Today, as always, we want to shout out about an amazing founder making waves in the health and wellness industry. We want to know what goes on behind the scenes, the highs and the lows of the start-up life. This week, we have the pleasure of interviewing Ella Wroath, founder of Soul Circus Yoga and Wellness Festival.
Soul Circus Yoga and Wellness Festival is the UK’s leading 3-day yoga and music festival. Ella also founded Ella and Fleur Hot Yoga, the first hot yoga, spin studio with a juice bar in The Cotswold’s.
Currently, Ella is on a voyage of discovery into yoga & wellness initiatives on a global scale. Together with her husband and 2 young boys (aged 3 & 5), her family have spent time living in Europe and Central America over the past 19 months. All that has been learnt by Ella in this time period will influence Soul Circus 2019 and beyond…
What is your superhero origin story? Please, do let us know what your superhero nickname would be as well, in case you have one!
Glade Runner – From my time running around the Glastonbury fields with my partner in crime and best friend Gemma Bevir.
I’ve always been pretty good at looking on the bright side of things. I had a tough upbringing due to a stormy relationship with my mum as well as attending a hardcore dance school that wasn’t the kindest to the psychological needs of a young girl. But through it all, I always seemed to attract people who liked to have fun.
I always prioritized having a good time in life above all else! This was not always ideal for my education or keeping my parents happy, as it wasn’t always good healthy fun and did involve a lot of late nights and shenanigans.
One of which was festivals. My best friend Gemma and I attended a few Glastonbury’s in our teens and 20’s when you could still jump the fence, wear your oldest mouldiest clothes and no makeup all weekend. There was no glitter in sight, we were mainly interested in listening to amazing music and bending our minds! I fell head over heels in love with festivals from that point. I loved the feeling of sitting on the grass with my favourite people, cold drink in hand and soaking up the magical atmosphere of happy people, great music, sunshine and good vibes. It became my happy place when things at home were hard and I felt like the world was a difficult place.
Fast forward 10 years and I met my husband at a yoga class. When he asked me to marry him I was delighted, but I knew from the offset that a traditional wedding wouldn’t reflect who I am. We talked it through in the bath over a bottle of red wine and came up with the idea of a festival wedding! Roman is from Ukraine so we designed a Russian folklore-themed festival mixed with the Cotswold countryside. A strange combination but it worked beautifully. Everyone had a great time and we were then addicted to designing our own perfect creative expression.
Soul Circus was born, a combination of the yoga world that was currently healing my soul from the trauma of the past with the world of fun and festivals that had saved my life all those years ago.
What was your eureka moment, and how did you test your idea?
I was lying in Sivasana at the end of a particularly awesome yoga class with my teacher Tom Burlinson. He had taught a strong class with a banging soundtrack. As I was lying there, I felt the vibration of the music through my body as the class started to take effect on me at a cellular level, the endorphins flowed and my body buzzed. My mind was empty and I was blissfully happy. Then I had a vision of being in a field with all the people I loved doing yoga to some kick-ass music.
After this, I went and checked out the offering of yoga festivals on the market at that time. They were a fairly bland affair, lacking the buzz and life that I had so loved growing up. The music was quiet and the crowds were small, I thought to myself ‘I can do better than this!” A festival needs to be a bold celebration of life, love and music. It needs to transport people to another dimension for the weekend. One that is far from real life and offers a chance to be free of normal. I knew that yoga and well being was the way forward to help people with their woes but I also knew that having fun was just as important. Combine that with connecting with nature, being able to see the sky and feel the grass beneath their bare feet and you have a very special weekend.
What’s your competitive advantage when it comes to the industry?
We feel the love! Our event is a celebration of everything we adore. I am an eternal fan of festivals and music so it feels so natural to have created this. Yoga is also my religion. I fully believe in the power of positivity, manifestation and self-love.
We are also the only Yoga festival with as many venues as we have. All our yoga, dance, fitness and workshop areas are inside beautiful giant tipis so whatever the weather Soul Circus is just as magical.
We are also the only yoga festival that has had Maxi Jazz from Faithless DJ a yoga class! This year Norman Jay is accompanying a class and it’s going to be absolutely brilliant! Our aerial yoga rig is the biggest I’ve seen and we’re also expanding to offer Burlesque and all kinds of other fun things to try to help people fall helplessly in love with themselves!
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
You need to be very careful with which types of personalities you choose to work with. Being out in the field with the rain pouring down and things going wrong left right and centre can bring out the best in people but it can also bring out the worst! I’ve discovered that trusting your instinct when it comes to people’s energy is of utmost importance. If it feels a bit off on the run-up to an event and things feel tricky or just not quite right, it normally means that come the festival weekend things may unravel.
Running a festival is not for the faint-hearted.
