HISTORY OF LULULEMON
Have you unfurled your mat, popped a video on and found your state of vinyasa in a solid yoga session or two lately? Gone for a socially distanced run around the neighborhood? Whatever your choice of athletic activity, we’re going to take a wild guess it was while wearing at least one True Fashionista piece of Lululemon Athletica attire.
At just over 20 years old, Lululemon has become the de facto name for athletic attire worn by classy hipsters, committed athletes and weekend warriors worldwide. That might have something to do with the quality and care that goes into the creation of every piece. It’s actually hard to even wear the stuff out! With proper care, your Lululemon will last through years of workouts and washings.
The brief backstory from the company’s website goes something like this: Founded by Chip Wilson in Vancouver, Canada in 1998, Lululemon is a yoga-inspired, technical athletic apparel company for women and men. What started as a design studio by day and yoga studio by night ultimately became a standalone store in November of 2000 on West 4th Avenue in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighborhood. From here, Wilson and his fledgling company kick-started the athleisure boom, convincing wealthy women they needed its luxury gear for working out. In the 20 years since its inception, Vox shares, Lululemon has developed a decidedly cult following where women and men alike swear by its products to the point where there are underground markets dedicated to buying used Lululemon goods. (Shameless self-promotion: You can do so legally at True Fashionistas!)
With comparisons to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury Summer of Love scene, Kitsilano was the North American home of the hippie vibe during the same era. As SF has evolved, so has “Kits”, attracting young urban professionals and families seeking a comfortable, cultural atmosphere accompanied by the self-denotation as the True Fashionista birthplace of Lululemon.
Their initial designs focused on yoga wear for women, growing exponentially over the years to include accessories, outerwear, and a men’s line. Forbes cited in December 2019 that Lululemon’s continued refusal to sell its products in department stores has helped to build customer loyalty while retaining control over pricing. Future growth includes expansion into personal hygiene and footwear.
Lululemon’s brand relies heavily on promoting the culture of health and community, with their global ambassadors not only modeling the brand, but teaching classes and hosting events online, in stores and in various locations, according to their website.
Not all successful companies have an eccentric, very quotable ex-CEO. Lululemon does. Founder Chip Wilson has shared some controversial ideas over the years that have rattled many a so-called cage. He did, after all, release a book entitled Little Black Stretchy Pants in 2018, marketed as an “unauthorized story of Lululemon”. In the book, he describes how, when taking a yoga class, he noticed how the instructor was wearing clothes from a dance apparel company which were thin and sheer. That made him think about (his words!) starting a yoga apparel company to “solve the transparency problem, address camel-toe and thicken the fabric to mask any imperfections”. (Vox) Somehow we’ve gotten past the PR nightmare in March 2013 when Lululemon sold some faulty pants that would become see-through if you did downward dog yoga position. What, you forgot about that? You’re welcome.
He makes very clear in the book that his new brand was meant for a very specific type of customer, a demographic he labeled “Super Girls”, aka the daughters of “Power Women”, a group Wilson defined as a “female market segment in the 1970’s and 1980’s who were divorced, a situation that he claimed was a result of the rise of birth control.
Then there’s the rumor that Wilson created the name Lululemon because he believed it would be funny to listen to Japanese people attempt to pronounce it, since the sound for L isn’t part of the Japanese language. This was mentioned in a 2009 blog post which has since been deleted.
Here are some other zingers, thank you Business Insider:
- Wilson is one of those people who refers to himself in the third person.
- He once described the ideal Lululemon customer as “a 32-year-old professional single woman named Ocean who makes $100,000 a year, and the ideal male customer being a guy named Duke, (named after one of Wilson’s sons). He's 35 and an ‘athletic opportunist’ who enjoys surfing in the summer and snowboarding in the winter. Duke makes more than Ocean and is willing to pay up for quality.”
- In 2007, while the company was still under Wilson’s direction, they falsely claimed its clothes were made with seaweed.
Ok, one last one: Wilson believes that if you get sick, it’s your fault. We just don’t think that would fly at this particular pandemic time.
In 2012, Chip Wilson resigned from his position and officially stepped away from Lululemon to pursue other interests. His ruminations and worldviews can be found on his blog. Lululemon remains a True Fashionista company in the athleisure market, regardless of what spewed from its founder’s mouth at one time or another.
Lululemon launched in Japan in 2016 and has a current smattering of stores, mostly in Tokyo. Find a nice selection at True Fashionistas, both in-store and online, minus the ‘tude.