Shopping Right (Wing): Lululemon’s Political Values.

Via Carol Horton
on Nov 20, 2011
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While I’m completely opposed to the politics of Lululemon’s new “Who is John Galt?” shopping bags (which promote the views of right-wing heroine Ayn Rand), I like the fact that the company’s being so upfront about the values that inform it.

This is new. And I think it’s a positive change.

I’d much rather have Lulu aligning itself with a well-established line of political thought than an obfuscating soup of vacuous feel-good “affirmations” that make such underlying commitments difficult to see.

I’ve long been suspicious of Lululemon. The more I’ve learned about the company, the less I’ve been willing to take their chirpy self-help mantras at face value. I don’t want to rehash all the dirt that’s been dished. But for those unfamiliar with it, here’s some of the stories that led me to conclude that the corporate philosophy underlying the cheery “sing, dance, floss, travel!” image is really more brass knuckles than hearts and flowers:

Ending a policy of having “buzz worthy” store openings in which “the first 40 people who lineup and strip naked to the undies can get a free wardrobe of yoga-friendly clothes” only after buzz-killing feminists and Moms complained about impressionable young girls being given incentives to take their clothes off in public;

Pushing an intrusive and psychologically manipulative agenda on employees, such as attending Landmark forums (which many criticize as a cult) and insisting that they itemize and post their “personal, professional, and health goals” publicly; and

Having CEO Chip Wilson defend the practice of child sweatshop labor. (“According to those who attended BALLE BC conference, Wilson told the delegates third world children should be allowed to work in factories because it provides them with much-needed wages. They also say he argued that even in Canada there is a place for 12- and 13-year-old street youths to find work in local factories as an alternative to collecting handouts.”)

But now the “Who is John Galt?” bags have come out. And I find them oddly refreshing. Because these aren’t pretending to represent some innocuous feel-good agenda. (“Children are the orgasm of life!,” the “Lululemon Manifesto” asserts. Provided, I suppose, they’re not homeless or living in developing countries, in which case they’re better thought of as cheap, unskilled labor.)

Rather, they’re coming right out and proclaiming: Hey, we love right-wing heroine Ayn Rand!  And you should check her out – because more likely, you will too!

And who knows – maybe a lots more yoga practitioners will become Ayn Rand acolytes. I certainly hope not. But that’s their prerogative. And there are already many who’ve cheered on the new “Who is John Galt?” bags from what sounds like an informed “Objectivist” perspective (see comments on the Lululemon blog).

But it’s important to understand that this is a hard-core right-wing political position. Check out the Ayn Rand Institute website. It’s full of op-ed pieces like:

  • “We’re Running Out of Freedom, Not Oil”
  • “How About Tax Reparations for the Rich?”
  • “Commercialism Only Adds to Joy of the Holidays”
  • “Columbus Day Celebrates Western Civilization”
  • “Retire Social Security”

That stuff about kids working in factories is no joke. The more you embrace the sort of radically anti-social, laissez-faire capitalist mindset that Ayn Rand represents, the less room there is for any sort of political action designed to protect children, the environment, the elderly, or anyone else. It’s each man or woman for him- or herself. Whoever climbs to the top of the social heap has proved their “greatness.” The rest of us losers rightfully remain mired in our natural “mediocrity.”

Does this sound like the values of yoga to you?

It may. That’s your choice. But I strongly suspect that the overwhelming majority of Lululemon customers and ambassadors haven’t thought into the politics of the company they’re supporting.

But we have an obligation to do so. Because we’re in the middle of a crisis that turns on the question of whether we need to 1) reform government so that it will counter the power of huge corporations and empower ordinary working people, or 2) destroy government (except for the police and military – ha ha, little wonder why we’ll still need them!) and let the forces of unrestrained corporate capitalism run completely unchecked.

NPR just ran a story about how Ayn Rand’s philosophy has been gaining greater and greater traction in the U.S. Not too long ago, things like a social safety net, fair labor standards, environmental protections, public health programs, and anti-discrimination laws were widely considered to be the sign of a healthy society. Now, having any sort of socially inclusive vision at all is under relentless attack. The belief that we must work together for the common good is being trashed in favor of the singular value of untrammeled “individual freedom.”

