Claire Keet is the inspiring mind and heart behind Sentiens, BorisHenry and Sentiens Design House. She is a dynamic young entrepreneur living in Cape Town who is fiercely creative. Creativity defines every bit of magic and uniqueness about her work. When I think of Claire, I pull up my socks and try harder at YOGICOMM. She is every bit professional, accommodating and efficient, as well as being an incredibly loyal and generous spirit. She started the yoga lifestyle brand, Sentiens in 2014, and has since been at the forefront of South African yoga and wellness trends. As she says on her new website for Sentiens Design House (that she runs with her sister, Kait), "The yoga, health, wellness space is fast growing, rapidly evolving and tough. Keeping a beady eye on industry trends, competitors and - most importantly - customers, is a job that is never finished." YOGICOMM (NB) sat down with Claire (CK) and asked her some pressing questions about yoga, lifestyle and entrepreneurship.
NB: Tell us about 'Claire the entrepreneur’ - where did the journey start for you with your businesses BorisHenry and Sentiens?
CK: There are a few dots to connect between finishing my degree in journalism and starting BorisHenry and Sentiens. When I completed my studies, I knew I didn’t want to follow a traditional career path but I had no idea how I’d go ahead carving out my own way. Entrepreneurship was a word reserved for the B-Com kids. After studying and working for a year in the industry, I decided to head off to South Korea for an adventure and to travel. I taught English and moonlighted as a freelance communication designer in my free time. Not long into my time in Asia, a friend and I started a branding agency called BorisHenry which we ran part time for a few years. Our day jobs took off the financial pressure of having to make BorisHenry commercial. Because of this, we got to make mistakes and learn a lot of awesome lessons without the risk of not making our monthly rent. My goal was to run BorisHenry commercially when I returned to South Africa. I typed up a list of reasons why I wanted it to work out really badly and headed on home. After running BorisHenry for a few months, Sentiens started over a dinnertime conversation with my former business partner. Entrepreneurship wasn’t ever something I went out looking for. I certainly didn’t study anything commerce related and have learnt and continue to learn what I know through hard work and harder lessons. What I’m up to today is the cumulative result of a few twists of fate, the aligning of a star or two and good old fashioned graft.
NB: From a business perspective, what does 'yoga lifestyle' evoke and mean to you?
CK: When Sentiens started in 2015, we defined ourselves as a yoga brand. As the brand and business have grown, so the Sentiens narrative and product offering have become more about wellness. Yoga can certainly play a big part of living a wellness lifestyle. And for many people, it does. For others though, living a life of wellness may mean committing to getting fit or practicing meditation or getting out into nature more often. Sentiens is a wellness lifestyle brand with a vision to inspire people to live their best lives by doing the things that bring them the most joy, freedom, balance and harmony in life. We’ve placed a big focus on our yoga mats over the past three years. However, 2018 is all about expanding our product lines to include products that have broader application to the pursuit of a wellness lifestyle.
NB: From a personal perspective now - what does 'yoga lifestyle' evoke and mean to you?
CK: What has surprised many people in the past is that yoga is never something that I’ve done with much regularity or with enormous enjoyment. This is largely due to a back injury that took a long time to figure out. Learning how to manage my back pain and finding ways to keep fit and strong took precedence over starting yoga for the sake of starting yoga. This has certainly raised eyebrows during the past few years of running a yoga-centric business! And I can completely understand why. It’s only really been in the last few months that I’ve felt a real desire to start yoga and have since signed up for a beginner yoga course. Wanting to do yoga for me is very different to feeling pressurised to do yoga because I own Sentiens. I’m excited about having waited for the right time - my hope is that this is a more sustainable and authentic approach.
NB: Do you feel that this tension between your reality and perceived industry stereotypes is just a natural occurrence of personal/private, business face/personal experience, or do you think there is something more at play here?
CK: Sentiens kicked off with a former business partner who did yoga regularly. When that changed, I found myself with a brand centred on an activity that I wasn’t able to participate in because of my back. There have been times where that has worried me for sure. On a business level, I’ve had to make that much more of an effort to research and understand the yoga market because of that. On a personal level, I’ve caught myself defending my lack of ‘yogi-ness’. The evolution of Sentiens into a brand that advocates something more encompassing than just a yoga lifestyle has certainly helped me feel more personally aligned with my business. Sentiens advocates a wellness lifestyle. For different people that will mean different things. For me, wellness means daily meditation, getting outside – even if it’s just for a walk, making time to be in the mountains, prioritising keeping my core and back strong, trying to eat well, drinking less caffeine. My wellness is the sum of many things and it needs continual work and gentle discipline to maintain. Yoga hasn’t been part of that list until now and I’m excited to be exploring it at last.
NB: Sentiens is a brand that always feels fresh, upbeat and dynamic. Overtime, I cast an eye at your social media, or website, and there is always a new product, concept or visual narrative to feast on. What drives you to keep creating Claire? Do you ever feel ‘stuck in a rut’ or lacking in inspiration? What do you do to revive inspiration?
CK: Thanks Nina, that’s a very nice thing to hear. I think the reason why my work often doesn’t feel like work is because it allows me the freedom to continually imagine and create. Tapping into my imagination and getting creative is something I’ve been doing since I was very little so it feels intuitive more so than a laborious task. I’ve been fortunate to find myself in two businesses that trade on creativity. I think I’d be deeply unhappy without that. There are certainly times where I hit creative blocks. I find it’s best to take a break, change my playlist, meditate and then try again until it feels right.
NB: How important is an online presence and clear brand identity for a yoga instructor?
CK: I think a clear point of difference is the most important thing to spend time on if you’re operating within the increasingly competitive wellness industry. This means defining the ‘magic’ that sets your product or service apart in the market. In the context of yoga instructors, this is becoming more and more important with the number of new yoga teachers entering the sector each year. Defining the ‘magic’ takes time, creativity, fearlessness and a bit of out-the-box thinking. From there, a clear brand identity, a functional website and an online presence are just some of the vital tools necessary to convey that point of difference to the right customers.
NB: What do you think are the key ingredients to an impactful website for a yoga instructor and to what degree should the feel of this website resonate with their social media presence?
CK: For a yoga instructor specifically, effectively communicating their point of difference on their website is vital. One easy way to ensure maximum impact is through compelling, professional imagery that captures the ‘magic’. Content that describes the ‘magic’ beautifully is also very helpful. It’s important to ensure that the necessary information to get people into your studio is easy to find. That might be a printable class schedule, obvious contact details, a clear map. The aesthetic of the website is likely to be dictated by the brand identity. Social media should convey the point of difference to the right customers in a way that fits with and expands on the brand identity of the business.
NB: Lastly, what are you looking out for in 2018 in the yoga business community? What’s hot, or about to be hot?
CK: We’re always looking to grow our yoga product lines but for us, 2018 is about expanding further into the wellness lifestyle space. Part of our job is looking out for what’s hot and jumping all over it first. While this obviously puts a few grey hairs on our heads, it’s all part of the fun of creating, innovating and imagining!
Claire for BorisHenry worked with YOGICOMM to develop our visual brand identity. Thank you Claire - women in business are stronger together!