Sarah Larson Levey: Building a Brand and Breaking Barriers in Yoga

Join Elizabeth in this week's episode as she chats with Sarah Larson Levey, the CEO and Founder of Y7, a popular New York-based yoga studio with a devoted following on social media and in-person. Y7 is known for its unique combination of traditional yoga poses set to hip hop music, in a setting that features heat, candlelit rooms, and no mirrors. Sarah shares her personal journey, from being a fashion executive in New York to becoming a registered yoga instructor, health coach, and successful entrepreneur. She talks about the inspiration behind co-founding Y7 with her husband in 2013, driven by her own search for a yoga class she truly enjoyed, and how she aims to inspire others to prioritize their growth over their appearance. Sarah also discusses the benefits of daily movement for all ages and athletic levels, the inclusivity of Y7, and her insights on building a successful lifestyle brand.

Your yoga process is about you and working where you are at. -Sarah Larson Levey

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Podcast transcript below:

Elizabeth Stein 00:00
Hi, everyone. I'm Elizabeth Stein, founder and CEO of Purely Elizabeth. And this is live purely with Elizabeth, featuring candid conversations about how to thrive on your wellness journey. This week's guest is Sarah Larson Levey, founder and CEO of Y7, the New York based yoga studio with a cult following that features traditional yoga moves in a non traditional setting of beat pumping hip hop music, sweat dripping heat and candlelit rooms and no mirrors. Sarah is an innovator, entrepreneur, 200 hour registered yoga instructor, author, mom and Certified Health Coach. In this episode, we talk about Sarah's beginnings as a New York based fashion executive to co founding Y7 with her husband in 2013 as a pop up in Williamsburg out of her own desire to find a yoga class she loves. Sarah shares about her mission, core values of inclusivity, the journey through and post COVID, lessons she's learned throughout her 10 years and the keys to success for building a lifestyle brand. Keep listening to learn all about Sarah and Y7. If you haven't had the chance to try our grain free granolas yet, head on over to Walmart to now find them in the gluten free Healthy Living aisle in select Walmart locations. Our grain free granolas have crunchy clusters of nuts, superfood seeds and creamy nut butters all baked with organic coconut oil and sweetened with coconut sugar. They are gluten free paleo and keto certified. Use the link in the notes section to find purely Elizabeth products at a Walmart store near you. Sarah, welcome to the podcast. It's such a pleasure to have you on I'm such a fan of your brand and your yoga class.
Sarah Larson Levey 01:52
Thank you so much. I'm so excited to be here. I've been a huge fan of your brand for years. The purely Elizabeth oatmeal is in my Thrive Market like reorder box every month we go through it so quick. So I'm very excited to be here with you.
Elizabeth Stein 02:13
Love it. Before jumping into inspiration for starting Y7, back up a little bit. What were you doing beforehand, you were living in New York.
Sarah Larson Levey 02:22
I grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan. And I went to University of Wisconsin for college. And I graduated in 2009. So a little bit of a economic crisis time. And I moved back to Michigan for like six months. I was like, I don't know what I'm doing. My parents were like, We love you. We're not gonna move you to any city. If you don't have a job. And I was like, oh, no, no, no, no free rent in New York.
Elizabeth Stein 02:51
What about that?
Sarah Larson Levey 02:52
They're like, that's hilarious. We just..
Elizabeth Stein 02:53
What did you major in?
Sarah Larson Levey 02:54
I was a consumer science major with a focus on retail wholesale management
Elizabeth Stein 03:00
Sarah Larson Levey 03:01
Yeah. And I have a business certificate in kind of like business like management. Yeah, Wisconsin has some really, really cool programs when it comes to picking kind of like a little bit more developed, like real world like niches when it comes to that. So target actually sponsors a big portion of their retail program, because they're also headquartered in Wisconsin. So we have a big partnership with target. And so we've been really, really great, like, retail, like wholesale management program there. So from there, I was back in Michigan for a couple of months and took some interviews in New York and LA and I ended up in New York and I actually did exactly what I went to college for. I was one of those.
Elizabeth Stein 03:42
Wow, shocking!
Sarah Larson Levey 03:44
So I feel like it's so rare like I worked for a contemporary womenswear brand called Addison and I worked in house as a sales manager. So I was overseeing both of our showrooms on east and west coast and working with our discounters and some of our smaller major department sites. So the Revolves, the Shop Bops, and I was working with Rue La La with Gilt Groupe, working with the private label that we did for anthro and Urban Outfitters. So I was like, it was great. And I loved I loved it. I like I was one of those who, you know, I didn't start Y7 because I hated my job I actually really loved I loved my job so much,
Elizabeth Stein 04:23
Which is also a really good lesson, because I feel like, you don't hear that often.
Sarah Larson Levey 04:28
I know and I always think that you know, as I kind of think about like our trajectory and you know, what we built with Y7 it was always so funny, because anytime I kind of talked about like my origin story, or like Y7's origin story, it was really like, Y7 was born out of such a personal need for something that I was craving, and it was never intended to be business like, the goal of it was never like, Oh, I'm gonna do this so I can like make money and have my own business and all this all the things that we think come with owning a business.
