Excuse Me, Lululemon, Your Tag Is Sticking Out. ~via Sarah Miller [corporate yoga, corporate businesses, corrupt spirituality]

Via on Dec 1, 2008

Photo: lululemon.

By Sarah Miller.

I’m not against corporations, as a rule. But I do seem to be against everything they stand for. Even with best intentions in mind, they rarely measure up.

It’s also true that I am an idealist. I expect moral behavior—do the right thing—from all. That leaves me, shall we say, disgruntled, disappointed and disgusted much of the time.

For the last year and a half, I’ve worked for lululemon (yes, they don’t capitalize the “L”). With that behind me now (as of today!), I indeed feel as though I’ve wasted a good chunk of my last year or so learning things I already knew that I knew. Wow. That alone makes me upset. That is compounded by the fact that I feel like I just woke up and realized that I’m a sell out. [Sigh] I have essentially gone against everything that I feel is truth—and sold it as a nifty little black Groove Pant and Razzmatazz Deep V Tank.

While it may not be news to elephant readers, spirituality has now gone corporate. These days, in order to “practice yoga,” you need a new mat and a stretchy lululemon outfit to match!

Yoga may be watered down in its modern, Western approach—but the spirituality can’t be completely extracted and sold because…truth is inviolable, right?

I remember taking a college course called the “McDonaldsization of Society” which, in my mind, sums it all up quite nicely. People want what is known and, more and more, shun anything they are unfamiliar with or doesn’t fit with their “mainstream” reality. Whether it’s the golden arches or a scuba hoody with the Lulu logo plastered on it, brand loyalty has numbed our senses.

These companies that claim they are the new model of sustainable, green ingenuity and have responsible practices, who think about their workers and have somehow vastly improved the corporate business model, all still have a bottomline. If profits aren’t achieved, do they still care about their workers? Their goals? Their salaries? Their total impact to the planet? Probably not.

A company as new as Lululemon has a lot to learn—and yet other companies are learning a lot from this little Vancouver company that has exploded in just over ten years. A year ago they went public. Translation: we want to make even more money, even faster, and in order to do that, we need more money.

They have a nifty manifesto and synthetic, reusable bags that give a nod to an eco-savvy attitude. They boast team building and goal setting as part of their business model. They hire yogis and “athletes,” attractive individuals who look good in their clothes and can “educate” impeccably on the product. Everything—down to how the store is organized—is designed with the “guest” in mind. It works. Really well. I’ve witnessed how easily people can be persuaded and guided to buy. It’s not just enough to have a great product—the entire package must be complete—and lululemon is psychologically enhanced and packaged to sell. It is clearly brilliant—inside (the store) and out.

Photo: lululemon.

I will be the first to say that I took great use of the “staff library” (required reading) and educated myself on everything from positive affirmations (Stephen Covey and Brian Tracy) to appropriate management behavior (First, Break all the Rules.) The irony is that through these tools, I realized that I could do better, be better and live more in line with my personal philosophy. In lulu terms, “I just wasn’t a good fit.”

For over a year, I allowed myself be part of their collective experiment and it turned out to be like all the others—a waste of my precious time. I was involved with “grassroots, community networking” (they’re not into old-fashioned advertising, though they do it when and where they need to), guerilla yoga around the city, in-store classes and events. Great. But here’s the bottom line: you’re still selling stuff—to people who don’t need it; who think they need it, but who definitely do not need it. How yogic.

When was the last time Chip Wilson—or better yet Bob Meers—read the Bhagavad Gita or Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras? Have they read a different translation than me? Or, more likely, have they not read ‘em at all? Am I the only one seeing the incongruencies of a “yoga clothing company” with a corporate world take-over agenda who unabashedly claims their manifesto to be one of “bettering the world” one yoga pant at a time?

The West is sick. Affluenza is poisoning our lives, our egos, and our beings. The wild horses are taking us for a ride. And we’re lettin’ ‘em ride good.

Perhaps with the latest “economic crisis,” people will start to reflect more. Maybe they’ll see what is inherently wrong with the “consume, profit, develop” picture.

I don’t see large corporations “going green and conscious” as the solution. The same age old solutions still apply to every aspect of our lives. Think globally, act locally. Smaller is often better and more mindful of the community it is a part of. Now that is “yogic”!

During this current American holiday season, at least I can feel good about not participating in the massive plastic swiping that takes place in the name of “gift giving.” Karmically I feel like now I can sleep at night, knowing that I’m not selling people more synthetic luon with the false hopes of making their lives more enjoyable, their yoga practice somehow better and their butt more appealing.

Now is the time to reflect on my true principles and standards of behavior. Not only for me, but for businesses and communities. Bigger is not better, less is more.

