Will Lululemon Listen This Time? ~ Kerry Maiorca

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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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Photos: Wikimedia Commons 

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Kerry Maiorca

Kerry Maiorca is the Founder and Director of Bloom Yoga Studio in Chicago. As a yoga practitioner and
writer for more than 18 years, she explores the intersection of yoga and daily life on her Thinking Yogi
blog. Kerry is passionate about making the practice of yoga welcoming and accessible, and she’s pleased
to serve on the board of directors for Yoga Alliance and as the chairperson for its Ethics Subcommittee.

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anonymous Jan 2, 2016 10:22pm

Don’t like their business practices or product quality? Don’t buy from them. Done and done.

anonymous Mar 4, 2015 10:05am

I don't care who they hire, who they fire, what they say, I will never buy anything from this company. Sorry, I don't forgive and forget so easily.

anonymous Apr 21, 2014 9:20pm

When I look at the entire situation, all I see is that people are buying into an idea and a company sells an idea that is the complete opposite of what yoga really is: inclusive and for anyone who wants to do it. You're supposed to leave your judgement and your comparisons behind when you take to the mat, and that includes judgement of yourself as well as others. You're not a better yogi because you wear $100 yoga pants.

anonymous Apr 20, 2014 9:08pm

Lululemon doesn't deserve even a penny of my money. I will go out of my way to buy from anyone else.

anonymous Apr 20, 2014 3:33pm

First and foremost, they need to make or rather outsource the making of their clothing in ethical factories where the workers are paid a decent wage. I don't feel anything else matters unless they do.

anonymous Apr 19, 2014 11:47pm

There are a heap of yoga clothing manufacturers who exclude plus size women, by sizing, advertising, whatever… Point is they are a business and can do what they want. Likewise, you are a consumer and can put your dollars where you want. In a way, by demanding they act in a manner other than a for-profit-company, you are empowering them beyond being 'just a company'… And you are bankrupting your power as a consumer. It is akin to a farmer whinging that Ferrari is prejudiced against farmers because it doesn't make a truck for him to round-up sheep with. Lulu-Prettypants is nothing more than a company creating a product for a particular market segment. If you aren't part of that segment, buy elsewhere. Their market decline is less about what the CEO said and more about the fact that voracious consumers have gorged their need of Prettypants and are now simply trickle purchasing a garment here and there as required.
Please don't forget that yoga studios, yoga teaching, yoga books, yoga training and everything else yoga is simply a mish-mash of Sanskrit and Swedish gymnastics balled up into a product that is consumed for profit. Stop taking yourself and yoga so seriously… Now, go move and breathe – that's all it is.

    anonymous Apr 20, 2014 1:15pm

    AGREED. Also, each Lululemon store does an abundance of good for their community and support many other local businesses. It seems to me like many people haven't done enough research on the amazing things the company does or possibly haven't even been in a store long enough to do their own investigating. The author states, "“average” woman, who, according to most research, wears a size 14" I think that is bull. I would like to know where exactly this research came from. Is it the average American woman? The average woman in the world? luluemon is designing technical garments for athletes who use the gear in a way that aids them in their healthy lifestyle and training. Is that the average woman? Maybe not. And why are we more concerned about how lulu doesn't make size 14 and less concerned about how the "average size" is a 14??! I think everyone should love the body they have been given and take care of it, but that doesn't mean that I think it's ok to make a disease like obesity a cultural norm. I'd also like to know if any of these people with their panties in a bunch over sizes have ever actually seen a size 12 lululemon pant? You act as if they have teeny tiny sizes. A size 6 is considered a small at lululemon and a size twelve is comparable to an XL. They DO have a wide range of sizes for all shapes and sizes of ATHLETES.

      anonymous Apr 22, 2014 10:21am

      That's where you've got that wrong. A yogi is not an athlete, per se. Neither are many dancers. We are ARTISTS, not ATHLETES!!