Elizabeth Stein 04:59
Which I think that's how a lot of the best ideas do start, you know, sometimes you don't have a business plan and you just go.
Sarah Larson Levey 05:05
Yeah, and it was and I think. I, it's exactly like you just said that so many successful businesses, the greatest businesses are those that come out of just like this. I wanted this. And so I started it.
Elizabeth Stein 05:17
And why did you want it? What was the...
Sarah Larson Levey 05:19
So, I actually pinched my sciatic nerve in late 2012. And I'm someone who also like, you know, for better or worse, I think, like, in my brain, I'm like, 25, I'm like, Oh, I don't have to stretch before I do anything. Warm up, why would I want What do you mean? And so I tend, I mean, I tend to, like go after, like physical activity as I would when I was like, 18, 19, 20, which is not the case, I'm 36. And I need to, you know, kind of reconcile that in my brain. But I was never someone who like loved working out, I really went worked out so I could kind of eat and drink and do all of that, and still be in the shape that I wanted to be in. And so in 2012, I pinched my sciatic nerve, and my doctor was like you like, enough with like the treadmill, he was like, no more, no spinning, nothing, you need to do Pilates or yoga, like gentle movement, something that's really gonna focus on core strength. And like, you have to start to rebuild your body from the ground up, really. And I was like, okay, and I was, I was 25 at the time, so I couldn't really afford to be honest. Um, I was young and working in fashion. And it just, I didn't, I couldn't afford it. And so there were a lot more yoga studios at the time than Pilates studios so I was doing first class free or like, just like trying to find somewhere that I could like, really knew that I could commit to
Elizabeth Stein 06:50
Had you done yoga before or this was your first
Sarah Larson Levey 06:52
I had my mom is Japanese and has a very regular yoga practice. And so it was always just prevalent in kind of my household and in her her routine throughout my childhood growing up, but it was just never I wanted something like I played sports growing up. So for me, I wanted that kind of like intensity, right? That feeling of like, I know, I'm getting a workout, I was sore. And I know this is doing something. I had done it like here and there. But I was never able to get out of my head when I was in yoga. It was this silence created and all of this noise personally for me, I started going through my to do list in my head, I would look around and get super distracted. And there was a lot of for me, when I started going to studios a lot of comparison, physical comparison, you know, for better or worse, a lot of the studios that I tried, were brightly lit, and so beautifully to die and, and lots of mirrors and a lot of demoing a lot of this like beautiful instructor tall, thin, with an incredible practice being like, see how I am in this pose? And I was like, I sure do. And I don't know, if that's for me and there were a multitude of factors that kind of led me to every time I left class, I would feel a lot worse about myself and I did better. And as I kind of sat with that and started to think I was like that's really like the complete opposite of what you're supposed to get out of your yoga practice. Your yoga practice is about you. It's about you feeling at home in your body, you working on things from where you're at. It's not about keeping up with everybody else. It's not about looking like somebody else in a pose. And it really kind of got to me and I wanted a space where I could practice and feel really comfortable. So Y7 is it's dark, it's candlelit. 98% of our classes are the same format, our we flow hard format. They're always 60 minutes, and we flow to the beat and music and all of those things, you know, we were done really intentionally they weren't done to be like cool or like sexy or new. It ends up being like a really sexy fun vibe. But
Elizabeth Stein 09:05
It turns out it is that.
Sarah Larson Levey 09:07
Yeah yeah, and it was but it was I wanted it dark and candlelit because for me, I wanted, I wanted this sense of safety that nobody was gonna be looking at me that if I went a little deeper into my chair and listen, like when I go into Chair Pose, and I go a little bit deeper, like I look constipated, like I'm really I'm really working here. Right? And I wanted to know that if I was like, trying really hard or making a face or sweating or like whatever, not looking perfect in a pose that I could feel like no one was looking at me and like honestly, no one ever was probably but it was that kind of self judgment and self doubt that led to kind of this creation of this really safe space where it is dim, you know even if you are looking around like you can't really see what anyone else is doing. So it really forces you to pull that focus back onto yourself. I wanted to heat it because I wanted it to feel like a workout. Like I wanted to leave the class dripping sweat. And I wanted it to feel intense. And like I was really working. And so the infrared heat is this other little added bonus of kind of what you get in the classroom where you're kind of enhancing that detoxification process through the technology. And, again, no mirrors in the music, and I wanted it to be fun. Like they said, I'm like, not someone who like loves working out like, ah can't wait about a 10 mile run I just really, really love this. I wish I was. I'm not like that, though. And I wanted it to be fun and a little bit more lighthearted than what I had experienced in the past I think we can get so in our heads and I wanted to really, truly create a space where it was just about movement for your own body, and where you're at, and the darkness and the portion of we have a portion of class called flow on your own, where you take the sequence on your own. And that space is really just meant for you to like the sequence is a suggestion that time is for you. It is I'm very aware of the fact that our clients are not only spending money to spend time with us, it's their time. And I want to make sure that they're getting the most out of that time that they're enjoying themselves in that time, right. We're all so busy. Now, there doesn't seem to ever be enough time in the day. And so when we do consciously make that decision to do something for ourselves, I want it to be an experience that our clients can count on that they know like if they're going at 7am 7pm noon, it is going to be a 60 minute class, you are going to flow three times, and you're going to flow hard, you're gonna listen to great music, and you're going to sweat. And I think that's really important.
