“Who is John Galt?” The question is the opening line of Atlas Shrugged, the novel by Ayn Rand that was published in 1957.
Rand’s philosophy promotes the idea of individuals living for their self-interest and free enterprise. In its blog, the company said that Dennis J. Wilson, Lululemon’s founder and chairman, first read Atlas Shrugged when he was 18 years old.
“Only later, looking back, did he realize the impact the book’s ideology had on his quest to elevate the world from mediocrity to greatness (Lululemon’s company vision),” the blog post stated. “Our bags are visual reminders for ourselves to live a life we love and conquer the epidemic of mediocrity. We all have a John Galt inside of us, cheering us on. How are we going to live lives we love?”
Lululemon recently ended a campaign offering free yoga outfits to the first 40 people who lined up outside the door and stripped naked. Everyone knows Lululemon is over priced yoga wear.
Maybe giving away all this free spiritual advice is why the clothes cost so much. One of the things I love about yoga is that it takes me away from the commercial world. Remember one of those lines from the lulu-shopping bag? “That which matters most should never give way to that which matters least.”
Chip Wilson, CEO and founder of Lululemon apparel, told the delegates of recent BALLE BC conference, he defends the practice of child forced labor and sweatshops. Wilson told the delegates that third world children should be allowed to work in factories because it provides them with much needed wages.
Does this sound like the values of yoga to you? It may. That’s your choice. Carol Horton, former political science professor and policy analyst, recently reincarnated in this life as a yoga teacher and blogger, Author of Race and the Making of American Liberalism, wrote: “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. We’re in the middle of a crisis that turns on the question of whether we need to reform or let the forces of unrestrained corporate capitalism run completely unchecked…”
Apparently it all comes down to profit. With net revenues of $239 million for 2011, six times the level reached in 2004, Chip has more than 100 outlets and $340 million in annual revenue. “Ultimately, Lululemon was formed because female education levels, breast cancer, yoga/athletics and the desire to dress feminine came together all at one time,” Chip said.
North American name brands had intense appeal in Japan, and consumers there paid a premium for authentic product. In his blog, he wrote: “By including an “L” in the name it was thought the Japanese consumer would find the name innately North American and authentic…”
To create a North American sounding brand with the letter “L” because the sound does not exist in Japanese phonetics, he challenged himself to come up with a name that ha three “L’s” for his new company vision. According to a National Post Business Magazine article, which had honoured him for his product innovation, Wilson said that: “It’s funny to watch them try and say it.”
In the 2004 May-June issue of Yoga Journal, when Lululemon started outsourcing to China, the company placed a controversial ad in Yoga Journal magazine showing a fake newspaper article with adults dressed in diapers, with bonnets and pacifiers, at sewing machines.
Attached to the article is a post-it note from Chip asking, “How did this get out?”
The ad was meant to elicit reactions on the global travesty of child labor in an ironic way.
“We’re also sensitive of society’s tendency to villianize corporations, and as we grow, we wanted to be proactive and deter individuals and the media from condemning an innocent, ethical company as unethical,” Wilson said in a press release.
Seventy percent of their clothing is manufactured in third-world countries. Including 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.”
Their stated mission is: “To elevate the world from mediocrity to a place of greatness.”
I wonder if the children and adults working in the Thai and Vietnamese factories are rising above their own mediocrity?
Wilson reportedly argued that even in Canada there is a place for 12 and 13-year-olds to find work in local factories as an alternative to collecting handouts: “I look at it the same way the WTO does it, and that is that the single easiest way to spread wealth around the world is to have poor countries pull themselves out of poverty,” Wilson told The Tyee.
BALLE BC executive director Penny Scott was at the speech in January. “He was really raising a grey area, and didn’t address the other issues, like where these kids are living, what they’re being paid, if they’re going to school, if they’re being taken care of in those other ways,” Scott said.
“Ninety-five per cent of the factories I’ve seen in the Orient are far better than ones in North America,” Wilson said at the Business Alliance of Local Living Economies conference in Vancouver in 2005. “In China, many people come from the western provinces and their goal is to work seven days a week 16 hours a day, because in five years they want to have a pile of money to go home with and start a business.”
Wilson sees a similar situation in Canada. “In Canada for instance, 99 percent of our factory workers are Chinese women sewers. If you were to work them eight-hour days, they will be mad at you. If you only work them five days a week for only eight hours, they’ll say, ‘What are you doing? I don’t want to work for you.’ If you do only work them that much, they walk out of their shift at four o’clock and walk across the street to another factory and work another six hours. This is in Vancouver, in Canada.” Not everyone believes Wilson is qualified to judge the labor standards of another country.
