Mindfulness in business: can a brand be a gateway to practice?
The Roaring Twenties may refer to a historical era, but the phrase also seems like an apt description of the life trajectory of many founders. Even the Buddha indulged profusely before renouncing the luxury of the palace for the asceticism of spiritual pursuit, eventually founding a religion that followed the Middle Way. Max Vallot and Tom Daly, the founders of District Vision, a company that started with racing sunglasses and has since expanded into “tools for conscious athletes,” have had a similar trajectory. By their mid-twenties, Vallot and Daly were working in the fashion industry in New York City and enjoying all the indulgences of this fast-paced lifestyle. According to Vallot, it was visible.
“I was a nervous wreck,” he recalled of that time, when we spoke on Zoom. “Everything from my sleep to my digestion was a total mess.”
In the midst of this decadent phase, Vallot entered a Transcendental Meditation studio which was next to his office. “Instantly I knew this was something I would do for the rest of my life,” Vallot said. “And that might be the most important thing I’ve ever done.”
The duo have always enjoyed running as a way to stay fit and cure hangovers, but it quickly became a pursuit, along with mindfulness, that allowed them to engage with the world and build a community in a fulfilling way. As Daly delved deeper into the world of running, Vallot found himself hanging out with more athletes and becoming something of an ambassador for mindfulness. He began to see a bridge between these two activities, in which the mind and body are given the opportunity to align, breath-by-breath and step-by-step, and began to offer meditation, relaxation techniques and marathon mantras to his new friends.
By this time, Vallot and Daly had left behind the palace, or in this case the haute couture industry, but rather than founding a religion, they founded a brand. From the outset, they were committed to creating something that was as product-focused as it was hands-on. “That was the philosophical starting point,” Vallot explained. “The umbrella that held it all together. And it is still the case today. »
Vallot describes mindfulness not just as an exercise in well-being, but as a lens through which one experiences and explores reality. It’s no wonder, then, that District Vision’s foray into sports gear has been made by sourcing impeccably crafted sunglasses from a third-generation Japanese eyewear manufacturer with a handcrafted approach to Arts and crafts. After the success of these sunglasses, District Vision branched out into running apparel as well as classes related to aspects of the practice like mindful breathing and movement.
It would be easy to set aside this combination of business and Buddhism as another example of McMindfulness: the appropriation of spiritual practice for the purpose of earning money. As David Loy, Zen teacher, teacher and author, and Ronald Purser, teacher and book author McMindfulnessindicated in a viral article on the subject: “Rather than applying mindfulness as a means of awakening individuals and organizations from the unhealthy roots of greed, ill will and delusion, it is generally turned into a mundane technique, therapy and self-help that can really strengthen those roots.”
Since this article was published in 2013, mindfulness has only grown in popularity, and many performance brands have taken notice. In 2018, Nike has partnered with Headspace to create a series of guided “mindful runs” and in the same year Lululemon launched a mindfulness initiative focused on product usability and online courses. The optimist might say that this corporate embrace of mindfulness is a way to improve business practices as well as the spread of the practice itself. The pessimist would denounce such adherence as promoting greed and consumption via the savvy marketing of the very tool designed to eliminate them.
Which brings us back to District Vision. Do you really need $250 glasses to run better? And how, exactly, does mindfulness make you a better runner? The answer to what you think of a performance eyewear brand that creates tools for conscious athletes may depend on whether you view marketing through the optimistic or pessimistic lens.
Vallot is a realist. On the first point, he admits that you probably don’t need $250 shades, but it certainly doesn’t hurt, and the appreciation that a beautiful and functional item can elicit might even help to stay present. He compared it to the incense he burns while meditating. “It’s just another reminder to come back to the present moment, to come back to a simple awareness of what’s going on and come back to the breath,” Vallot said. “None of these things are ultimately necessary. But I still have room. Even our product eventually becomes a way to open people up to all of this.
As to whether mindfulness will make you a better runner, it often becomes the sticking point in Vallot’s conversations with athletes. “The question that always comes up with racers,” says Vallot, “who are inherently competitive, is, ‘If this isn’t going to make us faster, why should we bother?’ My response was that it will definitely make you a wiser runner You learn to bring attention to those raw sensations in the body as you move and discern what kind of pain to pay attention to or what kind of anxiety that needs to be addressed.The conscious runner sees these states for what they are and understands that they are transient in nature like everything else.
Julia Hanlon, an avid runner as well as yoga and movement teacher, and former host of the Running on Om podcast, is not one to get addicted to gear. She told me that on a recent freezing day in New England, since she doesn’t own technical running pants for the cold, she simply put on four pairs of pants and went for it. Still, Hanlon agreed that conscious awareness of race is a way to blur the lines between formal and informal practice. She described the impact of mindfulness as running through a forest in black and white, and the colors “suddenly jumping”.
“It gives you such a deeper connection with your internal cues and with the cues of the environment around you,” Hanlon explained. “You are really able to understand why you move and why you move and how your movement can actually be of service to you.”
Hanlon herself has never felt an affinity with a brand, but she understands the appeal and ability of a company to foster connection. “A brand has the potential to inspire the community, and a community can show people a way of being and loving that might be different from their own,” Hanlon said.
Additionally, the right gear can eliminate unacknowledged concerns by eliminating unnecessary obstacles. It’s not that all obstacles need to be removed, but if tangential impediments can be dealt with by proper equipment, an athlete can more easily fall into a state of flow. She mentioned a particularly tough trail run she endured in Croatia, and how her gear made her “feel completely safe and fully present, because I had everything I needed with me. “.
Ultimately, Vallot is well aware that there is literally an element of spiritual materialism in creating a conscious brand. In a materialistic society, however, it might offer one of the most relevant entry points into practice. “It’s a way to bring people into the funnel and open their eyes,” says Vallot. “If you follow this lead, it’s something that could profoundly change your life.”
“Equipment makes sense for now because that’s what we’ve learned and I think we can add something there,” Vallot concluded. “But mindfulness is what I will spend my last breath practicing and sharing with the world.”