By  on October 1, 2008

Adidas is betting a Los Angeles yoga instructor named Rainbeau Mars can get more women into its yoga gear than any supermodel or celebrity.

Next spring, the activewear firm will unveil a Rainbeau Mars Signature yoga activewear collection at Adidas Performance Stores in the U.S., including footwear and accessories, made from sustainable fabrics such as Tencel with eucalyptus, a natural biodegradable material. Mars, whose clientele includes Ashley Olsen and Brooke Shields, already has shot an Adidas “Play Yoga” instructional video featuring sports stars such as boxer Laila Ali, swimmer Britta Stefen, New Zealand rugby star Jonah Lomu and tennis champion Steffi Graf.

“Rainbeau worked alongside our designers to give them an insight into the specific needs of female yoga practitioners,” said Claire Midwood, Adidas business director of women’s, of the development of the new line for yoginis.

The yoga instructor herself is hush-hush about her designs for the Rainbeau Mars Signature collection, but in an interview she noted the collection is “more than just baggy clothes,” to appeal to the roughly 15 million adult practitioners in the U.S., who spent a collective $6 billion last year on yoga apparel, gear, media, classes and vacations, among other things, according to market researchers Harris Interactive and Sports Marketing Surveys. About $1.04 billion of the spending was on apparel.

The number of yoga participants in the U.S. has doubled since 2000, but the practice’s growth hit a plateau this year. Boston-based International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association is estimating the number of yoga classes in the country’s health clubs has dropped by 1 percent in 2008.

The discipline’s demographic is enviable from a marketing standpoint — a typical yoga practitioner at an American health club is a college-educated woman between 35 and 54 years old with an annual income of more than $100,000.

Why would one of the world’s biggest sports brands launch such an activewear line without a potential boost from a celebrity or a high-profile athlete who practices yoga? “Adidas could have had a face like Gwyneth [Paltrow],” said Mars, “but they needed someone who eats, sleeps and breathes yoga — a teacher. I’m a messenger who could deliver an authentic message and understands fashion to inspire the consumer.”

Not that Mars lacks star quality. She is a former actress whose biggest screen credit is a small role as Tovah in the 1996 film “The People vs. Larry Flynt.” That role precipitated a move to Los Angeles, where she returned to yoga, which she had practiced as a girl, as a way of centering herself amid the chaos of Tinseltown. Her development of a celebrity clientele, including Woody Harrelson, David Duchovny, Jeremy Piven and Ben Stiller, as well as Olsen and Shields, led her to coproduce eight of the more than two dozen yoga videos and DVDs in which she has appeared, among them a series of four DVDs entitled “Sacred Yoga Practice With Rainbeau Mars.” The yoga instructor claims to have sold more than one million of the DVDs.

Perhaps Adidas learned from longtime competitor Puma, owned by France’s PPR, that putting a famous face to yoga isn’t a surefire success. In 1999, Puma brought on supermodel and yoga practitioner Christy Turlington Burns as creative director and spokeswoman of Nuala, a yoga-inspired apparel, accessories and shoe brand. Puma last offered a Nuala-brand line in spring-summer 2007.

In 2001, Nike featured a well-known Los Angeles yoga instructor, Seane Corn, in three commercials that aired during prime time TV shows such as the WB’s “Gilmore Girls.”

Mars herself fits the countercultural image of a yoga teacher. She was born Rainbow Harmony Mars in a tepee on a commune in Reynolds, Mo. (She changed the spelling to Rainbeau when she was 10.) Her mother, Brigitte Mars, is an herbalist and raw food cookbook writer, who associated with counterculture figures such as Yoko Ono and Timothy Leary’s ex-wife, Rosemary Gladstone.

Adidas, a $10 billion German sports brand, began leveraging Mars this year as global ambassador for its “Play Yoga” campaign and as the face of its fall collections of Adilibria, Yatra Studio and TechFit Powerweb yoga apparel. In the women’s yoga section of adidas.com, videos of her yoga workouts are featured alongside those of Ali, Graf and other athletes.

The 32-year-old teacher has flown to cities in Asia, Latin America and Europe to teach her hybrid form of yoga, ra’yoka, also called “Adidas yoga,” which encompasses elements of Vinyasa yoga, tae kwon do and core conditioning. Ra’yoka is marketed as Adidas yoga in certain countries, notably China and South Korea.

Mars said she was chosen from a pool of American yoga instructors by Jim Latham, head of global tennis marketing at Adidas, initially as a spokeswoman, because of her line of instructional DVDs and her contributions to magazines on beauty and fitness. The olive-skinned brunette noted her diverse French, Russian, Israeli and indigenous South American heritage could translate well globally. She speaks French, Spanish and Italian in addition to English.

Mars practices the same style of yoga at all of her global demonstrations on behalf of Adidas, pointing to the multinational brand’s belief that the next wave of yoga participants will be found outside of North America. On tap for October: workshops in Amsterdam and Dubai. “In the last five years, there’s been a large increase of students” in South Korea, noted Michael Egan, who operates Seoul’s Maru Yoga Institute. “There are over 1,000 yoga studios and a million practitioners [here]. That’s pretty impressive for a nation with a population of around 50 million.”

At the sprawling Yahoo campus in Santa Monica, Calif., Mars teaches her twice-weekly, suggested-donation ra’yoka class in a sunny yoga studio to an array of striking students — an actress (Leonor Varela), a movie director, a singer, Mars’ entertainment lawyer and property developer Carl Marzano, who is the father of Mars’ five-year-old daughter, Jade. The suggested-donation entry to the ra’yoka classes signals the country’s rough economic times, a period when there’s been a trend toward low-cost and sliding-scale donation yoga sessions, free yoga in public parks such as in New York’s Union Square or Hollywood’s Runyon Canyon and studios such as Yoga District in Washington.

In ra’yoka, a standard yoga posture sequence ends with a series of martial art kicks. When students come out of a yoga warrior position, Mars encourages them to pull out their imaginary swords to slash away their troubles. Instead of oms and chants, U2 and Peter Gabriel are played to energize the group.

“Hybrids are the way of the moment: I drive a hybrid car,” she said of her taste for combining different kinds of energy in her yoga sessions. “For the time spent on the mat, you get the most out of it.”

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