The Real Reason I Won’t Buy Lululemon.

Via Kimberly Lo
on Nov 14, 2013
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Street Seamstress

Relephant: In Defense of Lululemon’s CEO, Chip Wilson.

It seems that everyone has an opinion about Lululemon these days.

That’s hardly surprising since the founder, Chip Wilson, just cannot seem to open his mouth without firmly planting his foot in it.  (In just the past few weeks alone, he’s made comments blaming fat women and the friction of their thighs for the infamous see-through pants scandal and even suggested that high-power career women were to blame for the increased rates of breast cancer. Or something like that—their affinity for smoking and taking the pill, both?)

You really couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried.

Still, whether it’s the intention or not, all this is generating tons of publicity for Lululemon. Love ’em or hate ’em, even the company’s harshest critics have to admit that their success and association with yoga is nothing short of astounding. The company was only founded in 1998.

Despite a rough economy, Lululemon, until recently that is, have continued to make a lot of money. While I have no idea about all the factors that contribute to its success, there is no doubt that “snob appeal” plays a huge role in it. Wearing a pair of $98 yoga pants sends a clear message: I have enough disposable income to spend on such things.

I first learned about Lululemon about five or six years ago. I noticed several women in various group yoga classes wearing tanks and pants sporting that distinctive logo. I had no idea what it meant or what brand it was, but I noticed that more people were showing up in those clothes.

During teacher training, one of the most memorable conversations we had involved Lululemon clothing. To this day, I can clearly recall the joy and excitement many of my fellow trainees expressed over the fact that a Lululemon store was opening up in town.

As expected the store did well, and I was among the many people who plunked down $98 or more for its yoga pants and other items.

I freely admit that I felt like one of the cool kids in my Lululemon gear. It didn’t matter if those around me noticed that I was wearing it or not: I knew I was and I felt like a member of a clique. (Plus, I was now a certified yoga teacher to boot.)

However, my trips to the local Lululemon shop became fewer and fewer. Simply put, the stuff was not wearing well. After about six months or so, I noticed that my Lululemon tanks and pants were pilling. In a moment of complete honesty, I laid my Lululemon gear next to some other yoga clothes that, for all I know, may have been made in the same Asian sweatshop as the Lululemon gear, and I noticed no difference at all between them except the logo. Truth be told, some of the latter items actually looked a lot better despite being several years old.

Furthermore, after reading about the clothing industry and educating myself about the plight of clothing workers in developing countries, I could not in good conscious justify paying the over-inflated prices for stuff that I knew was made in a sweatshop.

It also did not help matters that I discovered in my research that unlike some other companies who claim ignorance over the conditions of their factories especially when it comes to the use of child labor, Wilson not only acknowledged in 2005 that they knew but even justified it, saying that they were actually helping poor Asian families and many of them wanted to work up to 16 hours a day.

The idea that perhaps these workers might actually be better off doing something besides sewing their clothing never seemed to cross Wilson’s mind.

In a nutshell, the combination of shoddy workmanship and poor working conditions of its workers was the reason that I stopped buying from there.

To me, that is even more outrageous then all the comments Wilson has made over the years.

While I doubt Lululemon executives are ever going to ask me for my opinion, I am still going to offer: while apologizing for comments by Wilson is the right thing to do, if you want to make amends, how about manufacturing your clothes in Canada or some other first world place with standards, and focus more on the quality?

Likewise, to all those who are rightfully appalled by Wilson’s comments and vow not to buy from Lululemon take a look where your other yoga clothes are manufactured. Just because a rival’s company’s founder does not make boneheaded statements in public does not necessarily mean its products are any better either, as far as quality or manufacturing practices go.

Lastly, lest anyone thinks I am jumping on the bandwagon and kicking Lululemon while it’s down, that is not my goal. Rather, my hope is that people look past the outrageous comments of its founder and look at the products they are selling.

While it’s ultimately up to an individual if they wish to buy products from Lululemon or not, it’s just as important to look at what they are buying and the conditions under which they are being made.