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26 Responses to “Excuse Me, Lululemon, Your Tag Is Sticking Out. ~via Sarah Miller [corporate yoga, corporate businesses, corrupt spirituality]”

  1. [...] excuse me, lululemon, your tag is sticking out! view this blog on http://www.elephantjournal.com [...]

  2. Jaime says:

    I’m not disagreeing with you, but I would like to point out that Lululemon’s line of yoga clothing is of much higher quality and consistency (when it comes to size, etc.)than any others I’ve encountered (sorry Prana). I’ve practiced yoga 4-5 days a week for years and even my oldest Lulu pieces seem unfazed. Built to last = less replacing/wasting, which is certainly worth something.

    You do make a lot of great points, however!

  3. Mary says:

    I think it’s important to clarify if you were fired or if you just left. Otherwise, this just sounds like some rant by another bitter employee who was let go in a bad economy. This article caught my eye because I do not practice yoga enough to even dream about dropping $100 on a pair of pants but I stepped into Lulu for the first time with a friend who is a yoga instructor. She raved about how good they made her butt look but my it took me about two steps into the store to realize it was a gimmick. The live dj in the store window, the fit employees decked out in the latest lulu gear, it really took you over a year to get a clue? I’m not trying to be offensive, buy you appear to be an intelligent person and I’m just so confused about this epiphany of yours.

  4. ray says:

    i live in new jersey [present h0Me of jimmy hoffa]& have been practicing more than 20 yrs.& have observed the changing face of yoga…there r almost as many yoga studios as there r nail salons…we have just recovered from the barrage of lululemon…& the op ening of ANOTHER store..with ALL the choosing of yoga teachers that r willing 2 ‘sell-out’2 the corporate world i wonder??? r they selling yoga?special clothes?or themselves?0R ALL of the above…we all kno we MUST have 90$ pants so we can do BETTER posing..& it’s VERY interesting…the thrust is female practioners…watzupwitdat ???

  5. Janet says:

    I’ve also struggled with this, particularly the branding of yoga by teachers who become popular. Vacation packages to Costa Rica that include teacher training, and are hugely expensive – what do the trainees learn who can actually afford it? I own bookcases of yoga books, DVD’s, CD’s and magazine subscriptions, and none of the money went anywhere but for profit. I turned to Buddhism because more and more the yoga world felt empty, just another exercise “fad.” My experience with Buddhism has been that the focus is brought relentlessly back to you and working on yourself. This leads to compassion for others and a destruction of illusions, including the illusion of the perfect yoga butt. The most sincere and advanced yogi’s and yogini’s I’ve met don’t wear brands and some have even had holes in their well worn yoga garb. They are not the most popular because they don’t compromise the tenets of yoga so they can have classes of thousands. It’s not supposed to be easy or pretty, necessarily, to do the work that leads to enlightenment or even just peace within yourself. The greatest cost should be the time spent on the cushion or mat, not the dollars spent for the external trappings of the practice.

  6. Nancy says:

    Corporate America will keep inventing new ways to promote and sell goods and services and consumers will keep inventing new ways to justify their purchases/consumption. We all need to take responsibility for our own actions. If $100 yoga pants are important to some, fine. If the idea of $100 yoga pants is distasteful to others or simply not of interest, that’s o.k. too. The really yogis will keep practicing their yoga and will know what is right for them, and they will keep practicing long after the lululemons of the world move onto something new. In the words of Ram Das, “listen to your own truth.”

  7. swati jr says:

    no. not fired. woke up one day and quit. the “epiphany” actually happened before i even got hired but i decided to take a year of life to do a “grass roots” investigation and see for myself what all the hype was about. you saw it by walking into the store, i saw it from the corporate inside out.

  8. ashlee dunn says:

    I am a yoga teacher/practitioner and have enjoyed Lululemon’s clothing for many years. I was interested in the comment about the most sincere and advanced yogis having holes in their yoga clothing and not wearing name brands. I don’t agree with this comment. There is nothing bad or unspiritual about wanting to wear comfortable, attractive clothing. Hopefully our practice helps us feel good about ourselves. When we feel good, we feel deserving of well made clothing. I would also like to add that many years ago when Lululemon was a VERY YOUNG NEW company they DONATED about 10 full yoga outfits (pants and tops) for a yoga video I was a part of.

