How Lululemon lost my <3.

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Is Lululemon a yoga sell-out? I hope not.

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.* 

Couple years back, Lululemon—a successful national chain and home of the butt-flattering yoga pants—came into elephant journal’s hometown, Boulder. Directly competing with longtime little local indie dance, climbing and yoga gear shops was unavoidable, and we gave ’em the benefit of the doubt. Frankly, it’s nice to see someone make a big success in our demographic (Whole Foods for lunch, anyone?).

Lulu advertised in our (indie) publication a few times (seriously, thanks!)…and then left us like yesterday’s news as soon as they were established. After maybe four years, they (and their Stepford-happy Ambassadors) seem about as connected to community as…well, anyone too used to thinking of their community as a demographic.

Look to prAna, Patagonia, if you wanna see bigger companies connecting with (and supporting) their own demographic out of inspiration, not success.

*a fact that their board-room suits would probably admit if you gave ’em one too many mate lattes.

BTW: google “Lululemon” and you’ll find an unusually high number of similar threads out there—whether on Yogadork, my latest fave yoga site, or random spots around the internet, Flickr, etc. Here’s one via Salon, which goes into much more depth than my post, above. Excerpt:

Lululemon is pop culture’s answer to wearable spirituality. You don’t have to be spiritual. You don’t even have to do yoga. Pull on a $200+ Lululemon yoga outfit and voila – you’re surrounded by an aura of faux enlightenment that Lululemon parades on its shopping bags with its “manifesto” which is really just a random collection of sayings like:

“The pursuit of happiness is the source of all unhappiness.”

“That which matters most should never give way to that which matters least.”

Or this rather strangely-worded one that gives me the creeps:

“Children are the orgasm of life. Just like you did not know what an orgasm was before you had one, nature does not let you know how great children are until you actually have them.”

(Want to read them all? Here you go. They’re proudly displayed on their website.)

There’s something about self-promoting nuggets of packaged insight on the side of a shopping bag that turns my stomach. It’s just over-priced clothing, okay? But clearly, it’s much more according to founder Chip Wilson.

The self-important founder over-impressed with himself

In explaining the formation of Lululemon, Wilson talks about the pill, women’s lib, super-women trying to do it all, superheros, breast cancer and another generation of women freed to be themselves. He concludes with this statement, “Ultimately, Lululemon was formed because female education levels, breast cancer, yoga/athletics and the desire to dress feminine came together all at one time.”

This final sentence follows some of the worst dribble I’ve ever read masquerading as social science commentary. It’s remarkable to think that the man who espouses this also built a company that now has more than 100 outlets and $340 million in annual revenue. Then again, Jerry Falwell and Ted Haggard also built great financial empires.

The corporate hypocrisy

Everyone knows Lululemon costs more than yoga wear needs to cost. Maybe giving away all this free spiritual advice is why the clothes cost so damn much.

It couldn’t be the actual cost to make them.

Seventy percent of their clothing is manufactured in third-world countries with factories in China, Taiwan, South Korea, South America, Israel, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.

The Lululemon website explains, “Global economic forces…have shifted manufacturing to more cost-attractive locations and resulted in closures of some domestic factories.”

The truth according to Lululemon is evidently a Rashemon-like multi-versioned thing. On the one hand, Lululemon stands for values like spirituality, fairness, and freedom. On the other hand...for the rest, click here.

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anonymous Jun 23, 2012 10:52am

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anonymous Aug 8, 2011 6:56am

Okay sincerely.. that’s got to be false. possibly I’m not seeing it correctly but a real ring that size would be a ridiculous amount of cash. Like way ridiculous.

anonymous Feb 25, 2011 3:17pm

Want to know the actual "orgasm of life"? AN ORGASM. Thank god I don't have a child every time I have an orgasm. Eesh.