While my newest yoga pants may lack a logo or a clever name, they do give me something that is far more rewarding: the peace of mind of knowing they were manufactured in decent working conditions and enough money left over to pay for some yoga classes.

Keep your clique. I’m choosing to opt out of it.


Chip Wilson, Founder of lululemon, Apologizes. [Video]

Say No to Lululemon! 

Why I Don’t Hate Lululemon.

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Your Clothes. 

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 Editor: Catherine Monkman

{Photo: Wikimedia Commons.}


About Kimberly Lo

Kimberly Lo is a yoga instructor and freelance editor & writer based in Charlottesville, VA. In her spare time, she enjoys needlework, travel, and photography. Connect with her on Facebook.


64 Responses to “The Real Reason I Won’t Buy Lululemon.”

  1. kimberlylowriter says:

    "Despite the fact that manufacturing in Asia is cheaper. It's better quality. They have better technology and better technicians."

    I just want to point out that the above statement is not necessarily true. Yes, SOME of the manufacturing in Asia-esp. China-is home to factories with better technology and technicians, but not all are. The same can be said for SOME of the manufacturing in the US, the EU, and other companies. (I've referenced this book a lot on here, but again, "Overdressed" by Elizabeth Cline addresses these very issues.) Just because a factory is in Asia does not mean it has the best technology. In fact, the vast majority in, say, China do not.

    BTW, nearly all this better technology is coming from the developed world and being sent to developing countries in Asia. It's not the other way around.

    Secondly, has it ever been proven by independent, third parties that Luon is a superior material? lululemon may say it is, but that does not necessarily make it so.

    Plus, I would advise people to do some research on the chemicals that goes into a lot of these "performance" fabrics and the possible risks they have to human and environmental health.

    I am not trying to be an alarmist-just want to point out that these innovative materials do not automatically equal better.

    Plus, one could argue at the end of the day, we are talking about yoga wear-not space suits. All clothes wear out eventually and more often than not, they end up in landfills.

  2. kimberlylowriter says:

    One more thing I wanted to add, the irony that so many associate lululemon with yoga is not lost on me. For centuries, people practiced yoga in cotton loincloths. The goal is not to be the best at postures. In fact, yoga is not about the poses at all. The majority of people who are buying these products with all their "technologically advanced" bells and whistles are not pro athletes. No one actually needs this to practice yoga. Plus, at the risk of repeating myself, mastering asana isn't even the point of yoga.

    However, for argument's sake, let's say it is and we are talking about professional athletes. Is this technology worth it if it means that the people making these items are working up to 16 hours a day for very little money often times in unsafe working conditions?

    Everyone has different priorities, but I can honestly say that the conditions that my clothing were made under matter more to me than, say, if I can wear them for two hours or more after a practice not have to worry if they stink.

    Lastly, FWIW, I have noticed that my own lululemon stuff has not held up that well. I teach and practice yoga up to 5-6 a week, so I am in yoga clothing a lot.

  3. kimberlylowriter says:

    Very cool! I am flattered to have inspired you!

  4. tinctoria says:

    I completely agree with you when you say that there are also great facilities in America and in Europe. But the sad thing is that is where money comes in. LLL is a Wall St company after all, and now it's about profit margins. You're also correct about the technology coming from other parts of the world, some of the most exciting innovations are coming from Europe. The seacell in Vitasea is from Germany and the same company has exciting developments using Zinc Oxide.

    Luon does everything it says it does. It is manufactured by Eclat in Taiwan and they have EXTENSIVE testing on all their products. I do know that test results by Eclat, LLL, and also a third party all exist but it does in fact seem odd to me that LLL (a company who talks about educating the consumer) don't at least make these results available to the consumer, if they have nothing to hide (and they may well have something to hide) then at least it will silence the naysayers. If Luon did not do what it says it does, LLL would not be paying as much for it as they are, and Luon is their biggest range of fabric…they wouldn't put all their eggs in a faulty basket, although these recent pilling and sheer issues may beg to differ.

