Update: And now there’s a reply.
And now here’s Kino’s request to end the lawsuit.
Editor’s Note: Authors are responsible for their words. That said, Elephant is a platform intended for mindful dialogue about real issues that matter—not just smoothie recipes (yum). Alo Yoga or anyone involved is welcome to offer a rebuttal, just as we did with the John Friend situation some years back that was extensively quoted in the NY Times, etc. ~ Waylon, ed.
I’m a yoga teacher, and I’ve been committed to this path for over 20 years.
This was long before brands started dropping large sums of money to sponsor teachers and models, and long before yoga was a key part of the “athleisure” market.
Now, I find that I am in the position of defending the spiritual heart of yoga.
And I hope you’ll join me in this.
In yoga, we are artists and spiritualists of sorts. We are not often the type of people that inherently enjoy delving into business matters and bottom lines.
If yogis enter business, or even seek to make money off of yoga, the yoga should always come first. Any brand or brand owner that seeks to capture the hearts of yogis would be held up to the moral and ethical standards of the practice itself.
As yogis, we strive to heighten our powers of honest introspection and reflection; we must break through blinders that block out the truth. Sometimes yoga is bad business, but still good yoga. So it is in this paradigm that I write today and possibly subject myself to scrutiny and threats in an effort to shed light on some darkness in the world of “big business yoga.”
I’m scared—so scared that I have written and rewritten this blog numerous times. I’ve explored every other option and decided to tell this story in the hope that it will help foster understanding and ultimately bring some yoga back into the yoga business world.
This is too important for me to stay silent any longer.
Let me tell you a David and Goliath story to drive this home.
Perhaps you already know our David: Dana Falsetti.
Dana is a thought leader, yoga teacher, writer, and public speaker. Dana encourages people to resist body-shaming stereotypes, to know themselves, to step into their power, to question everything, and to live authentically.
And you know our Goliath: Alo Yoga.
Working with a company called Cody Inc., Dana published the inspiring “I Am Worthy” video, and developed online yoga courses, including a chair yoga class for people looking for accessible yoga content.
Some time later, Cody Inc. informed Dana that her video, online classes, and other content belonged to Alo Yoga because of a business deal between Cody Inc. and Alo Yoga.
And now for their battle, which has been waging since December.
Dana resisted Alo Yoga’s acquisition of her content. Dana resisted because of Alo Yoga’s large commercial presence, marketing campaigns featuring the thin and athletic elite, and the modus operandi of this business. Dana found all of these things to be a bit exclusionary. Dana wanted the freedom to pursue her own objectives, in line with her core values of accessibility, inclusion, and purposeful business partnerships. Partnerships intended to achieve more than profits; partnerships that reflect core values.
Dana’s first act of resistance was to speak out publicly in an Instagram “story.”
Alo alleged that her statements were defamatory and libelous. [Note: the Story has long expired, but is available if you search the court documents regarding Dana’s case, which are public record].
Alo Yoga sued Dana in two courts, in two different states.
Perhaps they intended to send the Danas of the world a message: stop.
Stop, because we can’t afford to speak up. Most Americans can’t afford to defend even one lawsuit, when the legal costs can easily exceed $100,000.
Many big businesses, however, have the profits to deploy a battalion of lawyers—and that’s a powerful threat. And when they come at you, it’s scary.
Dana has been living with that fear, fighting Goliath on her own since December. But she’s reached the end of what she can accomplish on her own.
She has exhausted her resources.
Dana, don’t stop.
Instead, let this community be your rock. Because what you stand for, we all stand for—your core values resonate.
If so inspired: please visit this GoFundMe page and donate to Dana’s legal defense. Please share this. Please stand up.
Let’s all go together now.
No. More. Silence.
The only way we can stand up to bullying is to stand together.
Please contribute and stand together with us in a loving battle for the heart and soul of yoga.
Unfortunately, all this didn’t really surprise me because of my past experiences with Alo Yoga. Four years ago, Alo Yoga asked to sponsor yoga challenges I was co-hosting with a friend. I didn’t know much about the brand, but spoke with the owner, and he gave me a story about how awesome the company was and how much they’d do for yoga. I bought it hook, line, and sinker. My friend and I said yes.
As soon as we signed the deal, I believe the story changed. I had understood that we were initially promised a capsule collection of the clothes we love (beachy shorts), and we were asked to wear their signature Goddess leggings in 90 degree Florida heat. When we didn’t comply, we got letters from their lawyers threatening lawsuits despite the fact that we never agreed to wear those leggings. We had a series of conversations with the co-owner Danny Harris, where I felt he was verbally abusive and used phrases I consider derogatory, such as “honey” and “baby.”
The message seemed clear to me—shut up and “perform.”
Because of his legal might, together with his tone of voice and choice of words, I felt bullied. It made me sick, and I left each conversation feeling traumatized.
I never said anything because I was afraid of being sued. We tried to propose a solution and find a way to part ways amicably. My friend posted on her Instagram and tagged Danny.
The next day we got a letter from their lawyer asking to delete the post, and they released us from the contract.
