Why Big Yoga Brands are Not Owned by “Yoga People”

Historically, yoga teachers have left the business elements of the industry to others, but this needs to change.

In 2013, Chip Wilson, the then CEO of Lululemon, made an offensive public statement about women’s bodies in relation to his company’s yoga pants. Wilson was quick to admit he’d put his foot in his mouth, but the backlash was swift and harsh, so-much-so that just a few months later, he resigned, presumably to save face for the company.

CEOs say inappropriate things all the time, so why was Wilson blacklisted from the yoga industry even after apologizing? Here’s my theory. Lululemon’s core clients are women and they’re yoga people, and they don’t like an overweight man who doesn’t practice yoga talking about their bodies. I think it’s really that simple. Whether consciously or unconsciously, those students wish that there were yoga people in charge of the yoga brands they buy, the events they attend, and the products they purchase.

By definition, yoga has always been counter-culture. If you didn’t like the gym? Go to yoga. If you’re sick of mindless, image-focused fitness? Come to yoga class. If you’re disillusioned by the beliefs of your parents? Yoga is all-inclusive and welcoming. And yet now, Nike and Reebok, and yes, Lululemon and dozens of other brands of all sizes are jumping in to take a piece of market where they’re not really welcome.

When I think of the future of yoga, and particularly the business and brands in the yoga community, I get excited about teachers and students at the head of the table—not fortune 500 CEOs or mainstream consumer products manufactures. In our market, the yoga market, my hope is that the community stays true to its counter-culture roots, steps up, and takes back what’s ours.

As a studio owner, product manufacture, and training school administrator, my views are clearly self-serving, and yet at the same time, I can see that my practice and teaching experience is my advantage, not my weakness when I look at my businesses. I understand yoga students in a way that a non-yoga MBA never will; and more than anything, I’m driven first by my goal to share this transformative practice with as many people as possible.

Does this mean you shouldn’t buy Lululemon pants? Not necessarily (their pants are pretty great), but it does mean that we should celebrate yoga people who take on business roles and actively support their rise so that in 10 years time, the CEOs are people we know from yoga class, not just from gossip magazines and distant board rooms.