- Soeuraya Wilson, a high-profile SoulCycle instructor since 2014 who appeared in promotions, quit in an Instagram post on Wednesday saying her image was being used by a company that "performs it's activism when it is convenient for their bottom line." Wilson declined to comment for this story.
- Four SoulCycle instructors told Business Insider that Black team members were pressured by the company to host a fundraising event for civil rights causes during the George Floyd unrest, for which they were not paid extra.
- Wilson and two-dozen other instructors rode in the event on June 11-12, raising money for the NAACP, Black Lives Matter, and the Okra Project.
- SoulCycle responded, "There is no place for racism, bigotry, inequality or discrimination at SoulCycle," and said fundraising participants volunteered and were compensated.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
SoulCycle's poster-child instructor quit in an Instagram post on Wednesday, saying she can no longer allow the company to "use" her image to perform its activism when it's beneficial to its bottom line.
Soeuraya Wilson's public resignation seemed to come out of the blue. A SoulCycle instructor since 2014, Wilson appeared in several of the company's promotions, including its recent big push for in-home bike sales after studios across the country were forced to shut down due to COVID-19, employees were furloughed, and staff pay was cut.
SoulCycle is known for its cult-like following centered around its influential instructors, many of whom have their own massive social media followings. Multiple SoulCycle instructors and riders commended Wilson on her Instagram post. Wilson, who has more than 12,000 Instagram followers, declined to comment for this story.
"In these times I can no longer allow my image to be used by a company that performs it's activism when it is convenient for their bottom line or their seasonal campaign," Wilson wrote in her post. "I can no longer allow my body to be used by a company that ultimately stands alongside it's investors and individuals who continue to support racism and bigotry without true compassion for the health and wellness of the employees and riders."
Business Insider spoke with four other SoulCycle instructors, on the condition of anonymity out of fear for their jobs. They said Black instructors were pressured to put on a recent fundraiser, for which they have not been paid beyond their reduced wage.
It's not clear whether the fundraiser contributed to Wilson's decision to resign.
But instructors said the way the company handled the fundraiser brought up issues around whether the company's corporate actions back up its diverse marketing. SoulCycle, a brand known for supporting humanitarian causes such as Pride, previously faced widespread backlash when the chairman of its parent company Equinox held a major fund-raiser for President Trump.
'The people in power are gaslighting people'
In June, as protests related to the death of George Floyd rocked the country, SoulCycle management sent an email to Black instructors urging them to host a virtual ride to benefit civil rights causes, sources told Business Insider. If instructors did not respond, they said they were pressured to take part.
In addition to the pandemic and the emotional stress many felt after George Floyd's death, instructors say they were not given technical support or enough personnel for the event. Sources told Business Insider they were not paid beyond their reduced COVID-19 rate. The brand asked them to do more work at a difficult time with little support and no extra pay – after declining to put on such events for years, the instructors said.
One Black SoulCycle instructor told Business Insider, "The people in power are gaslighting people into thinking that they are really working for causes like Black Lives Matter and they just aren't. Promotions do not reflect the diversity they are asking us to show the world."
Another Black instructor said their reaction to Wilson's resignation post was, "They're getting called out, and they should be."
A Black former employee who wrote that he experienced racism at SoulCycle in a Medium essay told Business Insider in an interview that "Their woke persona is fake." Larry Stansbury, who worked as a studio staff member in New York, said, "It's just an image. They try to make people think they're diverse, and support diversity in all ways, but they're not."
Two non-Black instructors told Business Insider they were not approached about participating in the fundraiser, but knew their colleagues were upset about the extra work.
SoulCycle responded to Wilson's post with the statement: "There is no place for racism, bigotry, inequality or discrimination at SoulCycle. Our focus has, and always will be, about building a community centered on our values, not politics. Values such as diversity, inclusion, acceptance and love will always be core aspects of our brand and are what guide us forward."
The company also said of the fundraiser: "Everyone who participated in the event was an active employee, they volunteered and were compensated for their time."
Wilson's entire Instagram post is below:
"In these times I can no longer allow my image to be used by a company that performs it's activism when it is convenient for their bottom line or their seasonal campaign.
I can no longer allow my voice to be used by a company that does not respect that voice when it dissents. A company who chooses silence.
I can no longer allow my body to be used by a company that ultimately stands alongside it's investors and individuals who continue to support racism and bigotry without true compassion for the health and wellness of the employees and riders.
I know it must be difficult to lead a company through a pandemic and a revolution.
I know this because my company and it's leadership who I once respected have failed to lead.
Six years ago I started working for SoulCycle. A very different one than it is today.
I became who I am today because of the people I met and the work I did here and for that I will be forever thankful.
It is with a heart full of gratitude that I choose to leave this place."
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