When translated into real-world terms, this means insisting that the wealthy and powerful (i.e., the “1%”) are where they are because they’ve exercised their inherent “greatness” and therefore rightfully tower over the rest of us “mediocrities” (who should be grateful for the trickle-down benefits we receive from them, rather than churlishly demanding consumer protections, financial regulation, corporate accountability, progressive taxation, and so on).

As Peter Schwartz, a Distinguished Fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, California, explains in his op-ed, “In Defense of Income Inequality”:

 Criticizing income inequality is like complaining that a computer carries a higher price than a paper clip . . . in a free, capitalist system, income inequality represents something good. It means that exceptional individuals are free to do their productive best, and to reap their rewards. Whenever a Bill Gates arises to make his fortune, the income disparity between top and bottom increases–but so does everyone’s standard of living. If so, why shouldn’t we welcome an inequality–including a widening inequality–in incomes? And, instead of apologizing for this phenomenon, why aren’t our leaders denouncing the egalitarian enviers who want to level us all?

If you support this political perspective, then you can go ahead and shop Lululemon in good conscience. If not, then you might consider buying elsewhere  (and, if you’re a teacher, accepting sponsorship from a different company). Certainly, there’s other yoga clothing companies out there with values that are much more attractive to many, if not (hopefully) most yoga practitioners.

Lululemon has made it clear where they stand in terms of cultural and political values. And in a weird way, I applaud them for that.

But I wonder: How will the yoga community respond? Is it still going to stay so cool to support a company that endorses the right-wing politics that are destroying American democracy, with the top 1% having a greater net worth than the bottom 90%?

Or is it (I hope) time for a change?

For more coverage: Lululemon wants to know: Who is John Galt?

Occupy Lululemon.

And, In Defense of Ayn Rand.


About Carol Horton

Carol Horton, Ph.D. is the author of Race and the Making of American Liberalism, (Oxford University Press, 2005) and Yoga Ph.D.: Integrating the Life of the Mind and the Wisdom of the Body. With Roseanne Harvey, she is co-editor of 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics, and Practice. Carol blogs at Think Body Electric, and enjoys social media via Facebook and Twitter.


63 Responses to “Shopping Right (Wing): Lululemon’s Political Values.”

  1. Roger says:

    Excellent post! I read about this lulu post earlier today and was hoping someone would point out that this is actually a good thing. I have felt for a long time that much of the yoga culture has been overly focused on the vain aspects of looking good and kicking butt. Reading the lulu post on this I also enjoy seeing the obviously fake comments from whatever hack marketing firm came up with this truly viral post.

  2. Beth says:

    My god, is it refreshing to read a clearly written and well argued article in EJ.

    So many of the posts I've seen lately on EJ are rife with spelling errors, logical fallacies and flat-out nonsense that this post comes as a blessing to my tired eyes and intellect.

    I wish there were more thinkers like Carol to populate this site's pages. Her writing is crisp and thoughtful. A pleasure to read!

  3. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Well written, Carol.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
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  4. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage. Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook.

  5. C. Ann says:

    Makes me want to but MORE of their clothes. A shopping trip is needed immediately. Now if you would please be so kind and publish more about left wing stores so I can boycott them, I would appreciate it. Namaste

  6. So great to see this kind of informed, enlightened discussion, including a lean-in by Phil Goldberg. Huzzah! Great discussions around this topic all across the board on ele these past few days. Just love to see everyone's thoughts so well spoken and out in the open. Congratulations to everyone weighing in on the Lululemom/Rand topic, and thanks for letting me join in! Where Is My Guru has been staying abreast of these happenings on ele and posting on our Facebook page. Fantastic discourse, gang!

