Soulie SmileIt never ceases to amaze me how Richmond has created a mecca for strong, independent women entrepreneurs.  The Om On Boutique strives to support local businesses that have a strong sense of ethics balanced with an eye for beauty.  Soulie embodies all of that and is charged by the beautiful Renee Lamb.  When I met Renee she exuded the balance of being grounded in where she comes from and the empowerment of knowing where she wants to be.  Soulie is her creation extending from her travels around the world and her greater understanding of the interconnectedness of all people supporting one another. It’s refreshing to see a company that focuses on creating one of a kind product’s that have a tangible beauty and a complex story.

 

I sat down with Renee to talk business, yoga, Richmond and family.

 

-Where did you grow up?

I grew up here in Richmond, Prince George to be exact which is about 45 minutes east down River. I immediately left after college and never anticipated coming back to RVA; I was gone 15 years before making my way back and landing on the East Side.

 

-Tell me about your family?

I am the second of 5 kids and the daughter of two engineers, which made me a nerd all my life.  My Dad’s family is from the Northern Neck and they have been there for 400 years. My Mom’s family is second generation Italian and French so my life has been in interesting mix of European Immigrants and American Colonialists.  There is a dichotomy that is always working in everything that I do.

 

-When did you start practicing Yoga?

I was 18 and started practicing my freshman year of college. The only studio around was a Bikram studio and that was my intro to Yoga. I practiced Bikram Yoga exclusively for 4 years but now I am not long tied to a style.

 

-What drew you to yoga?

It was the most extreme thing I could think of doing! It was the furthest experience from anything that I grew up with. I remember being an undergrad and having a Christy Turlington book. She was doing yoga and she was so radiant.  I told myself, “I am going to do this every single day until I look like that!”

 

-Why do you practie Yoga?

I practice because I have never found another mechanism for learning so much about yourself.

 

Soulie Muppet

-When did you create Soulie?

It has been one year, I was actually at Om On Yoga for the Jivamukti workshops so I guess that was my celebration!

 

-What inspired you to create Soulie?

I feel like I always wanted to create this business. I went to NC State and studied Italian and Textiles.  Afterwards I continued my education at Johns Hopkins University studying International Economics and Development. In 1999 I studied abroad in Nepal before the King had been assassinated and the culture was still functioning as it did 400 years ago. I was so intrigued by looking at this country that was so rich and yet questioning how they can balance between preserving the culture and the economic development.  This is why I went on to do what I did.

As my husband and I went backpacking for a year and a half the textile major in me was always looking for beautiful things. We found all of these beautiful crafts and beautiful organization that were creating these beautiful crafts. When we returned back to the US I had a job interview for a large company in New York.  The man I was interviewing with ask, “What would your dream job be?”  My immediate response was, “It would be my own company,” and that was the moment when I knew the iron was hot, its now or never.

 

-How do you choose your artisans?

I work with the ones that I know and that I have visited and met during my travels. These artisans work transparently, they are mostly NGO’s and I have had the opportunity to see the working conditions to ensure that they are doing what they claim to be. I always look for a great product and then the rest has always fallen into place.

 

-What Relationship do you have with the artisans?

It is always a collaborative partnership, to me that means that the relationship is shaped in a way that we are both benefitting from it, it’s not a typical buyer/supplier endeavor. Everything has a story and intricacies and I want each artisan to have the autonomy to put themselves into the work.

 

-Who is someone that you call your mentor or guru?

My Grandmother had the biggest spirit for life. She would tell people that we were related to Pocahontas, because if your were going to be ancestors of American Colonialists then you should make the story exciting! She had Rheumatoid Arthritis my entire life, which was crippling, she was in a wheel chair and her hands were gnarled but she had such a joy for living. She took me to Europe twice and if you can do that in a wheel chair with severe Arthritis then I always thought, what am I doing?

 

-What is your Mantra?

Nothing is Insurmountable and Om Namah Shivaya

 

-What does Soulie Bring to the RVA Yoga Community?

The products are unique in the industry because of the focus on the artisan’s creation.  Everything is handmade; everything has the spirit and energy of the artisan. What is more important than that in your yoga practice, than having that energy in a piece you own.

 

-Where can you be found on the weekends?

I am more often than not working in my studio in my home. The walls are covered in two big white boards, a Vogue Magazine cover from 1923, a painting I did when Iw as 18, my diplomas from Johns Hopkins and Parsons and a Print of the drawing by Da Vinci that was my Grandmother’s.

 

-What is your favorite spot in RVA?

Church Hill with its beautiful views of the sunsets. ! I have to go to the WPA Bakery for their gluten free muffins and SubRosa Bakery for their Tumeric Ginger Tea. I love these bakeries because both are a beacon of hope for this community; to see this place in the city being loved back after so many years of being abandoned by many people is incredible.

 

Thank you so much, Renee for talking to us and sharing your inspiring products with our community.