I attended Lululemon‘s “Gospel of Sweat” last Friday evening at the breathtaking Riverside Church. At first blush, I thought it was a positive and well-organized event with a multitude of inspirational speakers spending time at the pulpit. However after taking a step back I have to say that overall it left me feeling quite uneasy and a bit confused. While Lululemon wasn’t physically hawking their $100 yoga pants in the House of God, corporate branding and politics abounded. Keeping this in mind, I do not think a church was the appropriate venue for this event (Matthew 21:12 anyone?…).
From a marketing perspective, (which I can fully appreciate since I do work in advertising), Lululemon zeroed in on the strategic insight that fitness is increasingly filling the spiritual void in people’s lives. More and more often, people are turning to their yoga mats, spin bikes, and Nike Frees to self-reflect, re-energize, and search within themselves for direction in life.
Props to you, Lululemon, for pouncing on this insight and branding the fitness-as-religion movement as your own. Your product design is to die for, your mantras are catchy, and you could probably already deem your zealous consumers as “disciples”. But holding this event in a church and actually facilitating a branded mass? I enjoy drinking the Lulu Kool-aid as much as the next Flywheel-obsessed 20-something NYC girl, but this event was too much for me.
The event started with a “mocktail” hour in which our gracious Lululemon hosts served up free Tumeric drinks, Palo Root Tea, and Balance flower-infused waters (brands on brands on brands). Healthy, tasty, and free are a heady combination for thirsty yogis and yoginis.
After mingling a bit and meeting some cool people, the African drum players finally broke the continuous rhythm they’d been playing for the past hour and led the way into the church for the main event. That’s when things started to get interesting – in a smiley, freakish, culty way.
The Riverside Church itself is a sight to behold. The expansive ceilings, ornate stained glass windows, and luminous chandeliers are quite literally breathtaking. “This is going to be awesome!” I thought to myself…
When we finally sat down in the pews, there was a little black “Gospel of Sweat” book (naturally emblazoned with Lululemon’s logo ) waiting for each of us to crack open and take notes during the upcoming lectures. Nice swag, but I honestly was taken aback by their likeness to bibles or little prayer books – which was obviously the point.
The event ensued with talks from a handful of speakers prominent in the yoga and fitness world. Everyone had their own story to tell, whether is was about bringing people together through yoga, overcoming addiction and adopting a “spirit junkie” lifestyle, or spreading the message of yoga on the campaign trail.
The best part of the night for me was listening to Melanie Griffith, a Master Instructor at SoulCycle, tell her fitness tale. Melanie shared her story about quitting her job as a corporate lawyer when she realized that teaching spin classes and sharing her enthusiasm for life with others was her true calling. Melanie is battling cancer, yet she is one of the brightest, most positive people I have ever encountered. And she’s pretty badass. Although I am a devout Flywheel-er, I have taken Melanie’s class at SoulCycle before and it really is life changing. I highly recommend it at least once, especially if you need some inspiration to get back on the workout wagon.
All in all, while I enjoyed many of the speakers and find it interesting that Lululemon is proactively shaping the “lifestyle” associated with their products, I struggle a bit with the implications of tying their brand to something so sacred as religion. Do I love wearing Lululemon clothing? Yes. Do I love pricey spin classes and zen yoga sessions? Yes. Do I plan on attending any more “Gospel of Sweat” events? No way.
To me, there should be a separation of Church and
State Savasana. You shouldn’t wear yoga pants to church, and you shouldn’t sell them in church either.