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Can Indian brands own a larger piece of the multi-billion dollar global yoga industry?

India can't claim is dominance in the global yoga market. Even though over half of the 200 million yoga practitioners in the world are Indians.

, ET Bureau|
Jun 24, 2015, 07.40 AM IST
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India can't claim is dominance in the global yoga market. Even though over half of the 200 million yoga practitioners in the world are Indians. (Image: Getty Images)
India can't claim is dominance in the global yoga market. Even though over half of the 200 million yoga practitioners in the world are Indians. (Image: Getty Images)
2015 is Yoga's year. Be it the Iyengar school of yoga or hybrids like nude, hot, goddess, dog yoga or snowga (yoga in snow) which have bourgeoned in the West. The surge in yoga's popularity this year has been largely driven, of course, by the current Indian government's aggressive campaign to make yoga a national and global routine. And not just a fashionable work-out or quick-fix for, say, a cheesecake addiction or depression, of the personal and economic kind. (Studies indicate that people in times of economic crisis turn to yoga for help.)

The International Day of Yoga has been rocked by political controversies, raging debates on certain religious claims and India's attempt to reclaim ownership of the ancient practice. (Hopefully this shan't be as futile as 'Who Owns Chicken Tikka Masala?') What it's not is a provenance dispute. But what India can't claim is dominance in the global yoga market. Even though over half of the 200 million yoga practitioners in the world are Indians, the US is the world's largest yoga industry worth well over $27 billion. In India, the yoga market remains a largely unorganised industry, underserved by brands and typically a mom-and-pop enterprise outside a few institutes and centres.

Dave Banerjee co-founder of yoga apparel startup, Proyog, perhaps says it best when he told BE that 70 per cent of the world yoga market is in North America and that's where Bangalore-based Proyog's primary market is. Followed by regions like the UK, Australia and Japan. India, according to their projections, will account for just 3 per cent or 4 per cent of sales. The US and Canada are also where the denim industry is actively losing sales to the yoga wear category as more and more North Americans wear yoga pants to pick up the kids or groceries. Thus giving birth to the "Athleisure" category.

The likes of Proyog are riding on the 'Made In India' label to fatten their bottom lines on foreign shores and help them steal market share from yoga wear and gear giants like Lululemon Athletica. Says Banerjee, "In three years our revenues will be less than Lululemon's marketing budget. They would crush us if it weren't for our product. We want to be to yoga what Speedo is to swimming or Everlast is to boxing. None of the popular yoga wear brands have even bothered to understand the requirements for yoga. If they had any respect for yoga, they wouldn't be churning out 'plastic yoga pants'." Slapping an 'OM' on leggings does not a yoga pant make, apparently. Instead packaging yoga tights and tanks as the natural, made-in-the-birthplace-of-yoga kind of brand, just might be the ticket to nirvana. Especially with a consumer increasingly concerned with products' origins and organic credentials. Here, however, brands like Proyog cater to the affluent set clutching Manduka mats (the BMW of yoga mats), yoga enthusiasts from all corners of the world on yogations (yoga vacations) and yoginis teaching at schools in India. They will become brand advocates for the company with a very limited marketing budget.

Tapasya Bali knows the power of the 'Indian' tag as a differentiator in a cluttered yoga market. She quit her Wall Street job to start YogaSmoga, The New York based company was recently valued at $74 million after a Series B round of funding. The company intends to kill Lululemon Athletica, the Canadian brand which has a stronghold on the yoga market. (Incidentally, Proyog, too, has similar ambitions.) Bali says, "I am both a citizen of the USA and of India. Having grown up in India in my formative years, the ethos of yoga are ingrained in me and I can provide a sense of authenticity to the experience I offer to consumers." YogaSmoga celebrated International Yoga Day by hosting people at their stores, educating them about yoga and offering free mehndi tattoos.

 
According to Andrea R Jain, assistant professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis and author of Selling Yoga: From Counterculture to Pop Culture; "We often hear about the "Americanisation of yoga." Instead, we should think about yoga's popularisation as a result of its encounter with contemporary consumer culture, a transnational phenomenon. Yoga entrepreneurs have successfully established postural yoga as a viable and even popular choice in the global fitness market. Most yoga entrepreneurs market yoga as one part of self-development that can be combined with other consumer goods and lifestyle choices. All of this serves to make yoga attractive to large target audiences of urban consumers who do not want to use the traditional method for undergoing yogic training that is, abandoning society for the isolation of an ashram or seeking out a proselytising guru." They just might be trained digital yoginis. After all, according to a WSJ report, viewers watched over 5,500 years of YouTube videos tagged "yoga" in 2014.

Yoga is, in fact, India's greatest cultural export. The question we'd like answers to is why hasn't the country that gave the world Yoga produced a Lululemon or studio chains like CorePower Yoga, which has been dubbed the American Starbucks of yoga, yet? Perhaps Mumbai-based Yoga Mudra expert, Deepa Vaswani has the answer when she says "yoga in India is personal and a spiritual, therapeutic experience. And yoga certainly doesn't care what you wear, as long as you are comfortable." That may be the case still. But will that be so with newer generations of practioners striking poses better suited for Cirque du Soleil, in their 'Om' pants, some in the $100 Nike yoga shoe, while listening to playlists entirely populated with the musical stylings of MC Yogi? Although in conflict with yoga's values and teachings, to them, where, how and in what you practice yoga might just matter more than attaining peace and oneness with the universe.



Yoga by Numbers

- Roughly 200 million people practice yoga, globally. Most of them in India. Of them 80 per cent are women.

- $27 - $30 billion is the size of the US yoga industry. The world's largest yoga market saw an 87 per cent increase of spending in yoga products in the last 5 years.

- 17 per cent of leading yoga-wear brand Lululemon Athletica's inventory had to be recalled in 2013. Why? Because the $98 stretchy black yoga pants were see-through.

- $423.5 million is the Canadian company's net revenue in the first quarter of fi scal 2015

- At the 69th session of United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on September 27, 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged the international community to adopt an International Day of Yoga

- 44 pages is the length of The Common Yoga Protocol by Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy (AYUSH). To be used as a universal guide across the world on Yoga Day

- But 3 "Oms" is all it took for Don Draper, from the TV series 'Mad Men', to have a creative epiphany of a lifetime. Following this finale-episode scene thousands of creatives across the advertising world signed up for yoga classes en masse. (We're just kidding.)

Also Read

Wellness hotspots in India: Coorg for naturopathy; Yoga retreats in Uttarakhand, North-East

Is Yoga about achievement or awareness?

Time to take Yoga to villages: PM Modi on 5th International Yoga Day

Practice yoga with Alexa: Shilpa Shetty Kundra's fitness app joins Amazon assistant's skill set

Shahid Kapoor invests in yoga & wellness startup SARVA

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