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Cult of Commerciality: Lululemon’s Agenda of ‘Calculated Nonchalance’ At Yoga’s Expense

in Business of Yoga, MUST READS, YD News

Sorry…we took a deep breath, this one’s a bit long-winded. A lot to say.

It’d be hard to argue the success of goal-getting Lululemon’s clampdown on the yoga(inspired) market, with said proliferation due largely in part to the voracious cult-like culling of fanatics – everyone’s favorite luon-lemmings (lulu lollies!).  A Fast Company article from yesterday examines the ‘great-based’ initiative, highlighting the essence of the lulu’s surreptitious approach, rather accurately, as “calculated nonchalance.” We may kid, but the lulus mean business, in every sense. With $340 million in annual revenue, and beating the odds to remain somewhat afloat in a sinking stock market, the brand has attracted some hefty attention lately (for instance, Fast Company is writing about them). So how do they pull it off? What’s the Secret? We’ll call it the cult of commerciality.

“It’s the first time I’ve heard of anyone almost directly using the techniques of cults and applying them to their business,” says Douglas Atkin, author of The Culting of Brands.

[Chip] Wilson has mixed a heady self-actualizing cocktail from equal parts Landmark Forum (seminars developed by an ex-Scientologist), the books of motivational business guru Brian Tracy, and Oprah-endorsed best seller The Secret, by Rhonda Byrne. He is now hard at work formalizing them in a Lululemon “internal constitution.”

xenu-is-my-homeboyWell, we know many a skeeved out yog who’ve shuddered at the Scientology connection (and we all know how good they are at recruiting, thanks to messiah Tom Cruise! bless his heart). And that “internal constitution” sure does sound like some fun reading. Strap on your e-meters! But we can’t help turning our thoughts to those fervent propagators. Lately, Yoga as a practice itself has flourished in the West, and though some might not want to admit it, the philosophies attached to Yoga can sorta come off as a little brainwashy. You’ve been there:  excitedly recounting the effects of yoga to your non-yogi friends as their eyes glaze over, responding with the concerned look as if to say, “have you drunk the kool-aid?-you’re kind of a freak”.

So how has Lululemon gotten so popular? By melding yoga fervor with Chip Wilson’s own brand of self-help propaganda. And stealthily building an ambassador program with a fleet of almost 900: The real “educators”. While Lululemon employees are “encouraged” to attend the Landmark Forum (even ex-Starbuck and CEO Christine Day has already been, since joining team lulu last year), “ambassadors” are actually just honest local yogis being playelululemon_manifesto_pensiond by the machine. And who would blame them? Just the other day we were discussing the growing glut of trainees being churned out into a pool of yoga teachers who, as it is now, can barely afford their breakfast. When there’s a millionaire yoga-inspired clothing company prowling for evangelists, offering spaces to teach and a platform to further pimp yourself would you not take that opportunity? Essentially, it’s a sponsorship, like pro athletes are privy to – endorse our garb and we’ll give you perks – which, in this case, doesn’t amount to a heck of a lot (discounts). But in a struggling yogi’s career it can be huge.

Says Chippy, “When we first started, we hired nothing but yogis. But it didn’t work because they were too slow. So we started hiring runners who like yoga. They’re more on the ball, more type A.”

Lululemon has big fat goals to tighten their grip even more on stamping out mediocrity in the swimming, triathlon and running markets, to stay in the game. If the yoga-craze sputters, you’re on your own, even more than you already are now.

Final Fun Facts:

“Chip Wilson’s net worth is reportedly close to $370 million. His inner voice urged him to dump almost 7 million shares when Lululemon held its U.S. IPO in the summer of 2007, earning him more than $100 million. He cashed in twice more, for almost $7 million, even as Lulu shares slid from $55 in October 2007 to $7 in February 2009.”

Read the whole article -> Lululemon’s Cult of Selling [Fast Company]

Further reading: A Cowgirl Yogi’s perspective on authenticity vs. growth.

Earlier…Teaching Yoga the New Waiting Tables

More in Recession Yoga

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16 comments… add one

  • But…isn’t buying lots of expensive yoga merchandise the way to enlightenment?

  • Jennifer

    I’m proud to say that I practice yoga 6 days a week and I don’t own a single item of clothing from Lululemon. I have always been turned off by their cult-ish, high-minded business practices and the fact that they hide their corporate interests behind a cloak of community-orientedness (i.e. the ambassadors). Gimme a break!

  • Brandi

    Hmm … Maybe it’s because I’m from Vancouver, where Lulu began and continues to be HQed, but I think the assessment and attack on the company is unfair … I understand the anti-lulu mentality, I was anti-lulu myself when I moved to Vancouver five years ago. Lulu everywhere! But, their merchandise is comfortable, made with high labor standards in North America, and, yes, makes my ass look amazing (Call me shallow).

    I don’t like all their marketing efforts, agreed, but I do feel that the company engages in great customer service. Their staff know their products (and the local yoga community), give you honest feedback on items, and write down customer feedback on products, which are then sent to head office for consideration during subsequent product development. And when you tweet about them, they listen. Maybe that seems “standard”, but I can tell you that many businesses, including yoga-based businesses, have not figured out customer service.

    I feel that the yoga industry on the whole has turned into just that, an industry. Maybe that’s what has some backs up about Lululemon? One on side of things, there’s nothing wrong with making money offering a great service. On the other side of things, I do often think – Wow, yoga in North America is really only for the middle to upper classes. At least lululemon offers free classes through its ambassadors.

