One side would have you believe that this is a story of a David—Dana Falsetti, an independent yoga instructor and influencer sued by a massive corporation—and a Goliath—Alo Yoga, hawker of fitness spandex sets and the aspiration that you, too, might quit your job to perform pigeon pose in front of a waterfall. It is that, kind of, but also so much more: It’s a story of the modern battle between spirituality and capitalism, of broken alliances, of an outraged community, of the fight to define what yoga even means anymore.
In January, Alo Yoga, the “studio-to-street” athleisure brand that boasts on its website to have outfitted Kendall Jenner, Taylor Swift, and Gigi Hadid, among other celebrities, sued a popular body-positive yoga teacher and Instagram influencer after she publicly criticized the brand. By Monday, members of the yoga Instagram influencer community were being pressured in their comments sections to weigh in on the controversy, the whole affair begging the questions: What happens when a supposedly spiritual practice is commercially dominated by only a few gigantic brands, like Alo Yoga and Lululemon? What happens when a large portion of public yoga practitioners and influencers are beholden to one of those brands?
Falsetti, a body positive yoga teacher, speaker, and Instagram personality with over 312,000 followers, had done some work with a digital yoga company called Cody Inc. For Cody, Falsetti produced a video called “I Am Worthy,” along with several other yoga courses, including “Chair Yoga,” for practitioners with limited ability.
In December, Alo Yoga acquired Cody. The acquisition, Cody wrote at the time, would allow the service to offer a “more diverse library,” add more instructors, and support AloGives, Alo’s nonprofit arm. The acquisition also meant that all of Cody’s content and contributors would become property of the brand—a fairly routine happening in a scene where, oftentimes, the endgame of an independent practitioner or content creator is inevitably the absorption into a giant corporation.
But on March 16, Kino MacGregor, a yoga teacher and Instagram influencer, sparked renewed interest in the lawsuit with an article on Elephant Journal entitled, “When one Big Company picks on one Yoga Teacher,” in which she lays out the history of the acquisition of Cody, the lawsuit, and her own personal involvement with Cody and Alo Yoga, characterizing the situation as that David-Goliath situation, a “loving battle for the heart and soul of yoga.”
In her article, MacGregor writes that Falsetti resisted the acquisition “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.” (A representative of Falsetti’s declined to comment because of pending lawsuits.)
MacGregor continues: “Dana’s first act of resistance was to speak out publicly in an Instagram ‘story.’”
While the initial Instagram story is no longer accessible, that recounting is confirmed by two separate lawsuits. On December 6, 2017, Cody, Inc. sued Falsetti in the US District Court of Washington for breach of written contract, alleging that Falsetti “broadly announced through her social media accounts that Cody had been acquired by another entity”—information that was not public at the time—and for trade libel for the content of the post, including for saying that Alo “perpetuates body shame, the brand is elitist,” and is a “club that only some can be in.” The post also said, according to the claim, that there are “sexual harassment/assault allegations against one of the owners,” and that the brand “lies.”
A month later, on January 9, 2018, ALO LLC sued Falsetti in the Los Angeles Superior Court for defamation/trade libel for the same post, this time noting exclusively the sexual harassment/assault clause, and that Alo “lies” in the claim. “Falsetti knew when she made these statements and communications that they were false,” the claim reads, “or did so with reckless disregard of the truth, and did so without engaging in any or sufficient verification or fact-finding prior to said publication.”
“I want to reiterate that the legal action taken by Cody was not filed as a result of Dana expressing her opinions,” wrote Paul Javid, one of the founders of Cody in a statement on behalf of Cody and Alo provided to Jezebel. “It was only filed after we tried to find a peaceful resolution with Dana (including our offer to take her content down), but she instead chose to publish confidential information in violation of her agreement with Cody that caused serious damage. Among other things, Dana announced our acquisition by Alo before we had time to finalize our business conversations with our 40+ coaches. Dana counter-sued Cody as well, but the judge threw out her claims after reviewing her contract.
“Regarding Dana’s lawsuit, the issue has been totally misrepresented,” the statement continued. “Dana was not sued by Alo for merely expressing her opinions about Alo on Instagram. She has done so before without any response, legal or otherwise from Alo. However, when Dana used her platform to make blatantly false statements as part of what appeared to be a deliberate scheme, Alo felt the need to protect itself. That being said, Alo has offered to resolve the matter with Dana for no money and quickly, as long as Dana reasonably cooperates. So far, that has not happened.”
MacGregor has since started a GoFundMe for Falsetti’s legal fees, which has raised over $30,000 of its $50,000 goal. Though Falsetti hasn’t acknowledged the fundraiser or the lawsuits explicitly in her Instagram posts, she lists the link to the fundraiser in her Instagram bio.
