“Outdoor & Sporting Goods Company” REI (Recreational Equipment, Inc.), headquartered near Seattle, has apologized and removed yoga mat towel carrying reimagined image of Hindu deity Lord Ganesh, which upset Hindus objected, calling it “highly inappropriate”.
Courtney Gearhart of REI Brand Stewardship & Impact, in an email to distinguished Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, who spearheaded the protest, wrote: “Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention. This was a miss on our part, and we apologize for the oversight. We removed this item immediately from REI.com and informed our teams of the concern. We will work closely with Manduka and our other partners to prevent this type of oversight from happening in the future.”
Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, in a statement in Nevada today, thanked REI for understanding the concerns of Hindu community which thought image of Lord Ganesh on such a product was highly insensitive.
Rajan Zed suggested that REI and other companies should send their senior executives for training in religious and cultural sensitivity so that they had an understanding of the feelings of customers and communities when introducing new products or launching advertising campaigns.
Zed had said that Lord Ganesh was highly revered in Hinduism and was meant to be worshipped in temples or home shrines and not to sit/stand on or put feet/buttocks/legs/body on or to absorb/wipe one’s sweat. Inappropriate usage of Hindu deities or concepts or symbols for commercial or other agenda was not okay as it hurt the devotees.
Hinduism was the oldest and third largest religion of the world with about 1.1 billion adherents and a rich philosophical thought and it should not be taken frivolously. Symbols of any faith, larger or smaller, should not be mishandled, Rajan Zed had noted.
Zed had stated that such trivialization of Hindu deity was disturbing to the Hindus. Hindus were for free artistic expression and speech as much as anybody else if not more. But faith was something sacred and attempts at trivializing it hurt the followers, Zed added.
This objectionable “yogitoes Yoga Mat Towel Enlightened” was selling on REI website for $46.73 and was described as “an absorbent, hygienic towel that layers on top of your yoga mat to prevent slipping”.
In Hinduism, Lord Ganesh is worshipped as god of wisdom and remover of obstacles and is invoked before the beginning of any major undertaking. There are about three million Hindus in USA.
Award-winning “specialty outdoor retailer” REI, founded in 1938, claims to be “nation’s largest consumer cooperative” with over 17 million members, 154 stores and online presence, and “responsible business practices”. Products include gear and apparel for outdoor pursuits; including hiking, cycling, fitness, camping, snowsports, traveling, climbing, kayaking, canoeing, bird watching, etc. Eric Artz is Interim President & CEO, while Steven Hooper is Chair of its Board of Directors.