Natasha Casanova is the CEO & Founder of Kathmandu Yogi, a purveyor of yoga and meditation accessories mindfully made in Nepal. The company recently completed a successful Kickstarter Campaign which raised over $15,000 to jumpstart sustainable employment opportunities for Nepali women and launch partnerships with new fair trade collectives. Visit KathmanduYogi.com to shop mindfully and meet their artisans in Nepal.

Summarize your life in a few sentences

One of my earliest memories is scaling the 98-foot high Temple of Kukulcan in Mexico’s Yucutan peninsula. At age four, I made my first international trip and collected the first stamp on my first passport. From that moment, I wanted to discover the world and the uniqueness of every people and place. My passport is my most valuable possession because it means freedom. I’ve made Chicago, where I was raised by my Cuban-American parents, my home base for most of my life. Today I have a second family and home in Nepal.Brandi Carlisle’s song “Wherever is your heart,” is the sound track of my life.

Tell us about your education background.

I earned my B.A. in Speech Communication from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with Minors in Art History and Italian. I also completed a Fashion Management & Journalism intensive study course and internship in Milan, Italy and have taken continuing studies Art History, Theory and Criticism courses at the School of the Art Institute and Nonprofit Management courses at North Park University.

I believe education extends beyond the classroom and degrees, however. The most valuable things I have learned come from life experience.

How did you get started as Founder & CEO of Kathmandu Yogi?

In 2012 I visited Kathmandu for the first time and unexpectedly fell in love. I ran a nonprofit “Dharma Shop,” as a volunteer and became very interested in Tibetan Buddhist Art just as the opportunity arose to travel and learn from an expert. I didn’t think twice. I thought I would be inspired, but I never imagined I would want to start a business there and want to return again and again.

When I was there, I made brilliant connections with artisans and craftspeople. I wanted to support them and at the same time share their beautiful work with the rest of the world.

What inspires you as a creative woman?

Other creative women and their projects. I thrive off synergy and collaboration with such women and I am constantly in awe by their dedication and drive to the amazing work they are doing. I’m also deeply inspired by “big city” life. The abundance of arts, culture, fashion, food, independent small business and individual human creativity make me feel alive.

What was your first job ever out of college? Any funny or memorable story?

I wanted to take a little time before I officially began my career, so I decided to work at the front desk of a historic Miami Beach hotel. On occasion this hotel would host celebrity guests, amongst which was late 90s/early 2000s comedic actor, Jamie Kennedy.

One night Jamie came to the front desk after partying “Miami-style” and wanted to go into one of the ballrooms, where a political gala was taking place. I had to talk him out of it and keep him distracted in the lobby so he wouldn’t crash the party. It was my first time babysitting a celebrity!

If you won a lottery today, will you still continue to build your business?

Absolutely! Kathmandu Yogi is a baby with limitless potential. Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world, landlocked between India and China. At the same time, it’s one of the most inspiring and spiritually vibrant places on earth. Everyone who has visited this country knows that. It’s people get under your skin and you want to return again and again. My vision is to establish Nepal as the world’s leading Fair Trade fashion, textile and home goods manufacturer and for Kathmandu Yogi to serve as a resource for companies and designers who want to make fair trade products and make a difference on a global level.

Walk us through your day as CEO and Founder of Kathmandu Yogi

Every day is different and its own adventure. Much like being a visitor or businessperson in Kathmandu, one is bound to be disappointed if things must always go as planned. Kathmandu has it’s own plan for you, and every day is filled with unique challenges and inspiration. This spirit extends to my company.

We make plans and set goals, but they are not fixed and we adapt and make the best of whatever comes. If it’s a challenge we are patient, work with the situation as best we can and then do our best to learn from it. If things are going according to plan or even better than expected, we put even more power into it.

My days are filled primarily with meetings, phone calls and emails. It’s a delicate balancing act, managing and developing our e-commerce platform, working with both wholesale and retail customers and managing overseas production and logistics remotely with vendors who are twelve time zones away.

What has been the highlight of your career thus far?

Starting my own company. This has been a rollercoaster year of ups and downs that I wouldn’t trade in for anything in the world.

Where or what do you think you will be/do in the next 5 years?

The only thing I know for certain is I will be working with and for people. The human connection is too important to me. I’m not the type of person who can separate my personal life from my work and unplug when I get home. My work is my life. I’m not interested in fame, but I want to make a contribution to this world, even if it’s on a very small scale.

Share a quote/advice that you’d like to tell the 25 year-old you

Be fearless. Always think “I can,” and don’t give energy to the voices in your head making excuses for why you cannot. There is no such thing as failure. Life is an opportunity for growth and development. The difficulties we encounter have the potential to make us wiser, stronger and more compassionate. The most successful people have the greatest history of “failure.” Embrace every experience and don’t think good or bad. Don’t think too much and focus on what’s in front of your nose. Trust your gut and have confidence. We all know our truth, we just have to learn to be still from time to time and listen to our intuition.

Tell us about your funded Kickstarter?

Kathmandu Yogi was bootstrapped and this is the first time we are publicly asking for funding. On May 1, we launched a Kickstarter campaign with the goal of raising $15,000 to jumpstart sustainable employment opportunities for over 100 Nepali women. We presently work with one fair trade collective and if our goal is met, we will be able to establish three new partnerships.

The campaign concluded successfully on June 15th and we have raised a grand total of $15,881! We will be able to provide sustainable work for these women to support themselves and their families for the entire summer. And anything beyond that we will be steps closer to starting our own training institute and workshop, where women will learn business and language skills and have the support they need to start their own enterprises. You can view the Kickstarter video and learn about the project here.

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