Elizabeth Stein 11:52
Well, I used to live in New York, as I said, beginning but when I have come to New York over the years, I've come and taken the class and just absolutely loved all those elements. And I'm definitely someone a who wants to come and sweat and feel like I got a work out B I loved not having a mirror because I do always think that that's like such a strange thing in yoga that it is all about you and this moment, and then there's a mirror that you're looking at. I always felt awkward
Sarah Larson Levey 12:20
Yeah, it's and it's so funny because we're gonna look different in poses. Forget, like, our physical history or anything like that. It's just anatomy, like, our arms are gonna be different lengths. Our spines are gonna be different lengths, like, there's no way we're ever going to look the same in a pose. So why are we using that as the metric of like success, or like, oh, look like this. It's never that's completely unrealistic, just from an anatomical point of view, right? There's always this thing that I truly believe in. This happened to me when I first got my my headstand, it was like something just clicked. And it was a feeling it wasn't like, Oh, I know exactly where like, my hands are exactly six inches apart. And my fingers are super super spread. It was just like something just like hit and I was like, that's what that's what I want to get back. It's the feeling. And I think that's, that's what we missed when we have the mirrors, I think they can definitely be helpful. But I think that's an element that's really overlooked when you're so focused on kind of the outward image.
Elizabeth Stein 12:54
I also love that you say fun and I think that music piece of it. And I don't know if is all the music hip hop or some of it?
Sarah Larson Levey 13:36
We've always been like super music focused music was like music is a huge motivator for me. And like I also have a playlist for everything. Like weird like niche thing. Washing the dishes, this is my like morning walk playlist. This is my like afternoon, I have a getting ready playlist. I have like separate getting ready playlists if I'm going like out out or just to dinner. So I have like a... Yeah, that for me. It was like I want something fun and upbeat. And I love I love hip hop. And we've been super fortunate in this last year to be able to partner with Universal Music Group. They become a small equity partner. So we are doing a ton of artists partnerships with them.
Elizabeth Stein 14:18
Oh, that's so cool, congratulations.
Sarah Larson Levey 14:19
A lot, yeah. Thank you. We have a lot coming up with them. But it's something our customers really resonated with too. We have. We have so many themed classes because we love it. You know, our teachers are like, Can I do this class? Like one of my instructors in LA for the holidays was like, may I please do a Mariah Carey Christmas special class and I was like, I was like, absolutely. I was like, I was like iconic and I Yes. 10,000% And it was just it was so fun. We did like we did a boy band like one hit wonder class which was you know, just like, this is going to date me so bad but like LFO like summer girls just like all like the funny, like, you know, when it's it's fun and it brings lightness to a practice. And it also for me, like, makes the class just fly by, where I always taught myself in yoga classes being like, looking for a clock. I was like, where is it? How much longer? What am I doing? You know, and when you're holding like a plank or a chair and like, you hear that song, come on, you're like, Oh, I just hold the plank for a minute. Like surprise, you know, it becomes joyful. And I think something to celebrate. Yes, we've always really allowed for the clients and our staff and our team to and our community to really like dictate and help us decide like what we're listening to and all those things.
Elizabeth Stein 14:23
That's so fun. I think it's so important a adding more joy into our lives. So a great way to be doing that. The B also love that I think both bringing the music aspect and the darkness slash no mirror feels like it makes yoga so much more accessible, where it's really something that can be pretty intimidating, if you haven't done and I'm sure that was part of your experience, or first go into those classes of like, I don't know how to do this, or
Sarah Larson Levey 16:10
Yeah, and all those studios had so many different levels. And it was like, I'm not really a beginner. Like I know, like, I know, you know, I wasn't aware of how to get into a crow pose when I first started, but like, I know how to, you know, warrior one down dog like all of those things. Like I knew what they were like, I didn't need to be in a beginner class where I was actually forced to take one at one studio because they wouldn't they they decided to dictate where you are in your practice. And I was like huh, and my beginner class it I literally sat the whole time and did wrist exercises. For me. I was like, well, now I feel like I have to go to the gym or do something to move my body. And this is what I was counting on. And I couldn't, you know, I couldn't do that. And I think still there are so many of these preconceived barriers to yoga, which is I'm not I'm not flexible enough. I don't know enough. And you don't have to come into the practice like that. Right? Like, you gain flexibility by coming. Yeah, you gain knowledge by coming to class, like no one goes in like that. But that's how it's always been presented, right? Like, I mean, there's still out there. But there was a time when the yoga industry but like a couple years before COVID Like everyone was opening a yoga studio. And you started to see like all of these, they call them like yoga-leberties, which are like these just incredible yoga instructors are basically like, contortionist, like scorpion pose, all those things like, I will probably never get their like, my back just is not gonna do that. And like, that's okay. Like, that's not for me. Like, that's not the end goal for me, like, as I age and like I've gone through two pregnancies, like my goal is just to have a really strong and healthy body, and to be able to move it in the way that I want to and anything that needs to be more of the focus than these like perfect poses.