  7. yogijulian says:

    you go carol! yea, with you on it all….. two ironies jump out: 1) that ayn rand is a conservative hero but an avowed atheist and 2) that i often observe that the abundance/magical thinking/privileged because the universe takes care of us new age crowd is both a) much more aligned than we would like to think with political conservatism/libertarianism and a kind of backlash against the super liberal roots of yoga in america and b) that the cultural appropriation of conservative/puritan yogic philosophy combined with a kind of pantheist/panpsychic spirituality and anti-science touting of "the mystery" inevitably makes the yoga community a hotbed of unwitting (and unconscious) creationism in drag, that along with rampant postmodern relativist nonsense creates positions that play into the hands of conservative slogans like "teach the controversy…"

    the prosperity gospel and the secret have a lot in common. ayn rand and appropriated rationalizations regarding karma as a way to explain inequality and why it is ok to be privileged have a lot in common. the insistence that there must be a "spirit" behind the manifest universe and the belief in an anthropocentric god who created it all have a lot in common. the belief that everything happens for a reason and the universe will give you in return what you put out and show you magical signs if you are on the right path has a lot in common with christian notions of prayer, manifest destiny and other religious explanations for why the world is as it is – in all it's injustice and inequity.

    jus' sayin'

    for me yoga in america is part of a tradition of liberation from religious superstition, social repression, sexual uptightness, and psychological distortions of reality…. this however is not anymore the dominant strain, especially with the mainstreaming and commercialization of the practice.

  8. Fantastic article, Carol. Well done!

  9. sordog1 says:

    My yoga wardrobe comes variously from Walmart, thrift shops, gifts, and other not so trendy places. I am no fan of Ayn Rand. A world built by her rugged individualists would look even worse than the current huge gap we have in America. I guess this co. won't lose much potential business from me but I continue to teach my yoga classes at the prison and lead the meditations at Occupy with a view of a world where everyone has a good job with a living wage and enough time for family and spiritual development. I am feeling the shift of consciousness that will throw Ayn Rand's ideas into the dustbin of history.

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  11. integralhack says:

    Thanks for the–finally–thoughtful post on this topic, Carol. It just takes a modicum of research to discover what a nut job Rand really was. The irony is that I rather enjoyed The Fountainhead, but I enjoyed reading about Howard Roark in the same vein that I enjoy watching Don Draper on Madmen: they're both rather extreme caricatures (okay, okay, Don Draper is more well rounded and Madmen's writing is better) that inhabit a particular time period in which they can be tolerated. The world just can't afford that sort of egotistical tomfoolery today.

    I'm amused that folks take such inspiration from from Rand's writing. I think that Lulu-lemon is going to take a hit due to their pedantic John Galt advertisements.

  12. elephantjournal says:

    Harleigh Quinn I agree. My wife shopped them religiously, but she's also one of those that has been using spirituality as self help, so that says something there. She put us in major debt before she left the country and then left me with the debt when she left to follow MY dream of traveling to india and seeing the world, so that says something about the average, self absorbed lululemon shopper.

    Juliet Hewitt Wow. There is a good reason to do more shopping with Prana and their other competitors.

    Aubrey Hicks On one hand, I'm thrilled that more companies are being more up-front about their political agendas and ideology. On the other – it's so scary that Ayn Rand and her objectivist theories have gained such a hold on American politics. Seems fitting that these would come to light just as the OWS movement is gaining momentum. Ayn Rand was not a nice woman and her politics (along with Reaganomics finally trickling down) have created a me-first society in which the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and those in the middle fight tooth and nail to stay there.

    Vedanta Saraswati I would shop with non if them. To do a physical practice all you need is comfortable clothing to allow for free movement and enough space move your body. Does one really need to buy special items from so called special retailers?

    Sammy Brown Goodrich Thank you Vedanta

    My yoga wardrobe comes variously from Walmart, thrift shops, gifts, and other not so trendy places. I am no fan of Ayn Rand. A world built by her rugged individualists would look even worse than the current huge gap we have in America. I guess this co. won't lose much potential business from me but I continue to teach my yoga classes at the prison and lead the meditations at Occupy with a view of a world where everyone has a good job with a living wage and enough time for family and spiritual development. I am feeling the shift of consciousness that will throw Ayn Rand's ideas into the dustbin of history.