  • Jennifer

    Hi Brandi,

    It’s nice to read your thoughtful observations about Lululemon! I hear your point about the company’s customer service – treating customers well is a much-appreciated aspect of any business. I noticed you mentioned as a pro-Lululemon argument that their clothing is made in North America, but for the record, the majority of the company’s clothing is actually manufactured overseas. In the early days of the business, they did indeed manufacture their products in Canada, which was to be commended. But once they started to balloon into a corporate machine, they moved most of their production overseas, mostly to China. You’ll notice if you look at one of their care labels that they deceptively only state that the garment was “designed” in Canada. It was actually “made” in China (or Taiwan, India, Indonesia, etc.) – places where labor is cheaper and often exploited. The fact that the company tries to ‘gloss over’ this reality strikes me as inauthentic – which is ironic, considering the importance Lululemon and its staff members place on “being authentic” (a Landmark Forum term).

  • Brandi, can you send a picture of your ass so I can see how great them Lulus look.

  • Mike

    Anybody heard anything about Chip Wilson buying the Canadiens? What’s that about?

  • Houndlvr67

    I had one of their “type-A, on the ball” educators as my manager at the Oakbrook Il store a couple of years ago. She had NO experience in retail, was a self-centered yuppie snit (but this IS their demographic, after all), and was a distance runner. Although these type of people MAY be successful(in sales perhaps?), let us not forget that running is an INDIVIDUAL sport-some of these people have no clue as to what it takes to lead a team. This manager was fine as long as everything went her way, she got her CPK and Starbucks on time, and her store sales were on target…I tried to avoid her when things happened to go south…

  • Calculated nonchalance. Love it.

  • jen

    Great read, glad you spared the wind to speak your mind! Thanks for the honest, witty and real discussion about Lulu.

    I never knew about Chip Wilson’s connection to Landmark Forum but now it all makes sense. I have had Lulu aversion for quite some time, little things irked me about their product, their marketing, their pricing and attitude but there was certainly something else lurking behind the facade that averted me from entering the store or buying their products. Ah, Landmark forum – fix your life, save the world, spread the word, recruit new members! Buy Lulu yoga pants – fix your butt, look like a Yogi, spread the word, recruit new saggy butts, save the world from droopy derrieres!

  • anonymous

    Hi Everyone! I was recently hired and fired, yes, fired from lululemon for not drinking the lululemonade!! Unfortunately for me, I was duped initially by their job posting that called for someone ‘egoless’ and ‘authentic,’ which turned out to be a guise for ‘spineless’ and ‘moldable’ ….turns out I was fired for having a brain and wanting to use it. So, there you have it. Take it from me, it all really is calculated nonchalance. I was told that they are ‘very in your face about bullying you to come out of the dressing rooms!’ fyi, in case you are there!! LOL…..

  • aha, you don’t just get a discount for teaching at the store, you get free clothing. the discount is for any (self-?) identified fitness professional who wants it, in exchange for “research and development” feedback. wow, save the tax!

    bad times.. yoga.. oh the soothing balm of tight lulupants… eep! but usurped by the chafing torture of the luluthong!

  • anonymous

    yes, i too was fired for having a brain.. i got canned the day after i submitted my “GOALS”.. this was the creepiest company i ever worked for.. landmark robots that all came from a sad, dark past.. something that i did not share with them.. been in the corporate world of consumer packaged goods marketing for fifteen years.. in the fitness arena for fifteen ++ (pilates, yoga, spin and total body conditioning).. never saw such operatives.. bonuses are taxed heavily like cash. show up on your paycheck as cash but are given to you in a gift card that you have to use in the store and full retail price is applied. will someone from SOX world or compliance please look into this..making an employee use their BONUS on goods that you produce at COST but at a RETAIL value..

  • edwenna

    this article is unfair. if you have attended landmark, and read the secret then you must know these are positive tools. the doctrine of the secret is nothing new-in fact, it is simply finding a way to harness your inner power, light and enthusiasm– and this only leads to good things. i dont think it is wrong to utilize these tools to help your workforce become happier people. people are afraid for the most part of anything new, why not read the secret or attend landmark and you would see that its not cult like or selling crazy alien propaganda! it can be positive and changes peoples lives for the better with simple, age old concepts that would make gandhi proud. now, i know quite a bit about lulu because lots of my friends work there and i am a big fan of the company because of things ive heard from my friends. it seems to me that after working there, they have become healthier, stronger and more satisfied human beings. apparently they have free physical training for their employees. i like that! also as a consumer, i really like the line and the shopping experience. i tend to buy great stuff and have all the help finding the right fit. there is no wasted moment once entering the store as the employees are very hands on and goal oriented–its really awesome, they see you first and offer assistance immediately. i don’t really like going into other sports stores (nike-my old haunt) because chances are that ill need help finding something and i will have to wait for a long time to even be noticed. i also think the clothes are fashionable and for someone that lives in california, this is important. we tend to wear ugg boots and have a casual approach to day time dressing…it would be criminal in paris or milan, but here people like to wear “yoga” clothes for comfort no matter where they are headed. its important to me that im wearing clothing that passes the style test– and not quite identifiable as gym clothes.

  • Yes, really unfair!

  • happier without

    I was encouraged and had a great nature with my team and the minute i said i would do any other tasks based course or seminar but not landmark i was unfairly dismissed, no warnings, nothing. unfortunately this created a form of anxiety with me for a while and now i know i am much better off not working there and standing up for myself. good clothes wrecked by forceful bullying! Luckily it didnt turn me off my own positive attitude and yoga :O)

  • Even yoga can not fix that problem.Do you have any other tips to share with our readers about staying healthy and fit as a busy mom on the go?

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