Elizabeth Stein 18:05
Totally. So on that topic, I guess, what are some of the ways that well a like, what is your yoga practice over the years look like? Are you doing, once a week, twice a week or whatever? And then how have you really seen the impact of yoga practice on your life?
Sarah Larson Levey 18:24
Yeah, so I'm definitely practicing. Less than I have in the past. But I think before I got pregnant with my son, in 2019, I was practicing, like, probably two, three times a week that was like my, that was like, a good cadence for me enough where like, I don't know, I think sometimes when you do something like too much you just burn out on it. Like no matter how much you love it at a point, like your favorite song, kind of you listen to it too much. And like, all of a sudden, you're like, I hate this. And I never want to hear it again. So two, three times a week was really like my like, happy spot. And when I was pregnant, I kind of dropped down to I had horrible morning sickness, both my pregnancies so I was pretty much doing nothing for those times. But as I kind of ramped up, I would I would be going once or twice a week. But it just depends on like the phases of of life where you're at, I think there's a lot of different things but I love for me, like it's not just physical for me, it's become more and more of a mental thing for me. So there's so many times where I've walked into that studio and just had so much on my mind so much going on and through like the sweat and the movement and the heat. When I leave that room an hour later. It's a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders. And I don't know if that's from working so hard physically during the class and just being tired or just simply being able to be in a space where like, this is where I am for the next hour. It's truly like it doesn't matter what's going on outside of that room like this is where I am. And, again, I think the way that we intentionally design the studio without the mirrors and really this idea of just like, it is you and your mat, like, that is so impactful, because you're not looking at what everyone, like, you know, I've been in spin classes before we would like look at your neighbor's like, you know, little gauge thing and then turn yours up one more, and I'm ew I don't want to do that right now. So there is something very freeing about just being there for yourself.
Elizabeth Stein 20:35
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Sarah Larson Levey 21:36
We had 15 going into COVID across four different cities. We were in Los Angeles, New York. We had opened Chicago for three days. And we had one in Portland, Oregon, on the Nike campus through a partnership with them, which was really fast. Yeah, but I oh gosh from the beginning. Um, my now husband, who was my boyfriend at the time is my co founder. And I think truly he just got sick of hearing me complain about like, how I couldn't find any way to practice yoga. And it's funny because he was like, way more into it than I was at the time. Like he was like, he was going to yoga with people a ton. And like, I was like, I don't want to become too hot, like, too hot. They yell at me. And they make me do the same 11 poses. He's like, Well, yeah, that'd be from us. And I was like, but what if I want to sit down? He's like, you can't. Okay. I don't want to do that. And so we we ended up finding this incredible like, we found it on Craigslist, it was actually a recording studio, above the Roebling Tea Room in Williamsburg. And we lived in Williamsburg at the time. And they didn't use it on the weekends. And it was perfect. It was a dark room with no windows. And so we rented that for four hours, and Saturdays and Sundays. We hired teachers off of Craigslist as well. Kind of told them what we wanted what we were thinking and like was that at the time I wasn't certified. And we started as a pop up. And after like a month of a pop up and like just free fun like, classes someone asked to buy a package. And I was like, Oh, let me get let me let me get back to on that. We were like, like, we were kind of looking at between our jobs. And New York was like at the time this was oh my gosh, this was 2013 this was the summer of 2013 and it was like New York. And LA is like this too. And so many cities are like this now but at the time New York was really like kind of at the forefront of this like co working like month to month spaces kind of thing. So we found this building in Williamsburg on 88 North first and it had a bunch of like, it probably had about 10 300 square foot like rooms basically like they call them artists lofts. The woman like next door to us used it as like her ceramic studio. She had like her wheel and like all her clay and stuff and someone like down the hall use it for voice lessons gave like voice lessons there. Someone else did eyelashes. And it was really cool. We found it. It was like 1,000 bucks a month, month to month. All utilities included. We were like, all right. Like, you know, we'll be tight but we can afford this and we it was month to month so we took that lease and the studio held about 10 people maximum. And that's how we started. Mary one of the founders of ClassPass. She was one of our first clients and it was when ClassPass was classtivity. And she was like, Do you guys want to try out this platform?
Elizabeth Stein 21:39
Did she randomly come to the class? Or did you know?
Sarah Larson Levey 24:51
Yeah, no, she randomly she also lived in Williamsburg and heard there was a new studio and was like, do you guys want to try this thing? We're like, Sure, great. We don't have any money for marketing or advertising or anything like that. And so we were one of the very first ClassPass studios. So we've like really grown up together with them. And we quickly grew out of that space in my gosh, like six months, moved into a different space. And slowly kind of grew from there. And when we opened our third studio, which was flat iron, in the spring of 2015, that was when you know, my husband, I kind of sat down, we're like, alright, like, should we like, do is this like a thing? Like, should we like, try, like, try this? Because we were both still working full time jobs and like, opening the studio going to work, leaving, closing the studio, like, really just like, I have no idea. And people were like, how do you do that? Like, I literally have no idea. I was like, I blacked out. Like, I do one thing now. And I'm like, tired. So very confused by my husband's in digital advertising with more money than I did. So I was like, Alright, I was like, listen, like, I'm also like, in sales and account management, like I can go back with that skill. Like, if it's not in passion, that skill is like, pretty transferable. So I left my job in March of 2015. And he ended up leaving his and August of 2015. And we went on to open Union Square that year, and West Hollywood, at the very top of 2016. And we secured our private equity round, we raised at the end of 2016. And they're still just our single private equity partner that we have. Yeah.
