Image Theft Sparks Yoga Feud
No sooner does it seem like it was safe for all us yoga people to stick our heads out of our shells after the recent whirlwind of yoga shocks and yoga scandles then all of a sudden the spectre of yoga litigation looms on the horizon…but in all fairness you can’t blame Molly for feeling the way she does as NY Daily News reports:
A Yoga war has erupted on the upper East Side.
There is little serene about the Battle of the Mats playing out in Manhattan Supreme Court, where a yoga instructor to the stars is suing her former employers.
The case has revealed the dark side of the yoga world, where it isn’t only the poses that are tangled, contorted and underhanded.
Molly Lehman, who can do more twists than a carton of Twizzlers, accused the owners of New York Yoga of stealing her image and plastering it on billboards to draw customers to their two studios on York and Lexington avenues.
Lehman, 30, worked part time for New York Yoga for eight years but spent most of it giving private lessons to the Dave Matthews Band, guests at the luxurious Gansevoort Hotel and others swanky clients.
She left early this year to help start a new studio, The House of Jai, which will open in March on First Ave.
Lehman says in court papers that when she first saw the billboards in mid-December urging people to Give the Gift of Yoga, she told her bosses that they had no right to use her image without permission.
They responded by firing her.
On Feb. 7, Lehman said she saw a new advertising blitz with the same unauthorized photo of her doing yoga.
Lehman sued on the grounds that New York Yoga “willfully and intentionally” misled the public into thinking she still taught there.
Alan Ripka, an attorney who is part owner of New York Yoga, said the use of Lehman’s picture was a mistake by the advertising company.
“We didn’t put up a photo without her permission. We didn’t need to. There are plenty of instructors who would love to have their pictures up there,” Ripka said. “When the manager learned about [Lehman's objections], it was pulled immediately.”
Lehman’s lawyer, Joshua Price, said there is little doubt in his client’s mind that New York Yoga deliberately misused her image so they could compete unfairly.
“They created a false profile on Facebook to get information about people who are saying nice things about House of Jai. Then they fired those people who are working for them and cancelled the memberships of others,” Price said.
Ripka, a former criminal prosecutor, sees it differently. He said he and his partner worked 12 years to build a business, and he defended his right to fire any instructor caught praising Lehman on the internet.
“She wants to sue the hand that fed her,” he said. “If anyone attempts to steal members while they’re working for us, they ought to be fired.”
Lehman, who has taught dance, kinesiology and yoga, refused to say anything bad about New York Yoga, insisting she sued only because “I want the games to end.”
“I’m extremely disappointed and sad. The whole point of yoga is that the more people doing it, the better. It’s about helping people find peace. We should be glad when more people do it. It doesn’t have to be us against them,” she said.
When will these yoga games end? Is it winding down or as things become more commercially competitive are we just witnessing the beginning?
Oh yes and just in case you were in any doubt about yoga’s commercial growth, thake the example of how difficult it is to find a ‘yoga athletic’ sotre in Cherry Creek as the Denver Post explains:
Three leading merchants in the yoga- and athletic-wear sector are preparing to set up shop — all within one block of one another.
Opening their doors in coming months with new or expanded stores are Athleta, Lululemon and Prana. Just a yoga mat’s toss away are three other purveyors: Lucy Activewear, SA Elite and Title Nine.
How big a business is yoga wear? Big enough, analysts say, that there’s a reasonable chance of success for all of the side-by-side competitors.
“They’re really creating a new style — it’s not just for yoga classes,” said retail broker Stuart Zall, who negotiated Lululemon’s lease at Fillmore Place. “Yoga pants are like the sweat pants of the ’70s. You wear them to yoga class, then you wear them to the grocery store too.”
Directly across Fillmore Street from the Lululemon space is the site of Prana’s third store in the U.S. (It sells mostly through a dealer network.)
Prana has more online customers in Denver than any other city, “so we think it obviously has good potential for a retail store,” said Megan Daughtry, manager of stores for Prana.
Competition with neighboring merchants “will be really healthy for all of us,” she said. “If I were looking for yoga pants, I’d park in one place and then go visit all of the stores.”
For all the retailers, yoga wear is part of a broader product mix. Prana sells more “lifestyle” apparel than yoga wear, so Daughtry expects to see plenty of families — including men — shopping at the store, which will be designed in what she calls “warm industrial” style with steel and reclaimed wood.
Across First Avenue at the Cherry Creek Shopping Center is the site of the first Denver store for Athleta, a yoga and sportswear unit of the Gap.
The Cherry Creek retail district provides a good demographic fit for the proliferation of yoga studios and apparel shops, said Mike Blake, marketing and communications director for Cherry Creek North.
“Our consumer works, lives and plays in Cherry Creek North, so there is definitely a demand for fitness options, and yoga is a popular option,” he said.
Yoga wear, in and outside of studios, “is a phenomenon. It’s amazing how many people wear this apparel,” said Roy Kline, a partner with Western Development Group, developer of the Shops at NorthCreek where Prana is scheduled to open in May.
A research survey in 2008 concluded that yoga classes and products are a $5.7 billion industry in the U.S.
And that survey is 4 years old!!
OK it’s time for 5 minutes of calming sun salutations now
See you tomorrow.