Lululemon Profile: The Pants, the Price Tag, the PR Missteps

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Lululemon Flagship Store in Vancouver. Andrew Chin/Getty Images Entertainment

Taking Yoga Wear (Way) Beyond the Baggy T-Shirt

Lululemon Athletica was founded in 1998 and opened their first store in Vancouver, Canada in 2000. Founder Chip Wilson brought his experience with high-tech fabrics, gleaned from producing gear for surfing, skateboarding, and snowboarding, to the emerging yoga-wear market. In fact, Lululemon did much to create that market and shape not only the idea of highly specialized yoga apparel but also the concept of atheleisure clothing.

The company has grown rapidly, expanding throughout Canada and the United States and into major cities in Australia, Asia, and Europe.

The Cult of Lulu

Lululemon has worked hard to integrate their stores into local yoga communities by hosting free classes and other yoga events. Each store also has a group of "ambassadors," local yoga teachers and other fitness instructors who promote the brand by looking good around town in Lululemon. But Lululemon's cult-like following comes from the ground up: many yoginis believe the company's pants, through a combination of proprietary fabric (the mysterious luon), clever cuts, and Lulu juju, are the most flattering to their posteriors, aiding in the presentation of the highly coveted "yoga butt." In other words, they make your butt look good.

Nice Yoga Butts = Dollars and Cents

A perfectly sculpted butt doesn't come cheap: one pair of Lululemon's signature pants, including the boot-cut Groove Pant and the original yoga legging, the Wonder Under, ring in at $98.

Lululemon pioneered the idea of a premium yoga pant and pushed the price point up accordingly. Given Lululemon's crossover appeal as lifestyle-wear (Lulu outfits have replaced high end sweats as the go-to gym/grocery store/school pick-up outfits in affluent communities), it's not surprising that Lululemon consistently turns a profit, even in lean economic times.

Not Without Controversy

Lululemon has made the news a few times over the years for reasons beyond their profitability. In 2007, an article in The New York Times revealed that scientific testing showed that clothing the company had advertised as being made from seaweed did not contain any of the minerals you would normally find in seaweed.

In 2011, the company courted controversy again by emblazoning their shopping bags with a slogan ("Who is John Galt?") taken from objectivist author Ayn Rand's book Atlas Shrugged. Not long after this advertising strategy caused many customers to become disillusioned with the brand, founder Chip Wilson resigned as CEO.

In 2013, Lulu was again in the news for a manufacturing error that made their expensive pants see-through when the wearer bent over (as you do in downward facing dog about a million times per yoga class). When customers began to complain that the product's quality was also slipping, as evidenced by excessive pilling and thinning, Chip Wilson, who was still chairman of the board of directors, returned to tell us that the problem was not with the pants, but with some women's thighs.

Specifically, some women's big thighs.

Although each of these gaffes has causes some backlash, the company has shown remarkable resilience, coming back strongly even in the face of increased competition in the market it helped create. Continuing to distance itself from Wilson, who stepped down from the board in 2015, hasn't hurt either. Lululemon has continued to expand into new markets, opening stores that focus on its menswear and developing Ivivva, a line for girls.

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