Elizabeth Stein 26:56
That's amazing. What do you think was really the moment? I mean, it sounds like obviously, ClassPass was very influential in that startup phase and getting the word out. Were there other like super pivotal moments that really shine? And you were like, Okay, we've made it like, I feel really good about leaving my job. And..
Sarah Larson Levey 27:17
Yeah, yeah, I think it was just like, we started to see like, real numbers. And my, both my husband and I have worked since we were like 15, and had part time jobs. And we both worked through college, so for us, it was to not have something consistent was a little scary, which is why we kind of staggered it. And again, why we worked like full time and this was at the like the very beginning of boutique fitness. SoulCycle was just a couple years old, like Barrys was like, yeah, like flywheel like, that was like the big three. And that was really it. You didn't see I mean, there was Yoga works. Yoga works was really like, we didn't have core power in New York. Yeah, at the time, but it was really just like Yoga works and like, all these other things, and it was like, is there space for something else in an already overcrowded market? And it's not like I am, like, we didn't invent, like new yoga poses, people have like, free flowing parts of class and, you know, in other studios too we didn't do anything, you know, kind of that was brand brand new, but I think it's the way that I'm the customer. And that's a reason why I don't really teach, I can I did get certified in 2015, it was important to me that when I was speaking to my instructors, and about the studio, that I was able to speak on it from that lens also, you know, especially when it comes to how we want to format the classes and what that's like, but I'm the customer. And I think sometimes that people lose sight of that, know who's coming to the studio, who is talking about the studio, and it's your consumers and it's your clients. And so I've always felt really strongly about making sure that the experience is still resonating from a consumer point of view, because I think you can, you know, from the teaching and operational side you can get so lost in like the details and pick apart every little thing but at the end of the day, like when I'm in class, like I'm half listening, you know, I mean, like I like I'm like kinda like you know, I'm listening like I'm doing you know, the poses but it's not like I'm tearing you know, tearing apart every little word they're saying or sentence or things like that. But when you're the one talking and teaching you can like get really wrapped up in like those little things or like, oh, that sentence didn't really make sense. Like, I hope nobody noticed and that and so I like to remain really focused on that consumer side.
Elizabeth Stein 29:39
Well I think you've done such a great job creating more than just a yoga studio but really creating a brand. You know, and to me from the outside. It's really like more of a lifestyle brand than you then you have created which of course there's a thousand yoga studios, but yours is very unique in that way. Do you any tips around creating brand, whether that is in store in studio or online that's really been successful in helping to grow that community that you have?
Sarah Larson Levey 30:12
Yeah, it's really interesting. So I think I think about this a lot now, because brand has become so important. Like, now, you know, it used to, it used to be just like, brands were like, Nike, Adidas, Starbucks, you know, these really big big companies and smaller brands were, it was really hard to make your mark, when you were smaller, adding a lot of people to now that, you know, we have all these tools that make starting companies and businesses and building brands a lot easier. And just, you know, there's all these accessible tools, now, we kind of lose sight a little bit of what the product is. And I think what really makes a successful brand is not, you know, the, the imagery, or the scent, or things like that, they're all components of it, right? But what really builds a brand is a feeling. And it's this feeling of, it has to invoke something in you know, I, a look at, you know, all these brands, and like when people choose Nike, it's I'm an athlete, you know, and it just the age thing gets very, very fascinating. And when I look at what you've built, like for me, like I, the instant oatmeal is like, that's I like that's my product, because for me oatmeal feels like home. And I don't know why it's like a huge comfort food for me. And that's what it is. It's a feeling, and which and that's what I think, has customers coming back again and again and again, to whatever brands they're really drawn to. It's invoking that feeling and that emotional connection. Yeah, and I think now, you know, we we're in such an image driven world right now that you can kind of get lost in the sea of brands, you know, you go to you go to target on like the beauty shelf, you're, like, overwhelmed with like, Oh, wow. And all these beautifully designed brands and things like that. And you know, I think about those brands a lot. And it's like, how do you break through the noise of such crowded markets, and it's really a feeling. And I think it starts with the way that you talk about it. And for me, when I started to be able to talk about why seven more, and I also, I worked the front desk pretty much at every studio up until like, 2017. I was like, Hello, can I check you in? Do you need mountain tell? Yeah. But it allowed me to really talk about, you know, like, have you been here before? Do you have any questions? This is what we do. And because it's my story, and this brand was built for me, I think a lot of people resonated with that, like, yeah, I want to do yoga too. This seems great. I want to feel like more centered and grounded and strong and all of these things and but I don't feel welcome in this space. And I don't know how to get there. And so having this aspect, which I think social media has been really incredible for is really cultivating that community and talking about that feeling and curating that feeling, through conversation through imagery, and all of that. But a lot of people just want to create like a cool brand and hope that's what's gonna stick. And a lot of times it does, but you know going through the pandemic, it's about longevity and sustainability too like, is this something that you can continue? And is this something that doesn't hinge on just like one thing? So I don't think I was consciously thinking about so much back then. But now I think about it all the time. Because I find it just like so interesting. What makes people think 10 years and boutique fitness industry, it's like a big deal. And we're about we're about to hit it this summer. So it's a big deal. And I'm really proud of that. And it's really kind of had me in like a little bit of like emotional spiral like, wow, like, what is the next time look like and how do we continue to build like community and like reinvent. And so it's interesting.