Lululemon, you're ridiculous. And expensive.

anonymous Feb 25, 2011 1:40pm

[…] the company is a “yoga poser,” “sell-out,” and is quickly losing <3s due to their blatant consumerism and failure to use eco-friendly materials. (We’re having […]

anonymous Feb 18, 2011 4:58pm

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

anonymous Jan 21, 2011 1:57pm

[…] […]

anonymous Oct 27, 2010 7:19pm

[…] Free Yoga Clothes: Lost and found is an excellent way to ‘find’ that lost pair of Lululemon pants that you thought were gone forever but that you really never bought in the first place. 8. […]

anonymous Oct 23, 2010 7:52pm

The free classes are great marketing for locally-owned studios. One of my dear friends owns a studio and loves teaching the free classes because it brings in more customers to his business. The free classes are like a gateway drug – it lets you try yoga in a risk-free non-competitive environment, find an instructor you like and then make it a habit. Everyone wins.

    anonymous Oct 26, 2010 10:44pm

    Ditto, it's a win-win strategic relationship with everyone. So what if they've chosen to market non-traditionally, via free classes and relationships with local instructors, rather than spend money (however little) to advertise more traditionally in a yoga journal? Sounds like sour grapes, more than anything else.

anonymous Sep 29, 2010 1:01am

[…] clothes, but do not love their customer service, I do not love their policies, and frankly I find their employees to be a little cultish, a little too chipper, and a little too interested in where I do yoga and where I work […]

anonymous Apr 25, 2010 10:37am

Lots of fantasticinformation and inspiration.

anonymous Jan 29, 2010 8:55am

[…] fold sense of the term.  Not to mention, bulky pads won’t look so cute in your skin-tight Lululemon pants and if you’re thinking tampons will save the day, can i just say: queef? If you don’t […]

anonymous May 25, 2009 2:01pm

geez…whats the problem here…if you can afford it, buy it, wear it! they look great, feel great, and last forever!

anonymous Apr 6, 2009 8:37pm

Thanks for posting this!!
Shouldn't we always (as much as possible, at least) push ourselves to think critically about where we shop and which companies/organizations we support? Although Lulu does do some work with community organizations, is their presence an overall positive or negative to the Boulder community (or others)? Does giving back to Boulder non-profits justify exporting most of their production from the US and Canada to economically poor nations in order to make a larger profit? Lulu claims the factories they are connected with employ the best business practices, but I wonder if this is really true (… maybe I have seen China Blue too many times).
I also enjoyed the Salon piece too. It reminded me of why I left my job at Boulder's Lulu, and moved on to a local family-owned Boulder business.
Thanks again! Kelsi

anonymous Apr 6, 2009 5:33pm

As a yoga practitioner, I LOVE lululemon. I have had the same yoga outfits for 3+ years and it has not faded , lost its shape, or fallen apart. I have not had to replace it. What could be more eco than that? I don't have to buy, buy, buy more pants and tops that fade, get holes in them , fall apart and fall off of me! Not only that but they look nice on my no so modelesque body. unfortunately some other (locally made) brands whose names I will not mention have inconsistent sizing, poor workmanship and they lose their shape after a while. I say the local brands need to get with the program and offer quality product if they want my market share!

    anonymous Oct 23, 2010 3:37pm

    Great point—quality products that last are eco, at least after manufacture. But wouldn't you feel better about supporting fair labor, made in the US/Canada?

anonymous Apr 4, 2009 5:56pm

[…] will be off-gassing for another ten years… 4.  Your yoga instructor is dressed head to toe in Lululemon, complete with matching headband. Walking billboard? Or corporate […]

elephant journal Apr 3, 2009 2:57pm

Victoria Everman at 4:29pm April 2
I've been on the fence about lululemon since I started practicing yoga in high school …

Joktan Rogel at 4:36pm April 2
Wow. I haven't been creeped out so much by a brand in a long, long time.

Starre Vartan at 5:31pm April 2
Interesting, I've heard so much positive and lots of negative about them. Why is a yoga clothing company so controversial? A bit odd.

Waylon Hart Lewis at 5:35pm April 2
read the post!

Wilson Bell at 6:07pm April 2
Don't know that much about Lululemon, but a little precision would help the article: last I checked, neither South Korea nor Israel are generally considered "third world countries", and "South America" is not a country. That being said, it is always sad when corporations think only about the bottom line.

Waylon Hart Lewis at 6:48pm April 2
Wilson! Brother, great to hear from you.