      They want athletes? Let them make a high-performance garment. ULTRA-high performance, in fact: e.g., CrossFit, UXF; even Boot Camp. Lulu, I understand it has not rejiggered its economies of scale to support idiosyncratic athletic and performance clothing needs of those EQUALLY UPSCALE, CULTISH markets … Staying with commercialized, public yoga is conflated with Lulu's staying elitist …

      anonymous Apr 22, 2014 8:26pm

      There are too many jocks calling the shots in yoga nowadays. What has that done for yoga? Selfies, money grubbing clothing companies, playlists with Kanye West, playlists in general, yoga competitions, and a TON of yoga injuries. I'm sorry that you have to serve as the toadie for Lululemon and I would probably have concealed my identity as well. It is time for yoga to move on from the gym to the sacred…where it belongs.

        anonymous Apr 22, 2014 8:45pm

        Make that jocks, high fashion models and celebrities … if it were only the jocks, Lululemon would not have these "Ambassadors" all over the place. Like a traveling circus.

anonymous Apr 19, 2014 4:17pm

Agree with bce ^. As unpopular as this opinion may be people – Lulu can sell whatever size they want. They are out for a specific niche, and that's what they cater to. Buy somewhere else.

    anonymous Apr 22, 2014 10:12am

    It's the price point and the showroom sensibility of their flagship stores I cannot stand. Yoga already has moved out of the limelight. Athleta aped them to the letter (though more size-positive, obviously more feminist; and only slightly more reasonable), stole their business.

    To lulu and Athleta and anyone in back of them in this grand parade/charade: stop appealing to elitist yoga people.
    To yoga communities: stop charging carriage trade prices for live classes.

    It is time for me to move on, anyway.

anonymous Apr 19, 2014 11:15am

Lululemon is a business, as such, has no morales, its about making money. If it truly cared what people thought then it would change. If you want to make them listen, STOP BUYING THEIR DAMN CLOTHES!. Then you will have their full and undivided attention.
The sad truth is Lulu's clothes are ridiculously good, the quality of the clothing that can stand daily activities, daily washing, heavy heavy use, is beyond good. It is a catch 22, yoga is not your fashion, however this is america not india, where appearance is everything.
So, want to make them listen, stop buying their clothes, if you do you have no right to bitch about their business practices.

anonymous Apr 19, 2014 10:38am

It's not supposed to be about the clothes.

anonymous Apr 19, 2014 1:55am

What is so much more important than any of the points raised in this article? That they start to make ethically, that they start to pay a proper wage to the woker's who make their clothes! They are very big on "community" what about helping the communities in the third world countries that work for them? Seems to me the community only matters when they have $ to spend. And they just keep getting more press! How about we just stop shopping with them? How about we actually stop supporting a company that is so far removed from the tenants of yoga it is laughable!

    anonymous Apr 22, 2014 4:58am

    Totally agree! If they want to address what's wrong with them, then the way their clothes are made is the first issue! This is the primary reason why I no longer buy Lululemon products!

anonymous Apr 18, 2014 2:31pm

I tend to agree that Lululemon shouldn't make a pant larger that size 12. It's bad for the brand and in a way it's kind of awesome that their former CEO had the gaul to call a spade a spade. Say what you like, but you're probably overweight at size 14+. I sat behind a large woman at a conference yesterday who felt it appropriate to wear yoga pants. The result was that the two rows behind her got a great view of half her rear and a whale's tale spilling out. The last thing I'd want as a marketer is to have my logo at the center of that.

    anonymous Apr 18, 2014 6:54pm

    Wow! unbelievable, just incomprehensible. Wow. How do you look in the mirror?

    anonymous Apr 18, 2014 7:36pm

    Nice fat shaming Laura Jackson! First, keep your eyes on your own mat. Secondly, the last thing I'd want as a marketer is to have people like you wearing my product and spreading your hatred to those who don't conform to your waist size.

    anonymous Apr 19, 2014 7:58am

    So, in your view Laura, women over size 14 shouldn't do yoga at all, or they should wear unfashionable yoga garments (aka ones you don't like) and do yoga hiding in their room where they belong…?

    anonymous Apr 19, 2014 1:53pm

    What if you are 6 feet tall? Are you fat in a size 14? And if you are any height and any size? Why would you put this out there? Incredibly insensitive. I feel badly for you that you can't see beyond your own mental barriers that came from somewhere. Bless you and I hope you can find a new perspective.