Elizabeth Stein 34:07
Yeah, it's super interesting. I feel like similar that I always felt like I wanted to make products that you felt emotionally connected to, and something that's going to be in your daily routine, like an oatmeal, where that's part of your day, that you can really have more emotion to it versus say, like a potato chip. And not that you can't be like obsessed with a potato chip, but it's just a different relationship. Right? I'm sure that's how people feel about a yoga experience. So as you think about the next 10 years and congratulations on hitting ten years this summer, what is next? COVID happens obviously yoga studio is like one of the hardest hit industries for in person COVID so your pivot and let's talk about what that looks like. And then what's coming up next?
Sarah Larson Levey 35:02
Yeah, COVID was terrible, just like it was for everybody else. I think our industry got specifically got hit pretty hard. We're like, like, I think like a $50 billion industry. And we are the only industry that side like fitness as a whole that doesn't have like a lobbying Congress. So while bars and restaurants were able to go to Congress and be like, yeah, yeah, like, you have to let us open like, you let us do this, this and this, the entertainment industry, the same thing. We didn't have that presence. So it was funny, because I was like, if anyone has control to contact trades, or you know, really know exactly who's coming in and out of their spaces, it's us. Because you have to pre register. We have liability forms that ever end emergency contact, God forbid, anything should happen. I limit the amount of people in my class. So I have 30 spots a class, I know exactly how many people will be coming through my doors, which, you know, restaurants and bars, they can't do that. You know, they're not calling up, you know, I don't know Susan, who stopped in for a drink after work. I mean, like, Excuse me, ma'am. Just wondering if you could provide your, you know, your contact information, just in case like it was such an interesting time. And yeah, I was very, very lucky. My, my CFO, Stephanie, she is a she's probably like the most mentioned person I talked about whenever I talk about COVID, because she is just simply brilliant. And really, everyone was really downplaying this. And, you know, it's like, oh it'll be a couple of weeks, and whatever, everything will be fine. And when New York shut down, she was like this is gonna last two years. And I was like, that's insane. Yeah, I'm like, hysterically crying seven months pregnant, like don't say that I was like, that's crazy. And she's like, No, she's like, this is, you know, she's very smart, obviously, like, don't have studied the economy, and like, you know, financial trends and things like that. And she was like, We are tightening everything. And we are, we're gonna start to look at, like, leases that we could, like, let go of and what that looks like. And so we really, like over prepared like, just in case. And we ended up having, you know, to consolidate our locations, and we did so strategically. But I feel very fortunate that we had a team that was able to make those decisions ahead of time and really plan and prep for the worst case, God forbid. And we weren't really pressured into making like, quick snap, like, close, this one close that one take like last minute offers these commercial leases were very complicated. And for better or worse, like, landlords didn't really get, you know, big landlords did, but smaller landlords, you know, we had several locations where it was just like a guy who owned a building in New York that he's owned for 60 years. And, you know, he wasn't getting any, like real relief, either. So that was that was kind of tough also, you know, having to kind of terminate leases come to agreements with that there was it took us probably a year to like, you know, with lawyers and everything like that, to really come to agreements and make kind of mutually beneficial decisions for everybody. But in the end, it was where we are now kind of we were able to start reopening in late summer 2021. And we've seen a lot of studios closed since they reopened because operating costs have gone up, this supply chain for us really affected things too, with, you know, supplies with water, even like water deliveries, and cleaning supplies, and using towels and mats and all that like we were really affected by all that all of our costs went up. And we basically had to start a whole new business because things changed so much with how we operate. So it was really tough, but it was a time where we were able to really sit back and analyze the business because we did grow so quickly. We were always kind of on to the next right, instead of looking at things I mean, like okay, like, instead of just like Okay, now we're gonna open this one fun, where it's like what is really like this strategic plan as a whole so we can start to grow into the next 5, 10, 15 years. And what does that look like? And how does that look like? Where are we partnering with? How much capital Do we really need? And what team members do we need in place? What are the first ones? What is the third one? Would we hire differently than we did last time in terms of like sequence of who we need first? What's the backbone of the operating thing? Because listen, we have six studios now and like, I was managing all six at one point, and like, that's not going to work anymore. And so they're just things that are different that yes, we've done this before, but the blueprint looks different this time.
Elizabeth Stein 39:35
Sure. So how have you seen a shift because I'm sure from an outsider, it feels like you know, studios reopened and people were probably hesitant to go back into the studio. And that probably was there for a while. People were accustomed to doing at home which I know you have some online tools that we can get into too but now do you feel like there's a resurgence of going back in because that that's how it feels. Okay, I'm sick of being at home. I'm ready to get back in to the studio.
