A Georgia company that makes sustainable apparel and home goods has stopped selling its yoga mats decorated with the image of Lord Ganesh after a Hindu group complained that it was offensive.
“It was highly inappropriate,” Zed said in a response to emailed questions. Lord Ganesh “is highly revered in Hinduism and is meant to be worshipped in temples or home shrines and not to sit on or put feet, buttocks, legs on or sweat on. Inappropriate usage of Hindu deities or concepts or symbols for commercial or other agenda is not okay as it hurts the devotees,” he said.
The organization said on its Facebook page, which has about 1,200 followers, that it promotes understanding of Hinduism.
Lord Ganesh, also known as Lord Ganesha, is worshipped as a deity representing wisdom and is remover of obstacles.
The backlash took Vision Lab co-owner Keegan Keel, by surprise.
“It was the most frustrating aspect for me,” Keel said. “I found this was just an intriguing way to go about creating change.”
Keel said his company would never deliberately offend people and felt it would be best to remove the item.
“I guess that we may have overlooked the significance of this in the Hindu community.”
Hinduism has more than a billion adherents in the world and is one of the most prominent religions.
Zed said the mat sold for about $90, but wasn’t a big seller. It has since been removed from the company’s website.
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“We’re a spiritual company that makes spiritual products in harmony with the Earth. Offending any one is the last thing we want to do. We dedicate our lives to spreading love,” he said.
This is not the first time a company has come under fire for launching a product or advertising campaign that some consider insensitive, racist or disrespectful to a particular religion; nor is it the first time the Universal Society of Hinduism has weighed in on an issue. It recently criticized a Charleston company that also sold a yoga mat with Lord Ganesh’s image and pushed for Kentucky schools to offer classes in world religion.
Last year, Swedish retailer H&M got into trouble for running an ad that featured a black child in a monkey sweatshirt with the words “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle.”
In 2014, global retailer Zara pulled from its stores a child’s stripped pullover top with a gold or yellow sheriff’s star on the front after complaints of anti-Semitism. Critics said the star looked too much like the badges Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust and the stripes resembled uniforms worn in concentration camps. In news reports, the company said the top was inspired by sheriff’s stars from classic Western films.
Zara also sold the controversial “I Really Don’t Care, Do U?” jacket worn by first lady Melania Trump in 2018 during a tour of detention facilities along the border.
Zed said he would like an apology from the Georgia company over the yoga mat image, but he might be waiting a while. Keel said he doesn’t plan to make one because he’s still upset by how the situation was handled.
“We do not feel that his actions align with someone who, in my opinion, should be striving to promote cultural understanding, education, compassion, and acceptance of people who may have different ideologies and interpretations,” Keel said in a statement.
Gokul Kunnath, president of the United States Hindu Alliance based in metro Atlanta, said he thought the mat was “disrespectful. When you think of a divine image you don’t want it on a door mat or yoga mat where you stand and put your feet on it.” He doesn’t think the same thing would have happened with an image of Jesus or the Prophet Muhammad.
He’s satisfied that Vision Lab removed the item, although he thinks someone in the company should have researched the imaged and realized the problem earlier.
“Anybody can make a mistake, but knowing and correcting the mistake is very important,” he said. “We know it costs money to make it and pull it out so you do suffer a loss, but it shows they respect the Hindu consumer as well as others.”