There are so many factors to take into consideration when directing a large outdoor event. You can not predict what is going to happen so you have to plan and be prepared for all eventualities. This was the biggest thing I learnt during our first festival. We had staff members who couldn’t hack the pace and I wished that I had trusted my instinct, read the warning signs and perhaps looked for a different personality to work with! But saying that, I am eternally grateful for everyone and everything that has helped Soul Circus get to its 4th year and be the biggest event of it’s kind in the UK. So all personalities along the way contributed to our success and I love them for it!
What role has social media played in your success?
Social media has played a huge role in our success. As a new small business a few years ago word of mouth and recommendations was the way we spread the word of this new style of yoga festival. It has also helped us spread our message of positivity and acceptance. Social media gets a bad rep and rightly so in some cases, but I’ve learnt to only follow the accounts of people and companies who make me ‘feel’ good and teach me something new. I have connected with so many amazing spiritual teachers who I look to daily for guidance in challenging and releasing fears in order to heal and align with who I truly am.
When partnering with fellow companies, creators or influencers, what criteria do you look for?
We always try and collaborate with people doing things to help the greater good. Sustainability is of utmost importance to us as is finding synergies in our ethos. We try to cut through the bulshit to find out what really motivates them and if their products are the real deal.
Who is your ideal collaboration with?
Nike would be the dream. They do a lot of work around standing up to social injustice. Their recent advert states “Don’t ask if your dreams are crazy. Ask if they are crazy enough.” This resonates massively with us. We are always trying to push the limits of what we are capable of and achieve our wildest dreams.
None of us is able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
When we first launched Soul Circus 4 years ago we worked with Matt Miller. He is the founder of Broga and ex American footballer. Matt was living in London and lived an enviable lifestyle of luxury. Matt opened my eyes to the power of PR, marketing and brand collaboration.
He loved going to gyms, restaurants and shops that had stunning style and luxurious touches. He would point out things to me that I had never appreciated before and made me realise the importance of style and design. How materials feel, how colours look, what it felt like to be spoilt. Those little touches that make an experience special. He helped design the festival in year 1 and people took notice of the beauty of the event.
What is the most worthwhile investment (time, energy, money) that you have made?
I was pregnant with my 2nd boy when I launched Soul Circus. I used this precious time and energy to plan the event as my tummy grew larger and larger. At that point, there were no other festivals of this kind in the UK. I knew that we needed to strike whilst the iron was hot. (I am very determined when I need to be!). So, I spent my pregnancy running my yoga studio, looking after my then 2-year-old Rocky and pulling together the biggest event I had ever attempted!
It was terrifying. But all the while I trusted my intuition (even through a fog of pregnancy hormones!) I knew it was the right thing to do. My second son was born at the end of June, just 6 weeks before the first-ever Soul Circus. To this day I am not sure how I did it. I was breastfeeding constantly, trying to heal my body and give enough attention to my eldest son. At the same time as running two businesses – one in its inception.
The weekend of Soul Circus arrived, and the weather was awful. I had to strap a newborn baby to my chest and direct a 3-day event to over 1000 people in wind and rain! It was mayhem! I cried, I laughed, I reached the point of exhaustion. My breast milk started to dry up, all the while getting an hour or so’s sleep in a camper van each night with my tiny boy nestled up against me. It was the hardest, most exhausting thing I have ever done but my proudest achievement.
The rain lashed down and people were asking me difficult questions left, right and centre. I just visualised that one day this would be a huge, successful event that would allow me to spread joy to thousands of people. This thought helped me carry on. When it was all over, I got on the sofa with my beautiful baby boy, breastfed, ate chocolate and watched Netflix, like any new mum should! I was just a little delayed getting there! But I don’t regret my decision one bit.
What piece of industry advice do you often hear that you disagree with and why?
When I first opened my own yoga studio and launched Soul Circus I was told by some elder generations that wellness was just a fad! In my opinion, people who think wellness is a fad just haven’t woken up yet to the limitless possibilities of living well. It is our natural path of evolution. The simple fact is that we need to change the way we live right here and right now to ensure the planet survives and us along with it. That means making better choices in how we live, eat and act.
Wellness is taking responsibility for our own health and not relying on other people and resources to tell us when we are healthy or not healthy.
Soul Circus gives people access to a never-ending pool of positivity. It invites people to reset and embark on a more conscious and healthy path.
What advice would you give someone thinking of starting a business on their own?
Trust your instincts and follow your dreams! Be prepared for people to say no, but don’t let doubt creep in. There’s a solution to every problem. Anything is possible if you have the passion and drive for your chosen path.
Find out more about Soul Circus Yoga and Wellness Festival and see highlights from this 2019 edition. Bring on 2020!