    What you say about chemicals in synthetics is very interesting. I believe you do have cause to be alarmed, it can get pretty nasty and of course that information can be very difficult to find. But do know that not ALL synthetics are awful. A lot of companies out there are really pushing for change and for closed loop production and change is happening. It is happening slower than it should but all the top sports brands are all pushing hard for change (without dramatically affecting their profit margins of course…)

    Please also keep in mind I do agree with everything that is being written here and I'm not saying LLL is perfect. In fact I own very few pieces of LLL, there are other brands out there whose vision I believe in more and I choose to support them over LLL.

  5. Sandee says:

    I have been wearing Costco workout clothes for several years, and although I have not looked into where they were manufactured, they are uniformly of very high quality and wearing very well, workout after workout and wash after wash. And usually only $20-25 per piece.

  6. kimberlylowriter says:

    No, not all synthetics are bad. However, some chemicals used in clothing-esp. those in sports clothing and performance gear is-are suspected to be endocrine disruptors. There is growing body of research out there for anyone who is interested.

    I suppose for me the bigger issue is much "performance wear" is really necessary for yoga. As I pointed out, we aren't talking about Olympic athletes here. We are talking about a practice which was traditionally done in men in cotton loincloths.

    Also, I still think believe very firmly that even if we were talking about Olympic athletes, some things are more important than clothing that can supposedly increase performance esp. when you are talking about people sewing these things in poor working conditions.

    In the end, as someone who has been in the yoga community for over a decade, I believe the real reason people plunk $98 on lululemon yoga pants is because of snob appeal. I really do. Ironically, many of the people I see in head to toe lululemon are not even regular practitioners. Other than the once a week or less yoga class, that performance gear is mainly being worn on trips to the supermarket, the coffee shop, etc. before or after class. Just an honest observation.

  7. boohoo1959 says:

    Great article– this illuminates some of the dirty little secrets of the fashion industry. I want to point out that at least one thing is more complex than it appears on the surface. I think it is just (and mentally healthy) to react negatively to Chip Wilson's statements regarding "that they were actually helping poor Asian families and many of them wanted to work up to 16 hours a day." The working conditions are poor, the pay outrageously low–and sadly may be the only jobs available. Then when we boycott the products they make, the laborers lose what is often the only crappy job available to them, and while our consciences may be salved, their plight is now even worse than it was before. I am not saying it's right, I am not saying don't boycott (lousy quality at a high price is ridiculous), I am only saying that it is a complicated issue played out in many countries for decades. Even crazier, paying a better wage would create a host of different plights–if the workers themselves even saw a nickel of it.
    Why can't human beings just be decent and fair? I don't have the wisdom to fix the problems, but the obvious would go a long way.

  8. samantha says:

    Pat yourself on the back much? lol self righteous people are the worst offenders and rarely deserve to own any moral high ground.

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  10. Well written.Appreciable.Totally agree with you.Thanks for share about it.

  11. Shawna says:

    The clothing industry has a long way to go in terms of sourcing, product production, and abiding by fair trade laws.

    That said, pilling of any synthetic fabrics (Nylon, Spandex, Lyrca) is a direct result of washing the fabric with cottons, denim, or fabric softener. If you mix the fabrics in the wash, then put them on hot in the dryer, your black pants will pick up the cotton fibers just as they’d pick up white cat hair. Most Lululemon product (and competitor brands with similar fabrics) require cold, gentle wash and a tumble on low to dry or hang dry. The product is designed to last 5 years with proper care, information about which you’ll find on the company’s website.

  12. Inigo Eugui says:

    Great article, I think that we have to be conscious of what we buy and how it is made. We can't "achieve inner peace" practicing yoga while we obviate how unjustly the clothes we are using have being made.

    Together with my wife we have just started a small fair yoga wear line called JUSTA. Our goal is to give fair wages to the tailors and fair prices to the costumers. We are not driven by economic goals but to improve life quality for those who work for us at least. We won't get big, we won't become rich, but we will at least have a clear conscience 🙂

  13. Dianna says:

    Guess how much the workers making Costo pants are making, if you're buying them for $25. company only has to add a button, drawstring, or flourish to a garment in Canada, to claim that it's "made in Canada". You can bet that they are not fully being made by someone making Canadian minimum wage.