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The Silver Linings of COVID-19

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Silver Linings of COVID-19

How isolation during last year’s pandemic inspired one woman to build a sustainable business 

Terra Active founder Janneke Geven
Terra Active founder Janneke Geven

It takes a special person to find the silver linings amidst the dark clouds of Covid-19. For Janneke Geven of the Netherlands, the pandemic created the space and time to cultivate an incredible vision for a sustainable yoga and fitness brand.  If not for Covid-19, Janneke, a down to earth entrepreneur, would have never launched her company, Terra Active. 

Having grown up all over the world, from the Netherlands to Syria to the U.S. to Scotland, Janneke developed her passion for travel. The many beautiful places she encountered impelled a deep appreciation for our planet and her interest in sustainability. 

After completing both her Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Business from Maastricht University in the Netherlands, she set sail into the corporate world, beginning her career in the Marketing and Sales sector. During this time, Janneke was intent on finding her way into the sustainability side of the business and wound up playing a critical role in establishing electrical vehicle (EV) charging stations throughout the Netherlands.   

Planning to move to the United States to live with her American husband, Janneke quit her job in the Netherlands and prepared for her life in America. However, the pandemic had different plans for her, forcing her to stay overseas in her parents’ home as borders began to shut. The six months of separation from her husband were filled with questions of what she envisioned for her future. After hours of brainstorming and reflection, the idea of Terra Active was a ray of light along the way. 

Phase 1: Inception

In an effort to reflect her dedication to a healthy planet and lifestyle, the company name Terra Active combines her passions of preserving the planet and fitness, as “terra” means “earth” in Latin. The following is Janneke’s philosophy about her business,

“The whole idea behind Terra Active is that my products can be used for any kind of workout. I use them for yoga, for HIIT training, for strength training… It’s not just purely a yoga brand. For me, it’s most important that you’re being active. It doesn’t matter what kind of sport that you’re doing as long as you’re moving your body, and that’s what I wanted to portray in the brand as well.” 

Janneke noticed that a lot of gym machines and equipment, specifically yoga mats, were made of a non-recyclable and toxic material called PVC. She began to research alternatives to PVC yoga mats, looking for a substitute material that would deliver the same quality product. 

You might be thinking, “What the heck is PVC?” Polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, is a widely used synthetic plastic polymer that is not recyclable and can be extremely harmful to human health and the environment. Janneke described the threat, “If you’re done using your PVC yoga mat, you can bring it to a landfill where it will stay for thousands of years, or it gets incinerated. Through the incineration process, toxic gases are released. So, to me, that wasn’t a solution.”

a pair of hands palms down on a Terra Active yoga mat
Terra Active uses sustainable business practices while helping their customers stay connected throughout the pandemic

Phase 2: Execution

Deciding that she wanted to find a material better suited for the health of our planet and for ourselves, Janneke began researching and discovered thermoplastic elastomer, or TPE. When asking her more about TPE, she told me,

“It is a synthetic substance that is very similar to PVC in its texture, feel, bounciness, and grip, but it has none of the non-sustainable aspects that PVC has. It’s completely recyclable, it’s very durable, it actually uses less energy to manufacture TPE than it does PVC. Those were all things that were very important to me when creating my products. It’s also very lightweight so when you think of sustainability in terms of shipping, it produces less emissions to ship lighter materials than it does heavier materials.” 

In true entrepreneurial fashion, Janneke brought her dream for Terra Active to life all by herself; doing the research, creating the brand and its name, learning how to code in order to design the website, designing and testing all the products, setting up supply chains with manufacturers, and more, “I’ve learned so much… I’ve learned more in this year of having my own business than I have in the three years that I worked in the corporate world.” 

Reflecting on how much she’s learned, Janneke sees this as one of the best parts of her journey as an entrepreneur thus far, “The learning journey has been one of the most fulfilling things for me.” 

a terra nova yoga mat featuring original watercolor artwork
a Terra Active yoga mat featuring original watercolor artwork

The Sustainability Factor

Her business model is most impressive, as she has designed her company in a way that allows her to manage it from any location. Being a lover of travel, it only makes sense, “I knew that I wanted to set up the business so that I could run it from anywhere.” Not only can she take her business on the go, but Janneke has taken every step of her supply chain into consideration in her sustainability efforts. 