This wasn’t the first time Falsetti spoke out against companies like Alo Yoga; in an Instagram post from nearly two years ago, she wrote, “There are so many companies, all the big guys really, who continuously perpetuate this problem. The only conclusion I can come to is they don’t want fat people repping their clothes... I find myself scrolling through some of the most popular companies like @aloyoga and @lululemon, and I cannot find a single inch of diversity. I have no shame in calling them out.” She also criticized the brand for its Mother’s Day post in 2017, which depicted a mother and a daughter with roughly the same size waist.
And her criticism is easily fact-checked—a cursory scan of Alo Yoga’s Instagram page reveals almost exclusively slim women (and a couple muscular men) in Alo spandex.
Alo Yoga CEO Danny Harris, who founded the company in 2007 with another man, Marco deGeorge, explained the social philosophy in a 2017 interview with Fashionista—its focus on the “everyday” yoga practitioner (who looks little like any practitioner I’ve ever seen) is absolutely intentional:
Alo spreads its “mindful” messaging and builds brand awareness through a community it likes to call the “Alo Family,” consisting of over 4,000 yoga pros and teachers. Harris and his marketing team work with their yoga collaborators to shoot the dreamy Instagram images in the L.A. area. The feed also includes on-brand regrams from other practitioners in the fam. “I think [our philosophy] has attracted the likes of some of the most real and authentic yogis that have committed their life to their practice,” explains Harris. “Which has made them want to not choose the conventional brands — which I won’t name — [and] made them really want to choose and work with a brand that was line with their values.”
“We have a Gigi Hadid or Kendall Jenner or these other people wearing the Alo brand, but we still are very true and authentic to who we are,” Harris continued. “We really are just about yoga and it’s neat that our community is inspiring these people to wear our clothes. Normally it’s the opposite. Normally it’s the celebrity inspiring the other people to wear it.”
The saga becomes slightly more convoluted when we integrate MacGregor’s experience with Cody and Alo Yoga—both of which seem to have been fraught.
MacGregor writes that Alo Yoga had asked to sponsor yoga challenges she hosted with a friend, and she agreed. “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 MacGregor and her friend didn’t comply, she writes that they received correspondence from Alo Yoga’s lawyers threatening legal action “despite the fact that we never agreed to wear those leggings.” (MacGregor has also not responded to multiple requests for comment, so I have been unable to ask about the contradiction inside this sentence.) [Editor’s note: MacGregor has since commented.]
She writes that she had several conversations with Alo Yoga CEO Danny Harris, in which she writes he was, “verbally abusive and used phrases I consider derogatory, such as ‘honey’ and ‘baby,’” and that the conversations left her feeling “bullied” and “traumatized.” In response to the conversation, she writes that her friend posted an Instagram message detailing the conversation and tagged Harris, which allegedly resulted in their being sent a letter from Alo Yoga’s lawyer requesting that the post be taken down, and then releasing them from their contract. Alo Yoga did not respond to Jezebel’s request for comment.
MacGregor then writes that she had also filmed videos for Cody, but decided to part ways from the app after she proposed a joint creation of a yoga television network, but they declined. After she found out Alo Yoga had bought the Cody app, she writes that she was “mortified” and “scared” and unsure of what to do.
But now, she writes, she’s ready to address the issue:
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!
The balance of power between Alo Yoga, Cody, and the yoga teachers like MacGregor and Falsetti is significantly skewed in favor of the corporation, she argues. “Cody was backed by venture capitalists,” MacGregor writes. “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.”
Meanwhile, yoga teachers “often make next to nothing.”
On Sunday, Paul Javid, one of the founders of Cody, published a response to MacGregor’s post, also on Elephant Journal, in which he outlines how he experienced his business dealings with MacGregor. He writes that the Cody team denied her request to start a yoga TV channel because they lacked the staff or resources to do so effectively, which resulted in them parting ways, as MacGregor says. But Javid claims that once MacGregor stopped working with Cody, she began competing with them.
She started YogaChallenge.com. And, unfortunately, in starting this new business, we later found out that Kino had taken the core of Cody and copied it. Not only did she copy our concepts, but she also began creating online plans (or courses). She replicated the look, feel and layout of Cody’s website; the copy she used to describe and sell her courses; and even the creative images and videos to promote her courses. It seemed clear to us that Kino didn’t leave to start up a Yoga TV network—rather, she had just copied Cody and started a competitive business.
But, Javid says, they did not press charges. Months passed; Cody grew; the Alo deal became real.
