.
Perfect Burpee cofounder Justin Mendelson said his pricey mat won’t appeal to everyone. But he and business partner David Gritz figure people who pay $200 or more each month for memberships at high-end gyms won’t mind shelling out for a three-figure yoga mat.
Their target customers are not even yogis but rather people who are into CrossFit and other intense exercise programs that often use yoga mats for vigorous movements, like kettle-bell swings, handstand pushups and, yes, burpees.
“Other mats on the market are not really durable enough to withstand the impact from weights, so you’re going to destroy your floor or wake up your downstairs neighbor,” said Mendelson, who previously ran a startup called Hackfit that staged healthy hackathons. “The other thing is they get really slippery when you sweat.”
The Perfect Burpee mat is slightly larger than most: 6.5 feet long and 3.3 feet wide with an unusual, eight-sided shape that is supposed to help people stay in the center. It’s just 5 millimeters thick — still thin enough to roll up. But with a durable, natural rubber construction, it weighs in at a hefty 10 pounds and is meant to take a pounding while muffling noise.
The mat’s best feature is the coating that Mendelson likened to the inside of a wet suit. Moisture actually increases its grip.
Perfect Burpee set out this week to raise $20,000 in an online fund-raising campaign to help pay for mass production, and it hopes to start shipping mats in the summer.
People who back the company on the Kickstarter website can get their mats for a relative bargain: $60.