“Sustainability is at the core of what we do, so the only kind of shipping that we offer is carbon-neutral. We work with a fulfillment center in the Netherlands who is essentially our warehouse and ships all of our orders… they actually operate carbon negative, which is the reason that I decided to work with them. Their shipping partners send everything carbon neutrally, so that for me was a no-brainer. If you’re going to have a sustainable brand, sustainable shipping needs to be a part of that.” 

From choosing TPE over PVC to making sure her orders are shipped as sustainably as possible, it is clear that Terra Active is committed to being sustainable from head to toe. For this reason, Janneke has also chosen to use organic cotton for her clothing products, as it is much more sustainable than conventional cotton since it uses much less water and fewer toxic chemicals. Janneke has also opted to use eco-friendly ink for her clothing, of which all textiles are organic certified.

In a time when claiming to be sustainable has become trendy and attractive to the consumer, Janneke felt it was crucial to have certifications to show “This is legit.” With the influx of brands advertising themselves to be sustainable and eco-friendly, it is difficult to discern whether or not companies are exaggerating their efforts to be green or being dishonest about them altogether. In running a sustainable business, Janneke says, “Transparency is key.” 

a Terra Active yoga mat produced through sustainable business practices
a Terra Active yoga mat produced through sustainable business practices

As a small brand, Janneke knows that there is more to do to achieve 100% sustainability, but only being a year out from its initial launch, Terra Active is traveling down a promising road. Janneke hopes to take the customer along with her for the journey, showing them what she’s doing to improve, and to eventually realize her biggest goal yet – reaching carbon neutrality.   

Breaking the Mold

When asking more about her experience as an entrepreneur so far, Janneke says learning from your mistakes and understanding that you never have complete control have been central to her development as a woman running her own business. 

While she has faced setbacks ranging from manufacturing and shipping delays to prices rising from the pandemic, Janneke has found watching the evolution of Terra Active to be most exciting, “You start with an idea and it snowballs; it becomes bigger and bigger and all of the sudden I’ve got a company. I’m making sales, people are buying my products and leaving good reviews… kind of proving to myself that I could do it.” 

Being closely linked to the United States and American culture – through living in the U.S. during her childhood and being married to a Washington, D.C. native – Janneke spoke about the cultural differences in attitudes towards entrepreneurs, “The culture in the U.S. and the Netherlands is very different. In the Netherlands people tend to play it safe, corporate life is a lot of what people aspire to, whereas in the U.S., I tell people that I started my own company and they’re like, ‘Oh wow! That’s amazing!’ In the Netherlands, people are like, ‘Oh, why? Why are you not in corporate? Are you doing OK?’ 

Overcoming pandemic-related unemployment through the creation and success of launching her own company, part of the rewarding experience she’s had so far has been proving her resiliency and determination to others, “It’s been nice to prove those people wrong…people who thought ‘Oh, this is just a hobby that she’s doing because she can’t work right now.’ But this is actually putting money on the table and I’m actually selling products.”

The Road Ahead

When asked about her vision for the future of Terra Active, Janneke says that she wants to continue growing, and to stay true to her brand while doing so. Eventually, she aims to make Terra Active a carbon neutral company. 

In addition to her dedication to preserving the health of our planet, being a lifelong athlete and maintaining an active lifestyle herself, Janneke’s goal is to continue the mission of Terra Active – making healthy living synonymous with a healthy planet.   For now, the success of her company so far has Janneke on “cloud nine.” 

To check out Janneke’s brand, visit the The Terra Active website 

Story written by: Ryan Morris 

Ryan Morris
Author: Ryan Morris

Ryan is a rising senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, majoring in Environmental Studies and minoring in Spanish. She is thrilled about having the opportunity to join the HoW team this summer, and to provide the world with inspiring accounts of sustainable entrepreneurs from around the globe. Ryan believes that we can bring greater awareness to the urgency of the climate crisis through amplifying their voices in a creative and uplifting way.

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