Sarah Larson Levey 40:05
Yeah, I think it's I think it's twofold. But we kind of took a backseat, like when we reopened, we're like, let's just get reopened. Like, let's learn how we're operating again right. Like, I want to see what people's habits are like now, like, they're definitely different, like, Bryant Park was always slammed. And it was one of the studios that we closed because no one went back to the office full time. So just, you know, the volume isn't there anymore. Like I wouldn't, that's not even a location I would reopen in the next like two years. But we've seen it definitely was slow. But I think, you know, now, everyone realizes that, you know, I think we heard a lot in like early pandemic, try our digital platform. It's just as good as studio. I don't care how good your digital platform is. There is nothing that compares to an in person class. Like they're just different.
Elizabeth Stein 40:57
And particularly yoga. I feel like yeah, other classes, maybe like I could get like a peloton versus, something versus maybe. But like a yoga class to me is only in person.
Sarah Larson Levey 41:09
I mean yoga. So and I think this too, because yoga is so funny to me, I always say like, when we were developing our digital, like at home platform, I was like, we the bulk of the classes have to be 30 minutes, I go, because that's when I, that's when I tap out, I'm in down dog and I'm looking under my bed. And I'm like, what is that, for some reason I have 30 minutes in me for any at home workout. And then I just kind of like, I lose it a little bit. But yoga is so interesting, too, because it's one of the only forms of fitness or like boutique fitness, that you are solely relying on just like your own body and your body weight. And it's all mental, right? It's not like, turn up the resistance, grab a heavier weight, this is just you, if you're sagging, in a plank pose, there is nothing that like any kind of resistance or anything can do for you, that's on you, you got to fix it. So I think it's extra hard to do it without an in person component. So we looked at a lot of trends and kind of how things were happening digitally. And in the physical world. And we I think that digital platforms are here to stay like they're not going anywhere, our work lives have changed so much too, with like a lot of more a lot more like remote work a lot. A lot of my friends are in office like two, three days a week, and then to work from home a lot of hybrid. And so I think digital is definitely not going away. But I look at it as like, the physical in studio experience that is like the core, the heart of the business. And then the digital stuff, like that's a bonus, that's an add on. That is where I go for like, I'm not gonna make that house. Yeah, I got I have 45 minutes, let me do a 30 minute class, I feel good about it, I love it, it still keeps me connected to the community. But it's an add on, it's not a replacement. It's a supplement. And I think that's what we're gonna see a lot of in the future is it's not going to be either or. Right? It's going to be this. And yeah, and that's okay. And that, for me is really great. And especially when I look at what we do, we're so specific at what we do in studio, and I'm never going to change that. Like I'm never going to remove like three we flow hard classes to put a beginner class on, or a restorative class. But I'll do that digitally. I'll have way more options digitally. So if we have a client who's pregnant, or is dealing with an injury, or for some reason has to move away, and there's not a studio there yet, they can still stay connected to the community and still feel a part of everything without having to physically go in the studio. Think that's like really what we see for the future. That was a big part of what we did in 2022. We kind of just focused on our digital strategy and what that looks like. And then this year, we're like, starting physical expansion again, which I'm very, very excited about that, like, brings me a lot of joy to do. So I'm stoked for the rest of the year.
Elizabeth Stein 41:57
Any chance Boulder is in the expansion?
Sarah Larson Levey 44:09
Yes, we are looking yeah, we're really probably yeah, we're looking Denver boulder. A lot of those markets like have seen well you know, this they've seen a lot of growth people moving so we're Yeah, we're excited about that. We're we'll go that's what everyone's says too it's funny because you look on like just like purely from like a map like business like what businesses are there and it looks so oversaturated but I think that it's saturated with a lot of similar things as opposed to like different experiences. So stay tuned.
Elizabeth Stein 44:43
Alright, we're gonna move into some rapid fire q&a. The best advice you've gotten in the last six months.
Sarah Larson Levey 44:56
Don't rush it. I'm very like, I want to have more studios now. And like, it never works that way. And one of my girlfriend's like, she's like, don't rush it she's like the right like it will like it will happen. You sign a lease too quick, you pick a location too quick. You want something so badly that you're like, willing to like overlook the red flags that has never worked out for anybody.
Elizabeth Stein 45:18
Oh, totally. A favorite book, mentor or podcast for growth.
Sarah Larson Levey 45:23
Oh, so for books I, I'm more of a reader. I love this is so silly. I love the little like 10 Minute Manager Harvard business review books. I think they're incredible. They're very easy to digest and practical. It's like, do this. This is how you can handle a conversation like this. This is how you start to like, lean into like, you know, emotional intelligence. And they're my favorite things to do. I have like 10 of them that I pull out when I need them. You know, in different kinds of topics. There's ones about difficult conversations, or ones about emotional intelligence. There's ones about leading just like through like tough time and what that looks like. And I think it's really incredible to get like that condensed knowledge into really digestible things.
Elizabeth Stein 46:10
That's a great one. Three things that you're currently loving. It could be a product, TV show, book, anything.