    anonymous Apr 20, 2014 7:54am

    I'm 5'8, and I'm a size 14. I'm not fat. I, like millions of other women who are perfectly healthy and appropriately a size larger than 12, are sick to death of THIS ridiculous, ignorant way of trying to fit all women into a one size fits all mold in order to be thought of as sexy or otherwise socially acceptable. Screw that. I rock my body and lululemon can go straight out of business. We "plus" size ladies will still be here, doing yoga and what ever else makes us happy, supporting companies that understand that we're all beautiful, regardless of the number on the tag…

    anonymous Apr 20, 2014 3:40pm

    My own mother who at nearly 5'10" and at 100 lbs (that is not a typo) wore the equivalent of a size 14 in pants. (BTW, she was such a *whale* that at the time she was actually seeing a doctor in the hopes of gaining weight.)

    As a private business, Lululemon can make whatever sizes they wish. However, to suggest that "you're probably overweight at size 14+" is wholly inaccurate.

anonymous Apr 18, 2014 1:27pm

I'm a man and I find this story terribly fascinating and I only own a mat of theirs and two of their towels, mostly because I won't pay their prices but also because of their business practice. What no one cares to address is that Lulu is a fashion statement and at then of the day who really cares what you wear, especially in the yoga world (at least that's my view). Have discussions, point fingers, kiss and make up or do whatever is you need to do, but in all truth, if anyone were to really want to teach them a lesson just stop supporting them. Stop accepting sponsorships, ambassadorships and stop yoga covering YJ conferences where they use pr spin to capture headlines. Especially helpful would be to stop buying the clothes, stop denounce ambassadorships to further your careers and for god sakes someone in leadership (if I dare say exists in the yoga community or at the YJ conference) speak out against them. But to think a hollow apology will change fashion is just hollow thinking if you ask me. This company is like a cat and it's only on like its fourth or fifth life. Perhaps this conference someone has the balls to knock another life or two off of their corporate teat.

anonymous Apr 18, 2014 11:16am

Lululemon has been the voice of yoga for way too long. This company has done a great disservice to the practice by presenting it as exclusive to privileged, thin women. People need to stop taking this company so seriously as they are not in it to further the practice, they are in it to make $$$ on people who are willing to pay $100 bucks on a pair of pants. Lulu is just reaching out now because their stock has dropped about half since this time last year. It has nothing to do with them wanting to make amends for Chip's foibles.

    anonymous Apr 18, 2014 2:01pm

    Absofreakinlutely! No apologies or different marketing approach needed really. I think the damage is done. I think the best way to move forward is to change their entire team, their ethos and probably their name, as the name itself has become too tarnished. The name itself, just the way it sounds makes it incredibly desirable to extents and for reasons that just overlook the real benefit of yoga.

anonymous Apr 18, 2014 10:28am

I just can't get past the feeling that Lululemon is just another way to make you buy in to clique mentality. If you can't afford it, you're not as cool as the people who can (so maybe you're not a REAL yogi)…if you can't fit into it, you're not as cool as the people who can (again, get behind the REAL yogis)…blah blah blah. I'm so sick of materialism and comparison, I would rather do yoga naked than put this stuff on my body. Not that I would fit into it. Maybe I should try harder to be a real yogi.

    anonymous Apr 18, 2014 2:06pm

    Yes precisely! That feeling of not fitting in or not belonging can be viciously spirit destroying, and that feeling is not something that should ever be triggered within the yoga movement. I'm reluctant to support anything that turns yoga into a cliqué.

anonymous Apr 18, 2014 10:01am

Here are the facts in a ideal world Lululemon would apologize and embrace the woman who wears size 12 and up…Guess what not happening!
I am one of the founders of Lola Getts Active (www.lolagetts.com), activewear made exclusively for the plus size gal 14-24. We chose to be exclusively for this demographic that has been shunned and ignored. Time to forget about a brand that doesn't care about the plus size woman and makes inferior quality garments. Support brands that believe that everyone deserves to look good and fell great on their get fit and healthy journey.