25 February 2011

Interview with Josie Castaneda owner of Off the Mat

“In the yoga world there's a saying to take your practice 'off the mat', which means to share what you discover about yourself through your personal Yoga practice 'on the mat',” says Josie Castaneda own of Off the Mat in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Castaneda is a kind hearted individual who is passionate about many things from fashion to veganism to specializing in handcrafted bath and body products that smell amazing and coincide with her yoga practice. Recently Castaneda was kind enough to take some time out of her busy day to answer a few questions for This Dish is Veg.

What inspired you to become vegan?
Six years ago I became a vegetarian because I believe every life is sacred. I was inspired to transition into a vegan diet due to the poor farming practices in the USA. It amazes me how the general public is unaware of how badly some of these animals suffer for the staple food of eggs & milk.

Do you have a favorite vegan product or brand whether it be food, clothing, cosmetics etc.?
My absolute favorite vegan food comes from One Lucky Duck in NYC. It's not only vegan but raw and delicious! At the moment I'm transitioning into a raw, vegan diet as well so this restaurant is an inspiration!

What inspired you to create your company Off the Mat?
Originally OTM was a small brand of scented oils and jewelry whose mission was to "bring the sacred to the everyday." As my personal yoga journey developed so did my interests and the brand. I decided on bath & beauty products because I could not find quality products at reasonable prices that performed as expected. I also found I could express artistically through scent and fragrance, as well as help a few beginner Yogis with the use of aromatherapy.

What made you choose the name Off the Matt?

In the yoga world there's a saying to take your practice "off the mat," which means to share what you discover about yourself through your personal yoga practice "on the mat," although it's not necessarily only linked to the asana practice but to the whole yoga practice, including dharana (first stage of meditation), pranayama (breathing techniques), and the study of ancient texts.

What inspires you?
So much! Nature, art, music, memories...yoga.

How long have you been working with essential oils?
I've been using EO's for 3 years. I began compounding scents with fragrance oils and added therapy grade EO's at my customers requests.

How has working in the fashion industry influenced you with the creation of your products for Off the Matt?

Working these past 12 years in the fashion industry has taught me many attributes that I have brought into my company: consistency, perseverance, teamwork, and the importance of research and development to grow a business in the appropriate direction.

What fragrance from your own collection to do wear the most?
At the moment I'm testing a new collection, the Chakra Esscentses. And I'm in love with the 'Sahasrara Esscentse' a compound of Patchouli, Geranium Rose, Chamomile & Bergamot.

How has studying yoga influenced you in your own personal life?
The study of yoga has brought a sense of calm and peace to my life. It's given me a chance to 'see' my life clearly and without bias. Yoga has also taught me to be in the moment and take appropriate action.

What is your favorite yoga pose?
My favorite pose is Pachimottanasana, intense stretch of the west.

What is your favorite product from your collection and why?
My favorite product of my collections is by far the vegan soap. It is effective in cleansing your body yet mild enough not to strip you skin.

What are your best sellers?
There are 3 best sellers that are always out of stock: 1-The Mysore Oil, developed specifically for the students of Mysore style Yoga 2-Majmua scented oil, a classic Indian Attar 3-Manipura scented oil, the 5th chakra fragrance oil.

Does aromatherapy play a big role in your yoga practice?
I do use EO's when necessary. For example I'll use the Mysore oil when my body needs to relax and release pain, and I use the Kapalabati oil when I need to clear my head and mind before meditation.

What are benefits of using essential oils?

EO's are nature's chemicals and as such they should be treated with care as they are volatile and non-hypoallergenic.With that said all EO's help a mind and body to heal, when used correctly. In aromatherapy EO's aid the mind and body by entering the olfactory system and using EO's on the skin, the effects are received through the dermis.

What is the most challenging part of your work?

The most challenging aspect of my work has been to make well rounded scents that retain their benefits, smell delicious, and are completely vegan, while having them all smell different from each other.

You recently were approved to carry PETA’s cruelty free logo on your product, was it hard to obtain?
PETA discovered my products at a craft fair and they reached out to me, being approved was no difficulty.

How important was it for you to have your company associated with the cruelty free logo?
Becoming part of the large PETA beauty product family and using the cruelty free logo is an honor! It's extremely important to show the customers OTM is serious about the ethics behind the products, and the PETA cruelty free logo conveys this message.

What is Off the Mat's sustainability strategy?
At the moment all the components of the packaging (bottles, paper, etc) are recyclable or when possible refillable. OTM uses wild harvested and unrefined raw materials from around the world and tries to lower it's footprint by selling in an around NYC, along with producing the products by hand in the Brooklyn studio (printing labels, creating & packaging products, compound scents). In addition, OTM uses recycled packaging when shipping products.

Do you contribute to any charities?
OTM contributes to the ASPCA when there is a positive outcome on profits. Personally I contribute to a few other animal charities.

What is in store for the future?

Future projects for OTM include facial products, an ayurveda inspired collection, and participating in the 2011 NY Yoga Journal Conference.

Visit Off the Mat to view Josie Castaneda's product line.

Jodi Truglio | email
Jodi is a strict vegan and animal rights advocate that grew up in up-state New York. She holds a degree in Journalism and Media Studies. In her spare time Jodi enjoys doing yoga and pilates.

Photo credit: Off the Mat