This article with more comprehensive background coverage and related links is now available in Elephant Journal. Please click here to read that version.
The Alo Yoga controversy has the entire Yoga community up in discussions. Dana, an activist yoga teacher who promotes yoga for all body types, is being sued by Alo Inc and Cody app. Alo is the commercial athleisure giant, notorious for promoting skinny models as yoginis, and Cody is a digital fitness website/app, which was recently acquired by Alo’s non-profit arm. This allegedly started in December but came into the limelight only a few days ago when a highly influential Yoga Celebrity Kino Macgregor spoke out in favor of Dana and started a campaign to support her – financially and otherwise.
As background, both Kino and Dana used to work with Cody, making their yoga tutorials and videos available to Cody subscribers for a fee. Kino parted ways with Cody a couple of years ago to start a competing business while Dana’s association continued. However, things turned sour with Cody’s takeover by Alo – a controversial company due to its alleged non-inclusive, elitist and materialistic approach towards Yoga. Dana, an advocate for authenticity and vociferous against the body-shaming culture, did not want her content on Cody to be owned by Alo, an organization she obviously didn’t align with. And so while Cody was thrashing things out with Dana and other teachers before the impending acquisition was announced publicly, Dana apparently jumped the gun with an Instagram story allegedly announcing the acquisition, disparaging Cody, and making slanderous comments about Alo and its owner. For which she was promptly sued by Alo for defamation and Cody for breach of information.
This situation brings to the forefront a lot of issues that many of us in the Yoga community grapple with, including the eternal war between wanting to promote true yoga but being limited by resources. At what point do we end up making a deal with the devil in our earnest pursuits, we will never know. Nevertheless, here is my perspective basis available notes of court proceedings, the open letters on platforms such as Elephant Journal, my decade-long professional experience working with top MNCs and understanding of business and corporate acquisitions. It might seem like bitter medicine, but as Kino mentioned that Yogis do not inherently enjoy delving into business matters, I hope I can share an objective perspective given my somewhat unconventional background.
Let’s begin with Kino whose narrative has primarily been about David and Goliath – a well-intentioned yoga teacher being bullied and oppressed by a corporate giant. She’s called this a battle of one woman against men and subtly referenced women’s liberation. And she’s also gone ahead and shared the details of all of Alo’s 70 odd ambassadors urging readers so they may be inspired to reach out to them and express their dissonance. Kino appears to be a delightful person, but I find myself completely disagreeing with her approach.
To start with, this situation is not about women’s liberation; it is a fight between two companies and an individual over ownership of content. Using the ‘woman’ card and making it about one woman fighting against ‘two men’ is uncalled for. The lawsuits against Dana are not because she is a woman; it’s because she allegedly shared non-public information and attacked someone’s character. If Dana were Dan, the lawsuits would very much be the same. It’s somewhat unfair to leverage gender to gravitate masses or to make one’s point just because we can. It belittles the empowerment movement; it weakens us and our message.
Moreover publicly listing the details of Alo ambassadors was just so wrong. Even a simpleton understands how trolling works and at least a “yogi” should understand better than to beget verbal violence and hate in anyone’s life (Sutra 2.34!). It serves no purpose other than of arm-twisting people ~ Personally, I don’t believe in that strategy and find it careless and selfish. But it is a useful and winning tactic that demonstrates a shrewd business sense on Kino’s part, ironically the aspect she is rallying against.
Alo has sued Dana for slanderous remarks against their founder; making unverified personal comments about anyone’s character is fodder for a lawsuit in most jurisdictions, particularly the US where even the President is being currently sued for defamation. It is not simply expressing an opinion but making libelous statements, and everyone has the right to defend their character – you, me and yes, even the Alo founder. And in general, a good thumb rule is to stop attacking people, let us use words not to harm people but to benefit them. Create awareness, not hatred.
Alo is acting as any professional organization would. I’m not a fan of big corporations in general, as they almost always lack a heart, and that’s why I left that life. Companies don’t have emotions; they have processes. Their goal is to make profits and to protect their brand which is precisely what Alo is doing. They have a responsibility to their employees, shareholders, and investors – they will defend themselves.
