If you’re stressed about the current political climate and exercise to feel better, you might be questioning your studio of choice right about now.
Devotees of fitness behemoths Equinox and SoulCycle, both of which have cult-like followings, are angry over news that Stephen Ross, chairman of the company that owns both brands, plans to host a $100,000-per-ticket fundraising event for Donald Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign in the Hamptons this weekend. The Washington Post shared details of the event, which will include photo-ops with the president.
The event ― and the rhetoric put forth by its guest of honor ― is in stark contrast to the inclusive culture and image both Equinox and SoulCycle have worked to portray ― and the news was disturbing to some of those who regularly pack the high-priced classes and shell out big bucks to join the gym.
A public relations team for SoulCycle and Equinox brands was quick to issue a response disconnecting the brands from the event. In a note from SoulCycle CEO Melanie Whelan, she calls Ross a “passive investor” and stated the brand “in no way endorses” the event.
Not everyone is satisfied with these responses. Some commenters on Whelan’s post questioned how passive an investor who sits as chair of the company could possibly be. Others urged the brand to cut ties with Ross and/or cancel the fundraiser.
“Equinox has portrayed itself as a company that supports the LGBTQ community and diversity through its Pride campaigns and its advertising,” Cruz wrote in a statement to HuffPost.
“Now, with the revelation of Stephen Ross’ fundraiser for Donald Trump, it is showing itself as a supporter of the hateful rhetoric and harmful policies coming out of this administration. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t take our money and then turn around and use it against us. It is a betrayal to us as members and I, for one, am disgusted. If Equinox does not sever ties with Stephen Ross and this fundraiser we have no choice but to cancel our memberships. I am hoping, with this petition, to show Equinox how infuriating this is to us as members and as a community, especially, given how many of us there are in numbers.”
What comes next is up in the air, especially for those devoted fans. Writer Akilah Hughes summed up on Twitter what is likely on a lot of people’s minds at the moment. “Guess I gotta ditch SoulCycle which is honestly a bummer because I actually hate every other group workout class. But it’s overpriced anyway.”
Hughes, who told HuffPost she attends two SoulCycle classes per week, said she has four paid classes left that they won’t refund. After that, she plans to take her business elsewhere.
“The reality is that there are loads of smaller Spin studios that don’t cost as much and don’t benefit our grifter-in-chief,” she said.
People who have followed the Spin class from its roots are also grappling with the news. One devotee, who spoke to HuffPost on the condition of anonymity, admitted it’s been hard to watch over the years as the studio became more corporate.
“Now, how can I spend SO much money when that money is going to someone who supports a man who promotes sexism, racism and xenophobia?” she said. “Even if it’s one penny of my $35 class ― I can’t stomach it.”
But a former employee of the cycling studio, who spoke to HuffPost on the condition of anonymity, offered a different perspective to those considering leaving the pack.
What was most surprising to her about this news was how few employees of the company seemed to know about Ross ― and his political leanings ― until this story came out. As a former employee, she has known of Ross “for years” and said it shocks her “not one bit that he is a Trump supporter.”
“We are not paying attention and educating ourselves in regards to who is in power and where our money is going as consumers,” she said.
Better education about where we are spending money can arm us as consumers to make informed decisions ― but as the former employee stressed, it’s important to consider who really loses in a situation like this one.
“I would urge those pulling away from SoulCycle to recognize that the people who will be affected most by the absence of your business will not be Steve Ross or Donald Trump, but will be the hourly studio staff who wipe up your sweat and wash your towels and the instructors who give more of themselves than most riders know,” she said. “I would also urge these same people to examine every company they work for and support, as I can nearly guarantee this is not exclusive to SoulCycle.”