“The question is, Chip, how do you know that? Show me the money. Are you auditing those factories? Have you seen those payroll stubs? What are their overtime wages? If he’s suggesting that overtime or inaccurately paid wages are not an issue in offshore factories, then he’s walking through them with his eyes closed,” Denise Taschereau, manager of the social and environmental responsibility at the Mountain Equipment Co-op, said that Chip demonstrated little understanding of the issues at the BALLE BC conference.
Miriam Palacios, BC program coordinator for Oxfam Canada, reportedly claimed: “Just because the factories look modern on the inside does not mean the workers inside are being treated fairly—being paid a living wage, or are provided with health care or an education.”
In 2010, employees had filed an amended complaint, where they specify that the possible case encompass 1,400 current/former Lululemon employees who worked at least two overtime hours per week and did not receive pay.
A lawsuit filed against Lululemon in 2010 alleged that Lululemon had compelled employees to watch Landmark motivational movies at home and to attend classes—all without compensation. The damages may top five million dollars.
In a scandal in Toronto, a mother, Norma Columbus, and her 17-year-old daughter, Heather, found the message after they washed the reusable bag. Its exterior began to peel off and underneath a layer of cheeky quotes is a second note about aerobic exercise resulting in a similar high as sex or drugs.
It said: “Some brief or quick incidences when our minds are clear to be creative are when drunk or stoned…just after an orgasm.” And: “There is a little difference between addicts and fanatic athletes. Both are continually searching for a way to remain in a creative state.” A company spoke person said the message isn’t a joke although it wasn’t meant to be viewed by the public.
But the question is does our ethical obligation outweigh the cost of dressing in Lululemon? Recently I read on their bag: “Nature wants us to be mediocre because we have a greater chance to survive and reproduce. Mediocrity is as close to the bottom as it is to the top, and will give you a lousy life.”
Greatness should not be sought at the expense of our humanity and integrity. I think it is a wild misinterpretation of life that we must be reaching in order to achieve some level of “greatness,” expansion and reward; we are whole—we do not need fear Lulu-mediocrity and we do not need Lulu pants to fill our void.
Either Wilson should remove these words from his company website, or begin living up to the same level of greatness (and lack of mediocrity) that he prescribes.
Chip. “The Name Lululemon Athletica.” Lululemon Athletica. March 30, 2009. Feb. 2012. http://www.lululemon.com/community/blog/how-the-name-lululemon-athletica-was-created/
“Controversial Message Uncovered in Lululemon Bags.” CTV News. April 16, 2008. Feb.2012. http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/TopStories/20080416/Lululemon_controversy_080416/
Deveau, Scott. “Yoga Mogul Has Critics in a Knot: Chip Wilson’s provocative words on child labor and garment worker put Lululemon under scrutiny.” The Tyee. Feb. 2005. Feb.2012.http://thetyee.ca/News/2005/02/17/LuluCritics/
Horton, Carol. “Shopping Right (Wing): Lululemon’s Political Values.” Elephant Journal. Nov 20, 2011. Feb. 2012.http://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/11/shopping-right-wing-lululemons-political-values/
Jessie. “Lululemon: Child Labor and Advertising.” Lululemon Athletica. Feb. 2012.http://members.shaw.ca/edmond.li/jessie/pages/lululemonarticle3.htm
Lawrence, Stewart. “Murder at Lululemon: Yoga’s ‘Heart of Darkness.’ Huffington Post. Nov 09, 2011. Feb. 2012.http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mobileweb/stewart-j-lawrence/when-yogis-kill-the-grisl_b_1077457.html
Tabakman, Mark. “Taking Exercise Classes and Watching Inspirational Videos in Working Time? FLSA Collective Action Hits Lululemon Athletica.” Fox Rothschild LLP Attorneys at Law. Sept. 27, 2010. Feb. 2012.http://wagehourlaw.foxrothschild.com/tags/lululemon/
“Why I Dislike Lululemon More Than Ever: Fired For Now Blog.” March 31, 2009. Feb. 2012.http://open.salon.com/blog/firedfornow/2009/03/31/why_i_dislike_lululemonmore_than_before
Sara Jean Deegan lives in southern California, and when she’s not practicing or teaching yoga, she can be found writing poems or playing her guitar, and her vegan tiger striped pit bull-lab is her best friend. You can find more writing and fun yoga sequences on her blog: dsarajean.tumblr.com.
Editor: Mel Squarey