First, let me say that I appreciate the opportunity to talk with friends and peers about the recent troubles at Lululemon, and I acknowledge that others, whom I admire and trust to be acting in good faith, take a different view than the one I express here. To that, I say, right on. Of course, it is certainly the case that some of my good friends work at Lululemon or are loyal customers, and others are ambassadors there. Many of them are struggling to formulate a response that corresponds to their own values and the principles of yoga, and I appreciate their efforts to be thoughtful. Some have chose to continue to support the company, even as they disavow the views expressed by the founder and CEO, Chip Wilson. But these are not friends with whom I never disagree. For such a person would likely not be a very true friend, that is, if we never were able to disagree and to hold each other to account for our actions in the world.
It is both as a yogi and a feminist that I suggest we turn away from the entire brand and corporation. Not out of spite or even anger. Although I certainly have felt anger at Wilson’s recent remarks, I, too, have compassion for him. We have all said things we wished we hadn’t (granted, he has said more than a few things that we all wished he hadn’t) and then fumbled to try and set things to rights. He is, after all, still a human being, deserving of our compassion and even kindness. But to be kind, as I have written in a recent piece on Kindness and the Practice of Yoga, is not merely to adopt the attitude that it’s all good or to continue to support an individual who has let us down so many times. Rather, to be kind is to both be honest with others about their hurtful actions AND to take a strong stand against them. It is often to put distance between us and the individual or organization that has acted wrongly, to encourage a season of genuine reflection on what went wrong and how to move forward. In other words, reconciling oneself to one’s own wrongs, Lord knows I have learned, takes time. It seems like a good time to give that to Wilson and the entire corporation. To be a yogi is not merely to express principles, but to actually stand on them in action. The principles of yoga require us to speak the truth, yes, but also to go beyond words, and to turn away from harmful practices whenever we can. Writing open letters and voicing our concerns are important, up to a point. But the best way to reach people who care primarily about profit and who continually engage in bad business practices and say hurtful things, is to quite simply take our money elsewhere. No smear campaign necessary. No need to spend too much energy on it. Just shop somewhere else and remember that you can do yoga in many kinds of clothes, clothes that are even inexpensive, comfortable, and plain, and the truly great teachers model this.
And, of course, I also have compassion for employees and ambassadors who are embarrassed by this whole ordeal. But we needn’t distort reality here and view these folks as the sort of people deserving of the kind of compassion and pity we might extend to the truly oppressed and marginalized. They are in a tricky spot, to be sure. But this actually has very little to do with them. And we certainly do not need to rescue Lululemon in order to make things easier for those attached to the organization, nor do we need to continue to represent it or support it financially because nice people work there. This is a kind of “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater” response, implying that there are lots of nice people there and “good energy” on the floor at Lululemon, etc, etc. Okay, sure. But if we are to muster a truly meaningful response, we must ask, what exactly is the baby here? Lululemon is a for-profit corporation, let us not forget. Well, how could we forget? The clothes are hilariously expensive, far out of the price range of many of us, and simply unreasonable for many who can afford it. The company’s primary goal is to make money and any promotion of (“actual”) yoga that takes place is secondary (some might even argue contradictory to) the entire enterprise. For example, when I am asked to teach free workshops at the local store on a Sunday morning, it does not escape me that the cost is very low to the company to offer this to “the community,” they do not pay the teacher, and, if the teacher is someone who can draw out a crowd, the store has brought in some 50-100 people ready to start shopping as soon as the class ends! It’s a win-win for them, of course. All of this is to simply say, beyond a commitment to yoga and an adherence to feminist principles, it is simply as a practical person concerned with the dangers of turning yoga into something to be consumed by the economic and social elite that I suggest we simply turn away, for good, from this company. What do we lose? Nothing. In fact, we can keep a lot of the money some of us may have been spending on clothes we didn’t need in the first place, certainly not to practice yoga, anyway. In other words, even without Wilson’s latest round of embarrassing comments, it seems time for us to say to each other, “Let’s stop spending so much money on yoga clothes and couture. It’s totally unnecessary! Let’s use our resources instead to support worthwhile projects and give our money to those who need it. Let’s also stop seeking personal gain from Lululemon—whether by way of some status, esteem, or even publicity that we may receive by associating with this brand (and I count myself in this group, for sure). Let’s all move on.”
Some problematic institutions are valuable enough to our culture and to our way of life that they demand of us some kind of engagement. They are worth our efforts to improve upon them and call them to account for bad behavior. Government, nations, churches, teachers, and yoga communities are just a few that come to mind. But to my mind, Lululemon is certainly not one such cultural institution, and that’s not meant to be a major slight against the corporation. But it strikes me that Lululemon doesn’t even come close to this sort of institution. Indeed, very few profit-seeking capitalist corporations would. But we needn’t be down about this or even spend any more time on it. The good news is clear: God doesn’t care what you wear and you can do yoga in plain old shorts and a t-shirt. You can even do it naked, if you please!
Peace and Love,