By  on March 29, 2012

Outspoken as he is known to be, Russell Simmons’ latest mission is to bring yoga to the masses via Tantris, a new lifestyle brand.

His company, Simmons Design Group, has inked a multiyear licensing deal with Gaiia Enterprises Global Ltd. — owned by Great Joy Trading Ltd. — to develop Tantris, which will include categories such as women’s and men’s activewear, meditation beads, yoga mats, pillows and scented candles. Once the collection is carried in 300 to 400 department stores, specialty stores, health clubs and spas, Simmons’ focus will turn to opening freestanding Tantris stores, yoga studios, juice bars and even a vegan restaurant. Capitalistic as this may be, Simmons insisted during an interview Thursday that the business is driven by his passion for yoga.

“I see yoga studios starting to grow and yoga classes getting more crowded. I see [yoga] brands continuing to grow. I’m doing this because of my passion for yoga not because I’m that kind of business guy,” he said.

A vegan and yogi for 20-plus years, Simmons said he first tried a class (with his friend Bobby Shriver) because of “all the cute girls” — 58 to be exact. But he was immediately hooked and started practicing daily, Simmons said. About 25 million people in the U.S. now practice yoga, an activity that has seen 25 percent gains in participation in recent years, according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers’ Association of America. As a nod to those who do, especially the purists, Simmons opted for the name Tantris instead of the Sanskrit word “tantra.” “A lot of yogis don’t like to see a Sanskrit word used in that way,” he explained.

When Simmons launches his third book, “Mass Mantra” on HSN before the end of September, he plans to also pitch Tantris yoga mats, meditation beads and other yoga-friendly items. With 1.47 million followers on Twitter, Simmons already has a captive audience and an understanding of how far he can reach. To spread the word about the power of yoga, Tantris-branded rubber bracelets with Simmons’ mantra “Smile and breathe” will be sold. The activewear will be shown to stores later next month, with wholesale prices ranging from $16 to $59 for women’s styles and $22 to $68 for the men’s jacket.

Tantris, which will launch an e-commerce site in September, plans to use some of the proceeds from sales of its activewear to offer scholarships to train aspiring yogis.

“Yoga is meant to relieve the noise. After doing yoga, I feel alive and awakened. I want to give people that feeling or to teach people who want to learn more about yoga,” Simmons said.

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