November 15, 2013

The Real Reason I Won’t Buy Lululemon.

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.}

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