Sarah Larson Levey 46:19
I just watched the first I'm very behind. But his I have a four month old. So I'm not watching much TV. But I just started The Last of Us. And I'm so excited. And I'm like, really like, my parents are here this week. And I'm like, I'm like take my children. But I've heard some really beautiful things. So I'm really, I'm really loving that. I, when else am I loving, I got a red light mask, like an LED red light mask where I look insane. I'm loving that I'm using that like trying to use like 10 minutes a day. And my third thing, which is like very niche, and like not for everyone, but we're in the process of working with a sleep consultant and like sleep training our daughter right now. And we got the slumber pod, which is basically like this tent to make it blackout. So she can have this really like nice, like little womb like space.
Elizabeth Stein 47:09
Sounds like we could all use that sort of thing.
Sarah Larson Levey 47:11
Yeah, it's like kind of incredible. There's like an air vent. There's a space for a sound machine. And like a camera. I was like, this thing is great. So I'm like, obsessed with that. And I talk about it to anyone who will listen to me.
Elizabeth Stein 47:25
Favorite Words To Live By?
Sarah Larson Levey 47:28
It's like this now. But one of my very dear friends who actually used to work for Y7, she used to teach for us. This was back in like 20 like 17 I was just having like a day. And I was like, I wish I would have done this or known this. And like I was like really just in kind of like a spiral and feeling really overwhelmed. And she looked at me, I remember exactly where we were at this bar in Brooklyn called OTB, we were having wine and french fries. And she was like, you know, my teacher said to me, it's like this now. Meaning that this is how it is right now, you can only make the best decision you can with the information you have right now. It is not like it was 10 minutes ago, it's not like it was a year ago. And it will be different in five minutes from now. So if you need to make a decision, if you need to change your mindset, you have to go forward from how it is right now. And that is all you can do. And every single time without fail. That is what I come back to. Like it is like this now. So stop with the it was it was it could have been enough. That's not going to do anything for you. And it really is a nice way to kind of clear out like the excess like thoughts and like feelings you have about how things could have been or how they were whatever it is. And just focus on how things are now and know that like, you can only do what you can do. Moving on now. And that's it. And that's the only thing you can control.
Elizabeth Stein 48:57
That's great. Three things in your day that you do to feel your best.
Sarah Larson Levey 49:03
Oh, definitely movement. I'm the person who I am so much nicer and happier after I work out. Or any kind it doesn't have to be like a grueling workout, but like man, does it shift my mood. Sometimes it's very hard to get me to the place where I'm like moving. I'm like, I don't have time. Like if I take time out to do this for myself, I'm not gonna get this done, but I ended up being better and able to function better. So just any kind of daily movement, for me is really, really important. This is controversial slash taboo coffee. I know a lot of people get very anxious about coffee. When I have my morning cup, it's I'm going to enjoy my coffee. Just give me 10 minutes. Like let me enjoy it and it really just like settles me first thing in the day. And something I've started to do lately is and this seems really silly too probably to a lot of people but just being so busy and having two young kids and a business and all these things, I started to, I have this sounds so bad, I have a list of like people who are like really important to me who I don't get to connect with on a daily basis. So every day, pick a different one. And make sure to send a text or call really quick just to check in and say hello, and like I'm thinking of you and like I love you, I miss you and just wanted to see how you're doing. Because we can let those things we think especially as women when we have so much on our plates, we can let that part of our lives kind of fall by the wayside a little bit. And it sucks. I mean, like it's and then there's something happens here like man I really want to call like my best friend but assuming it's weird because I haven't talked to her in like six months. And I it's yeah, it's a nice reminder for me too to like check in and, and I think life is so short. So letting people know like they're important and you're thinking of them and it really is just so easy to send the text and things like that. So that sounds silly and like I keep a list of my friends but it's really so you know, I'm remembering to like check in and like important dates if like someone has a big trip or a job interview or a life change or anything like I have a friend who's renovating a house so that's how you she like just bought a place and I was like how's the house like I want to know like and I don't want to like forget to check the internet like really big thing that you just did. So it just helps keep it organized in my brain. Yeah.
Elizabeth Stein 51:25
And the last question what is your number one non negotiable to thrive on your wellness journey?
Sarah Larson Levey 51:34
Sleep, it is not only important for our internal organs our cell repair like how our bodies function, it is so important for like brain function and everything and mood and just like energy levels it is I think there's a reason they use sleep deprivation as a form of torture. Like it is. Sleep has become like number one for me.
Elizabeth Stein 52:07
Could not agree more. Well in closing, Sarah, thank you so much for being on the podcast. Where can everybody find you and Y7?
Sarah Larson Levey 52:17
Yeah, you can find Y7 on Instagram at @y7studio, me personally is sarah, S-A-R-A-H, underscore, ayako, A-Y-A-K-O, which is my middle name. There's lots of Sarah Larsons out there. So yeah. And you can follow along there.
Elizabeth Stein 52:35
Awesome. Thank you so much for coming on today, Sarah.
Sarah Larson Levey 52:38
Thank you. Bye.
Elizabeth Stein 52:41
Thanks so much for joining me and live purely with Elizabeth. I hope you feel inspired to thrive on your wellness journey. If you enjoyed today's episode, don't forget to rate subscribe and review. You can follow us on Instagram at purely_elizabeth to catch up on all the latest. See you next Wednesday on the podcast.