    • Honesty says:

      They didn't give you those outfits because you wanted a favour or even because you needed to keep warm on a winters night – it's just ADVERTISING! DUH! That's how they get more people to buy their stuff. Put something unattainable on someone you admire (perhaps their strength, their body or their media-image) and people, no matter the circumstance will fight tooth and nail to BUY BUY BUY. I see people put things on credit card after credit card daily using phrases like, "Oooh this cost a month's rent but I just HAVE to have it" or "I can't afford it, but if someone else gets it & I miss out I'll be so upset!". Well done Ashlee, you were a pawn in their scheme to get big. Donations are what you give to the homeless. The starving. The irreversibly ill. Not some colour-coordinated fitness video. That's just called saavy Marketing.

      And no, in everyday life there is nothing bad about wanting to look good, except that the ENTIRE basis of yoga (which is part of the topic of discussion) is about non attachment to this unattainable and 'perfect' exterior that society and people make us believe we need in order to survive.

      And before you rebuttle with, "but I dress for myself & don't care what others think", you wouldn't even have an idea of what 'looks good' if you hadn't learned what was/was not acceptable from your peers, your childhood, your family, your idols and your past existence that dictates your identity in the clothing you wear and how society perceives you and then ranks you accordingly. "When we feel good, we feel deserving of well made clothing" you say? How about deserving of the love you receive, of the warmth you have in your home, food on your table and life in your being? How can the two even be compared???

      Yoga does not exclude anyone, it's those like lululemon that are bastardising it by making a killing ensuring that some in society's ranks can climb another rung on the social ladder by being part of the $100 pant cool club. High school bullying never stops and it's clique-y ideas like this that excludes people and stops the idea of Yoga (the word itself comes from 'Yoke' meaning UNION!)

      So to conclude, GREAT you have a yoga qualification (not that they are hard to obtain these days). Perhaps your insecurities about your image will fade if you re-read the Bhagavad Gita or the Vedas (assuming you already have as what should have been an essential part of your study). Yoga is a torch you should be using to proudly light the hope in others, not continue their shame spiral as to why they can't afford/don't look good in certain 'uniforms' as regulated by the popular of the most popular western yoga practitioners.

      And if your immediate thought is that all that existential spiritual-stuff I've mentioned doesn't matter then you are not a yoga teacher/practitioner. You are a fitness instructor. Western people come to yoga for fitness but they often stay for the will it gives you to reach out to others and be a better person, even in it's most subtlest form, it can be for so many a haven that gives permission for you to give love to yourself (and others) in a world of chaos that is unrelenting.
      If you can't tell the difference then cease speaking from the knowledgable title of 'Yoga Teacher' as I'm sure many would prefer you not speak for their community from such a superficial standpoint.

      But don't worry though, we're slowly killing ourselves anyway if not via food and body, but mostly from our poisonous minds. (With mountains of non-biodegrading luon left behind no less.)

  9. Janet says:

    Thank you for your response Ashlee. I was referring to my personal experience, and perhaps sounded self-righteous which should always be, to paraphrase Pema Chodron, a wake-up call. I would agree that there is “nothing bad or unspiritual about wanting to wear comfortable, attractive clothing” for yoga or any other activity. It may be overly idealistic on my part, but I believe what my yoga teachers taught, that yoga has the power to transform us at our core. When that happens, what we clothe ourselves in becomes irrelevant. It is the union with our divine Self that shines through, and that cannot be bought. It can only come through dedication and study. The light in me bows to the light in you Ashlee, Namaste’.

  10. Nichole says:

    I honor your feelings toward our societies tend to over consume. It is true. But, when it comes to yoga, I feel that it is and always will be bigger than Lulu. Most people are drawn to yoga for the physical benefit and after practicing will find deeper, more spiritual benefits-the asanas are so powerful-it is unavoidable. If these clothes get people to a yoga class or get people on the mat and manage to keep people on the mat…there will be a change in that person. A change toward a better lifestyle and shift from being ego driven to beginning to honor the true inner self. Isn’t that what it is all about?

    BTW-I don’t wear lulu clothes-most of mine come from Target :)

  11. Sybil says:

    I LOVE lululemon!!! It has introduced me to a wonderful community, because they are so rooted in their community. That is what sets them apart from any other store. Not only do they sell the BEST quality yoga/fitness clothes, they give to their community and allow everyone to build partnerships and thrive. I honestly dont know where I would be if I never knew of lululemon.

  12. elephant journal admin says:

    Thanks for the comment, Sybil, it’s always great to have balancing perspectives on our site—makes it a dialogue, not just a one way street (same goes for my recent post on Top 10 Buddhist Teachers, which of course everyone has a different and usually brilliant opinion on).