Cody has sued Dana for breach of contract and trade libel as she publicly disclosed the news of Cody’s acquisition on her Instagram stories before the firm’s announcement. To reiterate – the lawsuits are not for criticising a brand because if that were the case, then every dissatisfied consumer who put up a bad review and any blogger with an opinion would be living out of a courtroom. Leaking non-public information is a severe offense and in many instances, could even land one in jail, and this is no different. Therefore it is not as much about ‘exposing the truth’ as it is being made out to be, but about an irresponsible leak of corporate information.
Now, what about Cody’s decision to sell to Alo? Well, Cody was a struggling start-up, and it’s an ecosystem in which survival rates are meager. Eventually, most start-ups that manage to survive are acquired by conglomerates and then inevitably they are no longer what they started out to be. That is the start-up life cycle: starts with a focus on product and experience and ends with a takeover and exclusive focus on profits. If the acquisition doesn’t happen, these fledgling companies are slowly wiped out. So what would be a better alternative for Cody? Let us let them decide. People need to earn money, do jobs and feed their families like all of us.
Content & Copyright
This is not about individuals, corporations, personalities, gender – the real problem here, in my view, is a copyright issue over content. Copyright is indeed a universal problem and laws are not always black or white. When I built business models as a banker, I did not have any right over them once I resigned. Even in something as basic as getting photographs clicked for Instagram, I was legally advised to get a copyright release form signed; else I may not retain rights to my photos – which I commissioned and paid for myself! What’s fair or unfair is not the same as what’s lawful or unlawful. In our wisdom, we must always be careful about who we associate with and give our content to. And once we do decide to participate, we should trust them enough to do what is right.
In the Dana Vs. Cody case, as per court documents, both parties had entered an agreement on 1 Aug 2016 which allowed Cody complete ownership of videos and marketing content to be used in any manner as long as they were not used in a way to harm Dana. In most industries, such material is usually owned by the company as they often provide the infrastructure, marketing, and promotional support. In this case, if Cody even offered to take off Dana’s content (as per Paul’s letter), given the general nature of such transactions, I would say it was very accommodating of them. Most companies wouldn’t do even that. But yet again, it depends on their specific legal agreement which isn’t available.
In all this, I am genuinely sorry for Dana. She, unfortunately, made a bad call and the facts are not stacked in her favor. This is probably why the court dismissed her counterclaims that Cody’s sale harmed her reputation and exposed her to separate litigation by Alo. It is a very unfortunate situation to be in, and any of us could find ourselves in a similar position. Dana needs all the help she can get to get out of this mess, but we need to learn our lessons from this exchange and be objective about what is right or wrong rather than get emotional and frenzied.
More than capitalism, this entire situation is a reflection of the world we are creating as consumers. Companies don’t become profitable by what they sell but due to what *we* buy. We are buying into their message and purchasing their products, and their billion dollar valuations come from our money. We need to put more thought behind how we live, what we do and how we invest our resources. And those of us who can must always continue to send the right message and create awareness about what is right – objectively.
My heart goes to Dana because she was doing just that. She was worried about associating with a brand that did not align with her ethos. It perhaps came from her conscience or due to the pressure of her followers – in either case, it was the right path. I wish more influencers and celebrities put in that much thought in what they were endorsing or who they were associating with; it would make the world a much better place. In a world where celebrities are lying through their teeth about the benefits of products that they are endorsing, Dana was one such person who seemed to be following her heart and conscience. Which is why I wish Alo and Cody would let go of the lawsuits and try to find a peaceful solution; such pressure is not warranted.
Every entity is simply following their Dharma – Cody is pursuing their strategy in the digital space and Alo in the apparel space, both are responsible for generating profits. Dana is following her dharma by being the best advocate for her community and making women more confident. Kino is following hers by becoming a force to reckon with in Yoga. Paths are bound to clash, but life will move on. In the spirit of Yoga, where Ahimsa (Non-violence), the first tenet of the first limb of yoga is the highest virtue, there should not be so much conflict. It is said if all others Yamas (~ethics) are in conflict, Ahimsa should always prevail and I hope it does so in this situation too.