It shocked me that it seemed the only way to reach this large company was to post something publicly on Instagram. I sometimes rant on social media, but I honestly prefer to live and let live while processing my emotions on my own or with friends and family.
To this day I have nothing against Alo Yoga. They make quality clothes and lots of wonderful people (yoga teachers and yoga models) enjoy being sponsored by them, as well they should.
Alo Yoga provides these individuals with a way to practice yoga and make a living, which is a laudable undertaking. I am simply not in alignment with Alo Yoga’s vision, and I don’t want my good name in yoga associated with them.
At some point, a person should be free of past business relationships—free to move on and do what they want in life and free to change their mind about aligning with a brand—because the brand changes directions, the brand’s reputation changes, the person learns more about the brand, or for no reason at all other than the exercise of human free will.
I thought the page was turned, but it wasn’t. Like Dana, I also filmed videos for the Cody App.
Paul Javid, the owner, is a truly nice human being. He means well, and I trusted him with my most valuable possession—my teaching. For many years, Cody and I enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship. But when I wanted to create a yoga TV network about more than just classes, they turned me down. There were no hard feelings; I went my own way and founded OMstars. It’s been awesome, and I’m actually grateful. Again, I thought the page was turned and that Cody and I were freely going our respective separate ways.
Then, Paul informed me (long after the fact) that Alo Yoga bought the Cody App. I was mortified (because my classes are on the Cody App), scared (because of my prior experiences with the Alo Yoga founders), and I didn’t know what to do.
I had a few conversations discussing what everyone wanted and the battle started. From my end, I was bogged down by some serious personal stuff (my father died, my cat died, and I got a bad second-degree burn). I couldn’t even face the nasty reality of the situation for a long time.
But now I’m facing it. I’m taking off the blinders, and the world of for-profit business is even nastier than I thought. When Cody relaunched as the new Alo Yoga subscription service, they unilaterally changed my payment terms. Some teachers agreed and happily signed on; I never did. Instead of letting the relationship terminate, they continue to use my name, likeness, and my teachings to promote their brand even though there is no agreement in place between me and Alo Yoga.
Just like Dana, I simply do not want my teaching being rolled up in the Alo Yoga/Cody App subscription service. My videos are on their channel as a result of an old prior contract with the Cody App—then, and now, against my will, despite repeated requests to remove the content and seek an amicable termination. Despite my repeated requests to take them down, so many aggressive ads are running on my name and likeness (i.e., photos) that students have reached out and asked questions about these advertisements featuring me online!
As I mentioned above, Alo Yoga may well sue me for my words.
But, I am taking that risk because I just can’t stomach being silenced by the threat of legal action anymore. And truth is an absolute defense against libel. So here are the facts, all mined from the public domain and all linked below:
Cody was backed by venture capitalists. Alo Yoga is owned by two men (Danny Harris and Marco DeGeorge) and falls under their huge parent company, Bella Canvas, which has close to a billion dollars a year in revenue. Harris recently purchased a $30 million home in Holmby Hills in Los Angeles.
Yoga teachers, on the other hand, often make next to nothing. New yoga teachers make as little as $30 per class at a gym or small studio, and only $45 at more established studios. Even experienced teachers often make only $50-$75 per class. Yoga teachers generally work as independent contractors, with few legal protections, no employer-sponsored health care coverage, no union, and very little support.
Alo Yoga sponsors around 70 yogis to wear their clothes and post verbiage about their sales on Instagram.
If you’re a fan of any of the wonderful yogis below, you may be inspired to reach out and ask them to ask Alo to play nice and yogically:
A few of these teachers too-rarely use #ad or #sponsored. Transparency and honesty is fundamental to yoga practice.
Check out who Alo is following to see who they sponsor (the list above is based on that). They claim to have 4,000 other teachers as part of their brand promotion army. Yogi model influencers like Sjana Earl claim to be paid up to $15,000 for a sponsored post.
Alo Yoga owns a host of “inspiration” Instagrams but only recently claimed one. When I wrote a blog asking for transparency, they sent me a legal cease and desist letter and threatened litigation. They have since claimed the “Yoga Inspiration” Instagram account.