That's the Salon excerpt you're referring to? Their point should be about fair labor practices.

Elaine Waterman at 7:11pm April 2
Wait, who are the stepford-happy ambassadors you are referring to?

Doreen Hing at 8:21pm April 2
I know what you're doing and I agree with you, it's more the generalised, common denominator comments that bother me, when people have no real idea of what's involved with bringing a product to market and everyone tells you to make it cheaper. I totally agree that responsible business practices will play an important role for change both for the environment and the economy. Again trying to get stuff for free or cheaper, whether it's a consumable or loan, something's got to give.

Starre Vartan at 8:24pm April 2
I did read…just being rhetorical…..still strikes me as a bit wacky, the whole thing.

Waylon Hart Lewis at 8:54am April 3
Ah. Well, Starre, all I can say is that any time a business goes big on the backs of a spiritual or religious community, there'll be lots of cynicism and concern if said business is seen to be anything less than mission-driven.

anonymous Apr 3, 2009 3:29am

no comment….
(but seriously. it needs to be said. again. and again. and again. when will we finally get that corporations are not "IT"???! they NEVER have been and NEVER will be. i guess it will take the entire collapse of the empire for us to realize that it's all about local. communities and home grown goodness afterall…… and above all, don't F with my yoga.)

elephant journal Apr 3, 2009 2:10am

Great to hear more, I wish you wouldn't enlighten my cynicism with actual facts, you're taking wind out of my haughty sails!

elephant journal Apr 3, 2009 2:08am

Elaine Waterman at 7:11pm April 2
Wait, who are the stepford-happy ambassadors you are referring to?

Wilson Bell at 7:17pm April 2
Ahh, yes… it was the excerpt. I enjoy your posts!

Doreen Hing at 7:23pm April 2
There is nothing wrong with yoga & business. As a wholesaler it is tiresome to hear people complaining about overseas manufacturing and that corps only care about $. When all the time everyone is trying to beat down prices. I know one or two of their manufacturing facilities and altho' I've not performed a private investigation, the factories that I know that they use, do practice fair labour principles.
I'm not the biggest fan of LL, mainly from a design concept perspective, and its domination of the yoga market place. However, they bring the yoga message to the mainstream and I think that's a good thing.
I have no idea if LL overcharge for their clothing etc… but as a previous shoe designer, I used to work for a company that made the same shoe at 5 different price points to satisfy 5 different demographics. i.e. using better grade factories and materials for the higher end brands to lower grade materials and factories for the low end.

Doreen Hing at 7:28pm April 2
So get over the fact their pants cost $X and u can get them cheaper for $Y. There is always going to be a cheaper version of any product. You have a choice and that's what the US consumer market is all about. You all decided to make LL as big as it has become, Chip's not the one handing over your credit card…

Waylon Hart Lewis at 8:00pm April 2
Elaine, write a point counter point we'll publish it on!

Waylon Hart Lewis at 8:07pm April 2
Doreen: "You have a choice & that's what the US consumer market is all about…" Amen to that! Conscious consumerism, ultimately it's up to us to express our vote w/our voice &/or dollars, & that's exactly what I'm doing. That said, there's another half to the equation, as we've seen w/Wall St. and AIG, Merrill Lynch etc. There's bottom up conscious (or unconscious) consumerism—& there's bottom-down corporate responsibility, or lack thereof. Have you studied the story of Ray Anderson, Yvon Chouinard, Dov Charney? It's all gray, not black & white (but Patagonia's Footprint Chronicles shows)…but some businesses try, out of inspiration, mission, to leave our world better 4 the next 7 generations. And some forgo that opportunity…& get caught up in the bottomline, selling spirituality or adventure. And u can smell it when they're genuine—"born of the experience," as w/Be Present, Simple or Eileen Fisher, however imperfect their practices and compromises may be. Likewise, u can smell the lack of intention with others.

elephant journal Apr 2, 2009 11:14pm

Victoria at 4:29pm April 2
I've been on the fence about lululemon since I started practicing yoga in high school …

Joktan at 4:36pm April 2
Wow. I haven't been creeped out so much by a brand in a long, long time.