I am torn.
For a few years I have shared the same yoga studios, pilates classes and gyms with hundreds and hundreds of Lululemon clad women and men.
The brand is everywhere in Boston. It feels like the official college uniform for Boston girls is a North Face jacket, Uggs and a pair of Lululemon leggings (or Wunderunders as they are called.) Looking around on a crowded train you are bound to spot someone with the emblem stamped somewhere on their body.
The clothes are cute. Really cute in fact. There is a particular pair of leggings with a herringbone pattern from last winter that always catch my eye when someone wears them to class.
I knew very little about the company when I started working out, except that they had just opened a store in the Prudential mall. One day while I was out shopping I stopped in to try on some of the legendary fitness wear. The girls at the store were incredibly helpful, and assisted me in finding the right colors and sizes that I wanted to see. They checked back with me while I was in the fitting room to make sure I didn’t need anything else. Overall pretty great customer service.
But I left that day empty handed. I had always been taught that shopping is best when you can find a good deal, and the $98 price tag didn’t feel right to me for a pair of yoga leggings.
When I got home I did a little research to see what the benefit of these $98 leggings must be. Was it just a label fad or was there really something extra special about this brand? Maybe they were made in the USA and guaranteed nirvana after the first wear?
What I found out is that the founder and then CEO, Chip Wilson is, to put it lightly, a complete ass.
Lululemon began in Vancouver, Canada. With its West Coast location, Vancouver has a large Asian community. Rumor has it that he called the company Lululemon because of the “L” repetition, which he believed made the company sound more authentically North American (not a lot of Asian languages apparently have the “L” sound) . What is not so much of a rumor is that Mr. Wilson told Canada’s National Post, “It’s funny to watch them (Japanese people) try and say it.” Strike one Mr. Wilson. How do you sell a brand of clothing meant for yogis to say “Namaste” in, yet is backed with such bad karma behind it?
Strike two came when I read about a controversy where bizarre sayings were printed on their reusable shopping bags. They were hidden on the inside, comparing the high of a workout to the same highs of addiction. Yet again the company was not promoting a health body image, or good karmic values. Read the full story here: http://toronto.ctvnews.ca/controversial-message-uncovered-in-lululemon-bags-1.289655
And then I found Mr. Wilson’s comments on how his company came to be, due to birth control and divorce :
Women’s lives changed immediately [after the pill]. … Men did not know how to relate to the new female. Thus came the era of divorces. With divorce and publicity around equality, women in the 1970′s/80′s found themselves operating as “Power Women.” The media convinced women that they could win at home and be a man’s equal in the business world. Women put in 12 hour work days, attempted to keep a clean and orderly house, and give their children all the love they had pre-divorce. What they gave up however was their social life, exercise, balance, and sleep. The 1980′s gave way to Power Women dressing like men in boardroom attire with big shoulder pads. They went to 3 martini lunches and smoked because this is what their “successful” fathers did in the business world. Breast cancer also came into prominence in the 1990’s. I suggest this was due to the number of cigarette-smoking Power Women who were on the pill (initial concentrations of hormones in the pill were very high) and taking on the stress previously left to men in the working world. Ultimately, Lululemon was formed because female education levels, breast cancer, yoga/athletics and the desire to dress feminine came together all at one time.
His misguided, chauvinistic rant only further added to my mistrust in his company and beliefs.
But it is his most recent comment that really put me over the edge. In response to further customer complaints about the quality of the Wunderunder leggings, Chip Wilson has declared that the problem is not due to cheap materials or shoddy construction, but is due to the size of the woman wearing the clothing.
“Quite frankly, some women’s bodies just actually don’t work with the pants, It’s about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there”
According to him not all sizes and shapes of women are meant to be in Lululemon apparel. I’m afraid that this is the last straw. I understand that a company cannot provide sizes for 100% of women, but there is no need to be outright exclusive in the size and shape of women that you want seen in your clothing. And then to blame customers for wearing clothes that they don’t belong in, and say that is what is causing them to fall apart?! Absolute insanity.
I’ve read a few articles on this comment defending Chip Wilson, saying that there is no reason to promote obesity, and that plus size companies don’t get harped on for not making size 0 pants. But I don’t believe that is actually where the message of this statement lies. First, a problem with a product should be owned by the company. Second, the quality problem isn’t restricted to only larger sizes. I’ve heard plenty about the quality complaints from other girls in classes, and they are a wide variety of sizes. All around it is a negative message to the customers who trusted the company enough to spend a lot of money on their product.
When I think about my fitness journey, and when I’ve felt my best and most balanced, it’s been when I feel empowered and confident in my workout. Whether I am running at the gym, or taking a boot camp class outside, I will leave feeling my most productive, and feeling better about myself and my day at the end of it all. When I am working toward personal improvement the last thing I need on my mind is whether or not I am the right size or shape to be wearing a certain yoga pant. Did I get too small of a size and therefore it is my fault if a seam splits in the first couple wears? It’s a destructive message, and is not doing anything to foster good body images with females. There are enough mean spirited messages about body image in the world. Should women have to be confronted by it when they are buying workout clothes too? Planting ideas like that about body image continues to spread a negativity that causes a lot of harm. And in the end I would rather go without a cute pair of yoga pants than be reminded of this every time I wear a brand.
The Flip Side:
So why am I torn you may ask?
If I am completely honest I think that the Lululemon stores do some pretty great things for the fitness community.
I have even attended free Sunday morning Pilates classes in their Newbury Street store. Fitness can be expensive, and by giving anyone the opportunity to experience a Pure Barre class, or try out a new spin studio, they are really opening up the doors to something that can be a little exclusive at times. They have a weekly run club, and often will have free seminars about nutrition and other health related topics. I’m even friends with both of the Boston stores on Facebook, and I like to see the inspiring post that they frequently post on my news feed. You can check out the free events offered at the two Boston stores here:
I have a hard time reconciling the good versus evil with Lululemon. I appreciate all of the initiatives and good things that the stores are doing at the local level. I hope that this kind of community outreach continues and grows. Boston will only be a better place for it. And I guess maybe, someday, somehow this good karma may work its way to the top of this company. But until then, I don’t think I’ll be sporting the label.