April 18, 2014

Will Lululemon Listen This Time? ~ Kerry Maiorca


Relephant fun:

Spray on Pants: Lululemon’s Latest Trend? 

What’s the motive?

Coming off an exceedingly bad year and a recent leadership change, the executives of Lululemon have
invited several yoga community leaders to participate in a “Circle of Dialogue” at the upcoming Yoga
Journal New York conference (at which Lululemon is a major sponsor).

With the stated goal of examining the “delicate balance of spiritual values and corporate responsibility,” the implication is that lululemon is trying to find a way to make amends with the yoga community after the previous CEO’s unbelievable guffaws and the various PR nightmares that have led to a dip in sales over the last year.

The panelists include intelligent yoga thought leaders, at least three of whom are outspoken critics of everything their brand represents. It will be interesting to see how the company fares when it takes some its own manifesto advice of “Doing one thing a day that scares you” by addressing pointed questions from critics live and in front of an audience of 100.

Lululemon now has a rare opportunity of which most companies in their position can only imagine. Being given center stage at an industry trade show to talk about the socially responsible “new lulu” is a marketing department’s dream. Not to mention this forum is effectively a huge focus group from which they obtain direct customer feedback, which is normally a costly and time-consuming endeavor.

The question is, will lululemon use this critical feedback to consider the impact of their business and marketing decisions, or is this just another marketing stunt and PR grab?

The “Circle of Dialogue” panelists include three top lululemon executives. In a recent Apparel Magazine article, the new CEO expressed concern that, amidst all the controversy of 2013, lululemon has been largely “voiceless,” and he indicated the brand is now looking to “take control of the discussion.”

In order to have a true “dialogue,” lululemon executives must really listen to the concerns and suggestions of panelists rather than simply waiting their turn to spew out whatever new messaging they want potential customers to swallow. This forum should be about hearing from the yoga community rather than bombardment with more brand marketing.

Short of offering their clothing at more reasonable prices, if lululemon executives are asking, here’s a shortlist of what would need to change for me to reconsider them:

1. Size matters; go bigger than a 12.

By refusing to make clothes above a size 12, the infamous “thighs rubbing together” comment will continue to haunt the brand and alienate a good chunk of their potential client base. Lululemon has insisted that outfitting plus-sized women is simply not “part of its ‘formula.’” While that strategy may have worked for them in the past, there are now too many competing retailers offering quality products at more reasonable prices who are happily outfitting women of all shapes and sizes.

If they continue to shun the “average” woman, who, according to most research, wears a size 14, they don’t have much hope for making amends with the broader yoga community. In that case they can stick to being an exclusive fashion company and leave the outfitting of yoga practitioners to companies that are not out to humiliate female practitioners because of their size.

2. Stop the assault on women’s body images.

Selling larger-sized clothing is the first essential step in this process, but a mindset shift would necessarily accompany that product change. No more degrading comments about how women’s bodies are to blame for the poor performance of their clothing, no more saying anything about women’s thighs. The brand has done serious damage and burned bridges with women who don’t appreciate being shamed for how they look (P.S. that’s all of us). Lululemon needs to change how they talk about women’s bodies and  consider featuring a wider variety of shapes and sizes in their ads to show they walk the talk.

3. Apologize (for real this time).

It’s time lululemon stops proselytizing about being authentic and starts just being authentic. Though they were not the ones who said it, the new leadership needs to own up to what has been said in the past in a real, genuine way. None of this “I’m sorry I got in trouble” business. Before they can have any hope to move forward in a new (and hopefully better) direction, lululemon leaders must demonstrate that they’re making a conscious shift away from what was to what will be.

4. Listen first, then come up with a plan.

Asking for feedback is a great first step. The real question is, what do they plan to do once they’ve received it? To show they’re serious about change, lululemon leadership must come to the table with open ears and without a set agenda. Once they’ve had a chance to process the input post-discussion, they should present the yoga community with a concrete plan for what they’ll do differently going forward.

It’s quite possible that lululemon doesn’t care about any of these issues at all, and that all they’re trying to do by hosting this “Circle of Dialogue” is to sell more pants. But if they’re willing to consider significant changes to correct their past missteps, I’m willing to hear them out. It will quickly become apparent in the upcoming panel discussion whether their intentions are genuine or this is just another “Circle of Marketing BS.”


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Apprentice Editor: Pamela Mooman / Editor: Jenna Penielle Lyons

Photos: Wikimedia Commons 

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