  13. brie says:

    I believe you've taken Ayn Rand out of context. Here are several counter sentiments.
    1 "Achievement of your happiness is the only moral purpose of your life, and that happiness, not pain or mindless self-indulgence, is the proof of your moral integrity, since it is the proof and the result of your loyalty to the achievement of your values."- Ayn Rand
    2 "Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one's values."-Ayn Rand
    3 "The purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live." -Ayn Rand
    4 "Do not ever say that the desire to "do good" by force is a good motive. Neither power-lust nor stupidity are good motives.-
    Ayn Rand

    So what if lululemon cashes in on individualism? Even walmart cashes in on "Peace."

    How about you make your own tote bags, and figure out who you are?

  14. Rustin says:

    “As for what you ask about Ayn Rand and her influence on the American right, I think it’s extremely interesting. There is a strain… I’m sure a lot of people watching this have read either Atlas Shrugged, or the Fountainhead, and perhaps imbibe some of the Randian doctrine, which is best summarised I think, in her book The Virtue of Selfishness. I’ve always thought it quaint, and rather touching that there is in America, a movement that thinks people are not yet selfish enough. I’ve met some of its supporters. They call themselves objectivists, and I’ve debated with them, but I’ve never got the bottom of that problem. They think that really, America is a society already rotten with too much socialism and compassion, and it’s just so refreshing to meet people who manage to get through their day actually believing that.”
    Christopher Hitchens on Ayn Rand

  15. Katerinaflower says:

    I'm curious Carol if you've read a recent article on that was written on September 21, 2011? It is about how children in Bolivia have unionized in order to secure their right to work, to have fair wages, to guarantee protection from their government, and to gain respect from their community. These children want to work so that they can earn money to feed themselves, attend school and to establish businesses to secure their future. Sometimes issues are not black and white and this may be one of them. Our opinions regarding "child labor" may have to take into account the specific country and their unique circumstances. What do you think?

  16. Valeie Carruthers says:

    Carol your post is brilliant, profound and disturbing, as well it should be. What it's coming down to today is that before shopping any mass marketer or big ticket retailer we need to know exactly what agendas we're actually supporting. Think of it this way: if Lululemon was running for president would you vote for it? I know I wouldn't.

    BTW, that L-L tote bag is downright eery. Reminds me of some neo-expressionst art from the Nineties that juxtaposed mundane cultural symbology (here anonymous figures performing asanas) on one half of the canvas with some kind of ominous image on the other half (here the mysterious John Galt). Are they to be seen as polar opposites? As equals? As canceling each other out? Or as contestants in a cosmic arena with only one possible victor? You are the viewer. You have the power to decide.

  17. daren says:

    So there is some intelligent life here at Elephant.

  18. diamon says:

    its about time all of this subversive stuff came out about this company–they have long been manipulating yoga studios and many of us have been long aware of their unethical practices. They have sucked in teachers to be "ambassadors" to essentially have them work for free and keep them close and connected so they will be reticent to speak out against the company. Thank you for this wonderful article-hey if your conservative, don't mind child labor or even yogic values be y guest wear their pants and be their ambassador

  19. Jessica says:

    Thank you for this even handed, intelligent analysis. With the recent news Lululemon has made because of the cold blooded killing perpetrated in one of their retail stores, one employee killing the other, the LL media fiasco may cause the removal of these tote bags in association with the Ayn Rand character and marketing altogether. The new branding? A Bates Motel tote bag to go along with their new, unsettling brand image (and all in the name of a couple pairs of sweat shop yoga pants to die for). Apologies for the tasteless humor.

  20. Jya_D_NY says:

    Good article!

    Does anyone have a list of alternative Yoga clothing companies, with perhaps 'neutral' political view? Or hey, why not go crazy and have a few that promote social and societal well – being?

    And last but not least, do 'we' need specific yoga clothing? Is there a 'do/create it yourself' crowd out there? Any "how to create a good yoga outfit from thrift store finds"?