Ah I’ve forgotten what a good old controversial Instagram post is like! Here is the thing: I’m so DONE being quiet about stuff that bothers me. I always steer away from sharing these kind of things for particularly this reason – I don’t want drama in the comment feed and, honestly, I think I’ve been scared to rub people the wrong way. I always get a heavy feeling at the pit of my stomach when I share something not everyone agrees with but I’m fucking over it! Unfollow me if you don’t agree. That’s fine. Here is the truth: THE YOGA WORLD DRIVES ME INSANE. There are more quasi-spiritual, narcissistic people preying on other people’s longing to heal in this community than I can count. Teachers. “Gurus”. Corporations. There are SO MANY yoga brands and big businesses out there whose main demographic are young women and most of them are run by non-yogi men. Men who prey on these girls and the excitement they feel having found yoga. Who are not at all rooted in the core of this practice. People who just want to capitalize on a trend but who don’t give a rats ass about the community they sell to. I get how it rubs people the wrong way when I share my annoyance with yoga brands because I have one of my own. But – can you really not feel the difference? Isn’t there that little feeling at the pit of your belly that tells you what’s real and what’s not? I run a big business and I’m not against making money but I know what my core values are. And I know that as long as I stay anchored in wanting to provide a platform that’s healing and creates community and makes people feel and where self-love means SELF LOVE and not 25% off synthetic yoga pants that fit 1 percent of the population… I feel really good about doing what u do for a living. What I’m saying is: Don’t trust a teacher because they look good in a yoga pose or grace covers of magazines. Practice with them in real life and FEEL how your body and heart resonates. Don’t just blindly buy whatever you see in ads, whether it’s hidden in an Instagram post or obvious in a magazine. Do your research. Trust your gut. You have a lot of power as a consumer! Choose wisely. x #yogaeverydamnday
In academic circles that discuss yoga and body image, Alo Yoga is brought up often in a critical light when looking for an example of the lack of inclusivity and diversity of ethnicity, size, shape, age, and economic class.
In a perfect world, our yoga comes first and our yoga business second. In the business world, an ordinary public corporation’s primary objective is to maximize shareholder profits. There are exceptions, such as B Corp or “social purpose corporations” that have additional objectives to profit-maximization—but these are the exceptions. Perhaps all yoga corporations should actually strive to be listed as either a B Corp or a social purpose corporation?
When brands aiming to maximize their bottom line come into the yoga world, it starts to become a world of business first—and the yoga becomes merely a secondary tool to achieve economic gains. Yoga is an internal practice, but more and more it is sold as a material standard of an idealized life.
But, no matter how it gets commodified, yoga is not a commodity. Make no mistake, yoga is currently being commodified by many big brands who talk the talk of yoga, but don’t always walk the walk.
Personal and full disclosure: I am a business owner, and I run an online channel (as mentioned above, I started the channel after Cody App rejected my offer to partner up). This dialogue is important to me on many levels, both personally and professionally.
I am not against making money in the world of yoga. At a basic level, I appreciate Alo Yoga’s sponsorship of yogis that would not otherwise be able to practice their craft. But I am against big brands who think they can buy yoga teachers and own the voice of yoga. I am against anyone or any company that resorts to bullying to get their way.
In an ideal, ethical yoga-inspired world, big companies do not sue people for speaking the truth.
Example: when a smaller online channel approached me and asked if I wanted to acquire them and their content, I replied and said that I was interested but only if every single teacher is given the option to either sign on or opt out of being on OMstars. We are now contacting each teacher and only those who give their consent will be brought over to my channel. I wanted to be sure that every teacher actually wanted to be a part of OMstars before acquiring their content. In my opinion, yoga takes priority over business and, in this case, I personally wouldn’t want anyone on my channel that didn’t feel in alignment with my message, no matter how popular they might be.
To the owners of Alo Yoga and the former Cody staff, I ask you to give the option to decline to any teacher who doesn’t want to be on your new channel. You have taken down the content of some teachers, so why not simply let those of us who want to part ways go in peace? Dear Alo, let us go. You and your team of teachers, ambassadors, and models are in alignment with your vision. Don’t hold me, Dana, or anyone else against our will and consent.
Yoga students, yoga teachers, and brand ambassadors—speak up! It’s your voice that needs to be heard. Please support my crowdfunding page for Dana, so she can defend herself against this corporate behemoth. Please demand more transparency from the companies and brands you support with your dollars or names. In doing so, you stand for the core values of yoga! We need to create a world where people cannot be successfully silenced or sued for thinking critically and speaking up.
I’m not telling you not to buy their products or watch the Cody App. As I said before, Alo makes well-constructed, trendy, and stylish clothes, and Cody App is a quality online channel. If you enjoy what they’re about, please continue to support them. I’m simply asking you to support us as well and ask your favorite yoga brand to do the right thing here and let us go. Do not be bullied into silence. Speak up privately if your paycheck is on the line.
If we as yogis need to resort to litigation, lawsuits, and bullying, how are we any better than the average cutthroat corporation? If the leggings we wear don’t stand for something more than hotness, youngness, skinnyness, or richness, what are we doing on our yoga mats? If our voice as teachers is owned by the company who sponsors us, why are we teaching?
You may not realize it, but in silence we are an accomplice to a lawsuit against a fellow teacher by blindly supporting the brand. Do not enable bullying-type lawsuits or other forms of bullying of everyone and anyone that just doesn’t want to be a part of a corporate mission.
Please speak up. Stand up for Dana. Stand up for yoga! Maybe neither the students nor the teachers know what is going on behind the scenes. But now you do.
Students, teachers, speak up and take a stand for the heart and soul of yoga!
Bonus: Kino talks with Waylon about Alo and Dana & the Path of Yoga in an Instagram culture.
Bonus: Drama is boring. Here’s what actually matters in all this Kino vs. Goliath stuff.
Relephant bonus round: quality yoga.