Javid writes that once the acquisition was finalized, he contacted all Cody’s instructors, including MacGregor and Falsetti. During this conversation, Javid says that MacGregor expressed openness to resume working with them—a prospect they were both excited for. “But unfortunately I started to hear from various sources that Kino was calling our instructors to try to convince them to leave Cody and join OmStars, a competing business that Kino had started.”
Our conversation shifted to her wanting Cody to take her content down from our website. She made this demand despite Kino having agreed that (and having been paid over $500,000), Cody owned the content we created and still does to this day—which is also how the film and music industry works.
Even though we were not contractually obligated to take down Kino’s content, we wanted to explore that path with her given our past working relationship in the hopes of avoiding conflict. We even offered to take a fraction of the amount we had paid for the content, which Kino did not want to pay.
She then gave us a deadline to either do a deal to take her content down or she would use her platform against us.
Javid also writes that Cody offered to remove Falsetti’s content, and that he was awaiting her attorney’s response. In the meantime, Falsetti posted the initial post to her Instagram. He also writes that Cody Inc. continues to pay Falsetti and MacGregor monthly, per their contracts.
“Cody did not seek a public forum to resolve the issues we have had with Kino MacGregor and Dana Falsetti,” Javid wrote in the statement to Jezebel. “But, Kino subsequently followed through with a previous threat she made during business discussions and used her social media platform to paint an unfair and inaccurate picture of Cody and Alo. This is why we felt the need to respond.”
“What I wrote in my letter, ‘The Truth Behind Kino’s Letter,’ accurately summarizes our past business dealings with Kino and our bright future with Alo so, together, we can continue making a positive difference in the world. I don’t have much to add other than to thank all of the people in the Yoga community who have reached out to support us as a result of Kino’s letter. It is unfortunate that Kino has created a false ‘David and Goliath’ narrative by mischaracterizing the legal action between Cody and Dana, or by trying to direct negative attention to many of our teachers who have nothing to do with Cody’s business dispute with Kino.”
The controversy has caused ripples throughout the yoga community, with other Alo Yoga ambassadors having acknowledged it via Instagram posts—often without saying much.
“It makes my heart sad that Kino decided to publicly call out EVERY, single yogi who is currently working with Alo,” wrote @The_Southern_Yogi in an Instagram post featuring her in an Alo outfit. “It has brought a lot of unnecessary and preemptive shame and accusations on many of us.”
“I am personally not at a place where I am ready to judge or condemn anyone,” wrote Alo Yoga ambassador Melini Jesudason in the caption of a photograph of her standing on her head. “I am learning more and understanding more without judgement which is how I generally approach most things in my life.”
“Here is my stance,” wrote Koya Webb in a post on Saturday. “I don’t think anyone should be suing anyone. I feel like people shouldn’t be featured in places they don’t want to be. I also understand business and agreements and will be adding ‘Contract Negotiations’ to my @getlovedup yoga teacher trainings coming up in June in LA and December in Thailand.”
“Cody and Alo hope to reach a fair and positive resolution with both Dana and Kino in the future so Cody and Alo can continue sharing coaches’ teachings with the world rather than having people in the Yoga community being encouraged to choose sides,” Javid’s statement concluded.
In MacGregor’s post, she suggests action, aside from donating to Falsetti’s legal fund: that fans reach out to Alo ambassadors and ask them to “play nice and yogically.”
She writes, “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?”
Update (March 21, 6:30 p.m.): MacGregor has since published another article on Elephant Journal entitled, “Alo, do the right thing—and we will all thank you,” in which she responds to Javid’s article, writing that she is “bound by a unilateral confidentiality clause which means that they can share whatever details they want—but if I share any details they have grounds to file a lawsuit against me!”
MacGregor also spoke with Jezebel on the phone, during which she noted that the similarities between the language on her site and Cody’s were due to industry standards. She also said, “The line in the sand for me is that they are suing Dana. If it were just about my content I probably would just be negotiating and annoyed, but the line in the sand is that Alo Yoga says that its a yoga company that does good in the world and that represents yoga ethics and all of their ambassadors are out there, pushing people into this brand, saying they embody what yoga represents and what yoga’s really about, and I don’t think it’s right that a yoga company that claims to embody the image of yoga is suing a yoga teacher for raising her truth and for speaking out.”
She continued, “My sincere only desire is that Alo drops the lawsuit against Dana. Ideally they’d let both me and Dana go so that we’re not forced into an affiliation with their company. That’s really it. Other than that, live and let live.”
“I have nothing against them or any of their ambassadors. I do believe that the ambassadors should be held responsible for the actions of their company, especially when their company has not made any statements, because otherwise what does it mean to be an ambassador... If you’re an ambassador to the United States and you’re sent over to Germany and the United States does something terrible and you say I’m not responsible for my country’s actions, then I think it begs the question of whether or not you’re truly an ambassador. “