    Yours,

    Waylon

  13. MK says:

    I seem to have a very opposite opinion about this company, I can not imagine anyone turning to yoga because of a pair of pants, instead someone who needed the pants finding lululemon. Also, I am not so sure why having the store and all that goes on inside catered to the guest is a bad thing? I would rather shop somewhere where employees are friendly and care about my experience than having no interaction at all. Though lululemon is a publicly shared company I feel that (from what I’ve read) their constant focus on training employees and making sure every guest has a satisfactory experience is something hard to find in the corporate world these days, this company is aware that they are here to help their guests! Also, acting locally does seem to be a major theme in the company. Each store is participating and holding events in their own communites, many to promote new things OUTSIDE of lululemon, be it a new studio or gym in town or another event going on in the city. I am surprised to hear these insults and this bitterness from a former employee, as your piece seems like an opinion and not an educated and fairly explained article. As someone who has worked in the community legacies department you should know of all the things that are going on there to help re-use gift cards, the save-a-bag challenge and petitioning for recycling in malls (I found this all on sites like this one) I’m wondering what you have against those acts? AND like someone else said, doesn’t a product that is garunteed to last 5 years (as all Luon is) better and less wasteful than something you will need to replace in 5 MONTHS? I’m wondering what you wear and if they were not made by “corporations” who are trying to sell a product?

  14. Erin Pillman says:

    I fully empathize with your view of the “corporatization” of yoga. As a yoga teacher, I have found many aspects of the yoga “scene” appalling, including what you describe in this post. Although you chose to write about lululemon because you have experience with this company, this applies to MANY different corporations, and it is sickening. However, the old paradigm of corporations/profit/greed is coming to a screeching halt, and Nature will only support those who are in alignment with Her. So stand tall and firm on your principles everybody, because without integrity we are just standing in quick sand.

  15. [...] so casually intertwined? I can easily recall a great number of recent events where I encountered yoga and alcohol unconsciously mixing. From yoga studio openings, to yoga clothing store events, to the [...]

  16. [...] so casually intertwined? I can easily recall a great number of recent events where I encountered yoga and alcohol unconsciously mixing. From yoga studio openings, to yoga clothing store events, to the [...]

  17. youknowwho says:

    Hello from another fellow lulu employee! I just want to say it's nice to hear that another person felt the way I did while I worked there. I was sure I was the only one who hadn't drank the kool-aid and fallen madly in love with the store.

    My biggest issue while working at lulu was not about me "selling out" while working there (I'm not an essentialist), it was the fact that I was selling spandex pants, made in China, for $100… one more time… spandex pants, made in China, $100…

    Now I'm not going to pretend like I'm a yogi or some spiritually enlightened anyone. All I am is a broke college student who enjoys the way yoga makes me feel. But I have a moral issue with "eliticizing" stretchy pants made in a sewing factory in China.

    Lululemon may do many great things for communities and people around the world, but that doesn't change the fact that they are a corporation looking to squeeze every dollar they can out of MILFs (the majority of the clientele- at least in Boulder) all over the country (or world). And all those great things lulu does, do not make up for the fact that they have everything made in China and shipped across the big blue to the good old US. And to me, that seems a little strange for a company that is claiming to be so progressive.

  18. MKW says:

    Dear “youknowwho”
    It is really surprising to me that you are so out of the loop about why lululemon is producing it’s product in China, as well as Canada, Israel, Taiwan, Indonesia and India AND the US. lululemon is one company that stresses the importance of the quality of environment in these factories. All factories are set up to be in code with the Multi Fibre Agreement and are all held to the same global standards and commitment to quality and ethics that lululemon has set for itself. I understand why you did not like your job @ lululemon because it does not seem that you quite understood who you were working for. Understandable.

  19. Ryan says:

    Seriously lulu, you are charging $100 for sweat pants and you can’t even use organic cotton?! Shame on you.

    • Erin Marie says:

      …I have many many pairs of pants and tops made out of organic cotton from lulu – wearing a organic cotton tank right now infact.

      • Yuppie says:

        They aren't 100% organic cotton, so people that are synthetic sensitive still cannot wear them. Another bullshit promise.

  20. [...] Lululemon is in the business of yoga. Are they evil? Far from it. Are they full of idealism, love, happy-happy yoga? Far from it.*  [...]

  21. lululover says:

    So I agree that 100$ for a pair of pants sounds completely outrageous but if you think about how long the product will last.. a good 5 years at least thats really just 20$ a year which is nothing for such great pants. Its nice to reward yourself with something nice once and awhile you dont have to go and buy lots. FYI lululemon isint all about just yoga either they help several other sports out and provide financial to those high end athletes that need it. Seems to me like you are just bitter and needed to post it on the internet so everyone could see.

  22. [...] Personally, I like lululemon. This writer on elephant may not love them. Or this one. Or, this one. [...]

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