A few dozen of us milled around the lobby of the Millennium Place to hear Rameen Peyrow (the founder of SATTVA Yoga in Edmonton) lecture in a small theater on the future of yoga in the west. This was one of many events at the Wanderlust Yoga and Music Festival in Whistler, British Columbia. As I stood near the front of the line waiting for the volunteer to allow those of us that had booked and checked in for the lecture in to the theater, three girls approached the volunteer.
“Excuse me, we aren’t registered for this but we want to attend.”
The volunteer politely explained that the lecture would likely not fill up and any remaining seats would be opened up for anyone that was still waiting in the hall. Likely, they would get in once everyone else who had pre-registered took their seats.
“Um, I don’t think you understand—we’re with Lululemon and we really want to get into this,” the ringleader said.
About that time another volunteer cleared us to enter the lecture theater and I just sighed to myself as these women continued to state that there must be some sort of mistake– they were with Lululemon.
A few minutes before the talk started I watched as the three women were admitted to the lecture hall and promptly sat in the three empty seats in the middle of a row…directly behind me.
Then as Rameen Peyrow entered and began to speak they began updating their instagrams.
Then texting friends.
Then giggling to each other.
Then opening crinkly packages full of trail mix.
Then yawning loudly.
Then one said not so softly, “BORING.”
I wish I could say this kind of behavior I saw was an isolated incident. I saw a lot of people who worked for Lululemon complaining about their lattes in a lot of coffee shops in the Village that weekend.
When I was in my late teens I worked for a few radio stations in their promotions departments. The people in radio station t-shirts with stickers, riding around in vans? Yeah, that was me. We routinely threw concerts and events with our names on it and we routinely dealt with big name bands and big dollar advertisers. Regularly at concerts we handed out freebies to higher-up sales guys at car companies, fast food restaurants and jewelry stores.
Never once have I seen the level of entitlement in my years of event promotions or production– even from musicians playing festivals– as I saw from Lululemon employees at this festival.
If I had a dollar for every time I heard “excuse me…we’re with Lululemon” in Whistler, I could buy a pair of their pants—well if they went above a size 12. Never mind, that’s another essay entirely. Just remember, entitlement comes in many forms and refusing to make clothes for a whole segment of the population who isn’t your traditional definition of beauty is a form of elitism too.
Anyway, I get the reality of event production and management. Sponsorship is important and money rules everything or else the festival, the show, or the event does not exist.
Maybe I was being too naïve and stuck in a yoga bubble of love, intention, and happiness in Whistler, or maybe the whole experience of a whole corporation and its employees acting entitled seemed more horrendous than usual due to that whole “om shanti” yoga-vibe the festival is supposed to embody.
But once you start reading about the corporate culture at Lululemon you start to see this behavior trickles from the top down.
Before being hired, Lululemon takes prospective employees to a yoga or spin class to make sure they fit the image of the company. They have seven core values employees must embody: quality, product, integrity, balance, entrepreneurship, greatness, and fun. Lululemon employees set goals for where they want to be in one, five and ten years and then post them for all to see in their stores. They send their employees to the Landmark Forum, which itself is controversial. For higher performing employees, they have a perks program where Lululemon will help fund an employee goal. I always wondered why there were clipboards at many yoga studios that said, “Lululemon employees sign in”. Now I know why; their classes were being paid for and tracked as part of their goals.
It all makes sense now; with such a culture of performance and incentive it becomes hard to remember that not every place in the world operates that way.
What flavor is the Kool-Aid at Lulu anyway?
I do want to stress that I know many lovely people that wear, work for or have appeared in print ads for Lulelemon. On an individual level of course not everyone working there behaves as though the path they walk on is paved in gold. Many of the people wearing the clothes or working for them are people who care deeply about the ancient traditions of yoga. They like the way yoga makes them feel and they really are intent on taking the principles of yoga out into their daily life as well. They just like to do it in over-priced clothes.
But I think its important for everyone to keep in mind at the end of the day what Lululemon does; they take a tradition and make it an industry instead with every sale.
During the Q&A session with Rameen Peyrow someone asked the question I was hoping he would address in his lecture.
What do you think about the commercialization of yoga in the West—this need for us to buy the right clothes and to be what you see on the cover of the yoga magazines?
Peyrow took a moment to pick his words before stating slowly and calmly that yoga is a tradition that has spanned many years and seen many cycles. He said that ultimately like a phoenix—like Shiva the destroyer—yoga burns away and disregards anything that doesn’t completely benefit it in the end. He kindly insinuated, if yoga doesn’t want Luon moisture wicking pants, adorable and inspirational lunch bags and a sense of middle to upper class entitlement, it will run its course naturally.
At the suggestion that yoga will one day have no use for their employer, the three girls crawled over a row of people to leave. I felt a small bit of reverence to the concept of Shiva and to yoga for knowing that all that is not needed will just disappear eventually.
The door closed behind them with a loud slam.