April 2, 2009

How Lululemon lost my <3.

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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