Twisted sisters have designs on yoga

  • Article by: SARA GLASSMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 12, 2012 - 4:23 PM

Minneapolis designers Kaja Foat and Zoë Foat Naselaris have been bending out of the black-yoga-pant stereotype for about a decade through Foat Design.

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Sara Glassman, sglassman@startribune.com Zoe Foat Naselaris (left) and Kaja Foat of Foat Design in their Northeast Minneapolis studio/retail space.

Photo: Sara Glassman, Star Tribune

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Many people live in yoga pants, whether they're working out or not.

Minneapolis designers Kaja Foat and Zoë Foat Naselaris, both 37, have been bending out of the black-yoga-pant stereotype for about a decade through their Foat Design line of colorful and playful organic cotton yoga clothes.

The identical twins and yoga enthusiasts are practical and eco-conscious to the point of using every scrap and button they get their hands on. But the question they continually ask each other during the design process is, "Do you think this is cute?"

They also understand fit.

"Women's bodies are all different, but we've studied them enough to find the happy medium," Kaja said.

Giving their pieces extra oomph shows. Available in a myriad of colors from raspberry to periwinkle to gray, all of the pieces are better than basic -- whether the pants have gathers up the leg or bloomer-inspired flared-out ruffles peeking out the bottom.

The line also is designed for those who are serious about their practice. Pants are form-fitting in just the right places, so an instructor can ensure that a yogi knee doesn't go over the big toe, and halter tops are designed to tie on the side, so you can comfortably lie on your back for savasana.

Thanks to extensive backgrounds as artists and dancers, the Minneapolis natives and Southwest High School grads are uniquely qualified to create such a collection. They danced all through childhood and in college as part of their studies. (Both minored in it.) They earned degrees from Augsburg College in art and art history. And they've always had similar "artsy" styles, "but we didn't share clothes," Kaja said.

Never afraid to just pick up and go, the sisters ended up in Brooklyn, eventually with near-identical jobs in the same building, each managing businesses. While there, they started taking yoga classes and quickly noticed a problem.

"There was no stretch in the clothes you wear, so they'd be falling off of you in the first five minutes," Kaja said.

To avoid having to pull up their pants during class, they started making their own with rollover bands that could be worn high or low.

They both had sewing know-how thanks to their mom's virtuoso patching abilities. Kaja had studied technique at the Minneapolis Community and Technical College.

Zoë still describes the initial launch as "trial and error," she said. "I'd draw it out in my head and we'd make patterns on newspapers or bags."

Toward the end of 2001, the sisters left New York City and made their way back to the Twin Cities, where they sought out the best yoga classes.

To further cement their skills, they decided to be certified as teachers through Jivamukti in Rhinebeck, N.Y., a vigorous yoga practice that incorporates physical and spiritual elements. When they returned to Minnesota, they started teaching multiple classes and training other teachers. Their Foat Design clothing continued to grow as students placed orders for items they saw on their teachers.

Around the same time, they also had begun a second line repurposing old clothes. Kaja produced a pair of leg warmers out of her boyfriend's old sweater, and in a design they're well known for now, they turn scraps from yoga clothes into whimsical patchwork skirts and refigure secondhand finds into new pieces. The sisters recently refashioned vintage Pendleton shirts into sleek pencil skirts.

In 2006, Kaja went to Pennsylvania and Zoë to San Francisco, where she worked with Yoga Journal as a Jivamukti expert and occasional model. It forced them to step back from their students and finally declare their new profession.

"I don't think we ever said, 'Do you want to be a fashion designer?' up until that point, but it was what we were doing," Kaja said.

They've been going strong ever since. Unable to stay away from each other or the Twin Cities for long, they ended up back in the area in 2007. At their studio and boutique in northeast Minneapolis, they design, sew and sell their line, aided by interns. They're open to shoppers and those seeking custom designs most weekdays. When they move out the racks and tables, the space fits 22 yoga mats.

Foat Design is available at nearly 20 locations in the Twin Cities area, many of them yoga studios, and at retailers in about 20 states and Germany. They send monthly shipments to Jivamukti in New York, where their couture and yoga lines are always in demand.

The sisters are known for reimagining more-formal garments, as well. When Zoë got married in 2005, the sisters noticed a need for eco-friendly bridal apparel and fashioned a size 14 dress from scraps rescued from Zoë's dress. Many clients go to them to modernize and reinvent an inherited dress.

What ties their three lines together is the eco-friendly premise, a principle that goes back to their mom's influence and the Jivamukti tenet of ahimsa, which means non-harming. That applies to your body when you're in a pose and to the world at large.

"Most people don't know that the asana [physical] practice is a very small part of yoga. More important, the morals and ethical practices help keep a balance," Zoë said. "This isn't something we learned from yoga, but it has reinforced it. All aspects of our business are funneled through us so we have the control to keep everything strictly fair with everyone. In being an identical twin, we've had years of practice in keeping things fair."

FOAT DESIGN

Studio: 1828 NE. Marshall St., Mpls., 1-800-658-1448, open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays (most of the time) and by appointment.

Online: Shop the full collection and one-of-a-kind pieces, and find a list of additional retailers, at www.foatdesign.com.

Upcoming events: Celebrate Shopping Local, 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Jan. 24; Chakra Clearing-Detox with Jivamukti Yoga instructor Kaja Foat, 4- 6 p.m., Jan. 29 ($28 in advance, $38 at the door); pick out a one-of-a-kind Valentine's dress, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Feb. 13.

PICK OF THE WEEK

Sweet Tribe ruby earrings

With more than 10 years of experience in creating jewelry, Jenifer Bellefleur of Minneapolis takes inspiration from "natural elements and timeless design." That's evident in the elegant simplicity of one of her latest earrings and necklace sets featuring raspberry-color Burmese rubies ($98, including matching necklace, www.etsy.com/shop/sweettribe). Bellefleur just changed the company's name from A Flower Grows to Sweet Tribe. In addition to her Etsy site, you can find her jewelry at Gallery 360 in Edina, Uniquely Yours and Petersen Floral and Gifts in Minneapolis.

FRIDAY

L'atelier Couture Bridal open house: To celebrate its new location, the usually by-appointment boutique will be open to curious onlookers, no future wedding required. It'll also be hosting Italian designer Peter Langner and local designers Laura Nelli of Nelle and Penny Larsen.

10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 219 N. 2nd St., No. 404, Mpls., 651-602-9492, www.latelier couturebridal.com.

Local Motion Happy Hour: Shop a weekly happy hour with secret sale items and refreshments.

4 to 6 p.m. Fridays through Jan. 27, 2813 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 612-871-8436, www.localmotionmpls.com.

CONTINUING

OPM sale: Fall and winter merchandise up to 60 percent off.

3700 Grand Way, St. Louis Park, shopopm.com.

Hot Mama denim sale: Take 20 percent off all denim.

Through Sunday, all store locations, including the Shoppes at Arbor Lakes, 12117 Elm Creek Blvd., Maple Grove, 763-416-5100 and at www.shopmama.com.

Sara Glassman • 612-673-7177 • sglassman@startribune.com • Twitter: @sararglassman

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