Alo is all about branding. It emphasises a “kind and clean” approach, but doesn’t really tell the consumer what that means and instead relies on its brand image to be persuasive. Being sweatshop free and WRAP-certified is important, as is promoting the use of renewable energy sources in the workplace. But for a company which claims nature as its namesake (“Alo” comes from the first letters of “air,” “land,” and “ocean”), the lack of transparency about the materials and processes it employs along its supply chain, as well as about its leadership team and level of diversity, are unfortunate. While its founders may have legitimately been motivated by a love for yoga and the gear that facilitates a practice, their company unquestionably pushes a consumerist ethic and spends very little time and space providing potential customers with the information required to make eco-friendly choices. Seemingly more defined by what it is not, than what it is, the Alo Warrior yoga mat earns 0.75 planets overall.
The Alo Warrior Mat is made of “ethically sourced” natural rubber and polyurethane leather. While natural rubber is preferable to synthetic (i.e. plastic) rubber and PVC, polyurethane is also a form of plastic. While using polyurethane leather avoids the animal welfare costs of animal leather and some of its emissions, its production and disposal implicate a host of other issues. What is more, high demand for natural rubber often leads to deforestation and extensive use of pesticides and herbicides. Alo’s statement that its rubber is “ethically sourced” is also difficult to verify, as they provide no further detail. These design choices exemplify the fact that selecting the “less evil” material of those most commonly used is sometimes a false choice when it comes to sustainability. The choice set is broader than [synthetic vs natural rubber] or [animal vs plastic leather]. Instead of using polyurethane leather, Alo could have opted for a plastic-free vegan leather made from pineapple leaves or mushrooms, or could have tried to minimise its use of environmentally-harmful products to the greatest extent possible. Instead, however, it seems like Alo is riding on the “natural” moniker and hoping customers won’t think too deeply about it.
The Alo Warrior mat does not contain formaldehyde, which is toxic to humans and animals. It also uses “the best low water dyes,” which I would suggest it identify and explain further.
Alo also likes to advertise that its warehouse is paper-free and its daily waste is reduced to that of a small household - but it’s unclear whether this means just the warehouse, the headquarters, or its entire supply chain. Alo is also proud that its flagship store in Beverly Hills and its headquarters are run on solar energy, and that it is building a 1-megawatt solar farm on the headquarters’ roof. Transitioning to renewable energy is crucial, so I applaud Alo for taking advantage of the California sun to move in that direction. That said, I wonder why not all of their stores have made the transition to solar, especially given that most are in hot, sunny locations - they have five other stores in California, as well as stores in the likes of Miami, Austin, and Scottsdale.
Alo has a platinum WRAP certification, theoretically proving that its production facilities meet the international social compliance standards. In a flashy video, it proclaims “no sweatshops, forced labor, child labor, harassment, abuse, unfair pay, illegal hours, discrimination, unsafe conditions, or eco-hazards.” This is a rather long list of important and complicated issues that could be explained in more detail. While the WRAP certification is meant to substantiate these claims, WRAP certifications have been mired in controversy and said to “add a level of legitimacy to a company via a stamp of approval, without effectively ensuring the just treatment of laborers and the upholding of labor laws. Rather than bolstering CSR efforts, such organizations simply act as another layer to ineffective strategies.” Alo outlines that it has at least one staff person monitoring every sewing facility in the United States, Turkey, Indonesia, Portugal, Vietnam, and China - presumably in all the locations involved in its supply chain, and for the purposes of ensuring quality and the level working conditions. But yet again, I as the consumer am forced to assume what these quick and flashy statements mean, and wonder what those Alo staff members are checking for, how they are trained, or why they are needed.
The video ends by claiming, “we know everyone who touches Alo is treated well.” It seems rather exaggerated and naive (or purposefully misleading) for a large company like Alo to make this kind of claim about such complex issues without providing further clarity to the consumer about how it secures such remarkable results. Given that if it would surely consume a great amount of resources to do so, I would expect a marketing-focused lifestyle brand which claims to respect people and the planet to substantiate such claims a bit further - and if they do so, it can only help their brand image.
Alo is owned by Color Image Apparel, Inc and was founded by Danny Harris and Marco DeGeorge. Its current President is Chris Blakeslee. All three have experience primarily in business, and I could not find any evidence of a sustainability-focused role in the Alo leadership team. The fact that Alo does not display its leadership or any information or commitments about the diversity of its team clearly on its website is concerning, especially given the extent to which white men are profiting off of a practice originating in northern India without necessarily acknowledging and contributing to the communities from which it came. What is more, all of its six LA stores are located in wealthy areas of the city, and its mats are $100-$120 a piece, making them inaccessible to many.
Finally, Alo’s heavy emphasis on being fashion-forward, trendy, and modern promotes an ethos of over-consumption that is directly at odds with its stated commitment to preserving the environment.