  21. […] clear that the Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged references were not placed on the company’s bags for the sake of controversy, but are deeply […]

  22. […] Shopping Right (Wing): Lululemon’s Political Values. […]

  23. JaredG says:


    Your bringing up Lululemon’s promotion of Ayn Rand’s philosophy (and what it represents to a larger extent) is fair in your quest to reveal what you see as their misguided corporate philosophy.

    My confusion is to why you needed to bring up Landmark Education in order to do this.

    HAVE YOU EVER TAKEN THE LANDMARK FORUM? If you have not, it is pretty irresponsible of you to be publicly denouncing and slandering a reputable, international company that is positively affecting people’s lives on a daily basis.

    As I see it, Landmark Education is Buddhism in action. Their programs distill the most poignant, remarkable insights from all the great Eastern Traditions (Buddhism, Taoism, Yoga, etc.) and compile them into programs and seminars that are understandable and immediately relevant to anyone, regardless of your class, income, religion, etc. Through an engaging dialogue and inquiry, which is optional, they give you tools to view your life in new ways, allowing you to effect powerful change in your life regardless of your circumstances.

    Landmark Education is not a cult, and in no way manipulates any one.

    You might find some people who did not like their programs, or were uncomfortable looking at themselves and their lives the way Landmark asks you to (they tend to be the ones writing articles online). So what? Just go ahead and live the life you were living before; that’s no problem. But you don’t need to slander an organization that is committed to people finding peace and happiness within themselves, their families, and their communities! Yoga alone certainly can’t do that for the entire world. Landmark alone can’t do that for the entire world. But they are both incredibly powerful means to an end that we all strive for: peace and happiness within ourselves, our families, and our communities!

    Here’s a great article from Yoga Journal incorporating some of these ideas.

  24. […] a lot of diversity right inside that prime white female demographic. Last week’s controversy over Lululemon’s “Who is John Galt” bag promo, for example, demonstrated that while some women hate this mixture of yoga and right-wing politics, […]

  25. Frank says:

    I appreciated the article. It is important to know the views and political leanings of corporations so we can make and informed, intelligent choice as to whether we want to support them or not. This includes both right and left wing consumers. I do have a question for Carol, however, while I do agree with her article's basic theme, I struggle to find the relevance of the reference to the "Columbus Day Celebrates Wetern Civilzation." article being somehow a negative thing. What is wrong with Western Civilzation?

  26. Lianne says:

    Excellent article, Carol. (I wrote a blog post about some of this years ago and someone from Lululemon emailed me many times trying to convince me to remove the post.

    There is great irony to the fact that Lululemon has it's foundation in a country (Canada) that was able to provide Lulu with the talent and creativity it needed to grow exactly *because* it is a country with strong public education program, excellent universal healthcare and a deep ethic of social justice.

  27. have to agree with Carol here. I would appreciate a more clear articulation of how Rand's philosophy and Yogic philosophy have worked for you. It seems your being a bit coy Leslie in telling everyone to read the books instead of explaining your thoughts on them. Maybe I just don't want to read the books though.

  28. […] interview of John Friend by Waylon Lewis, where John dispelled all rumor and innuendo. Next was the Lululemon and John Galt scandal, revealing Lulu’s ties to a conservative agenda and the crisis of conscience that that […]

  29. […] the clerk selling them to me scribbled in chalk on a blackboard by the door.”“Thank God someone‘s brave enough to speak out on behalf of child labor. I am so sick of Big Youth pushing […]

  30. Wow, incredible weblog format! How lengthy have you ever been running a blog for? you make running a blog glance easy. The total glance of your web site is great, as smartly as the content material!

  31. […] is a nonprofit and it shows: Being Yoga was suffused with a sense of being mission rather than market-driven. The conference setting, size, and program offerings combined to create an experience that felt […]

  32. […] a lot of diversity right inside that prime white female demographic. Last week’s controversy over Lululemon’s “Who is John Galt” bag promo, for example, demonstrated that while some women hate this mixture of yoga and right-wing politics, […]

  33. […] is a nonprofit and it shows: Being Yoga was suffused with a sense of being mission rather than market-driven. The conference setting, size, and program offerings combined to create an experience that felt […]

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