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NYTimes, New York Magazine On Lululemon Greatness Non-Plan, Yoga Pants as Status Symbol

in Business of Yoga, YD News, Yoga Pop

lululemon_yoga_statussymbol_nytimesYoga: it’s big news! (for yuppies! oh we kid. we meant yippies) This bright Monday morning (afternoon?) brings us not one but TWO profiles on our favorite goal-setting stretchy pants company, Lululemon (NYMag, NYTimes) (and quite frankly we were offended neither one asked for our input). There’s not much said we didn’t know before, but with two biggie media outlets shedding light on the lulu lollies once again it bares the non-plan plan of the buff-behinded ones. It’s a conundrum…in capitalism you must grow, but luluheads claim they don’t want to be massive. Somehow, we imagine investors will sooner or later beg to differ. Can there be greatness without growth?

This week’s New York Magazine has an article basically running down the main bullet points of a Lululemon consumer FAQ (or warning label): the vitasea scandal; the Landmark Forum cultish-ness; the creepy manifesto; the glassy-faced “educators”; the exorbitant prices and wealthy clientele. There’s really nothing new. Though we did enjoy the fine job of carving out a portrait of the high-falutin’ Hamptons lululemming shopper as it were:

“They would drop $2,000 easy. They would just say, ‘I like that top, I’ll take one in every color.’ ”

And how Lululemon has become a status symbol:

“…socially speaking, Luluheads are much like sailors who wear their deck shoes in town—“Oh, what, these? Why, yes, I do happen to own a boat.” Tight yoga pants are a nice way of letting people know that you’re spiritual and healthy, can pay $20 a class for yoga, and are very flexible.”

Oh and another highlight was the part about the Lululemon Athletica Success Chakra, an “eight-point wheel of instruction enumerating the routes to “wealth,” “long-term human relationships,” and a “superior immune system” with ambiguous brush strokes of ‘be a do-gooder’, ‘don’t drink soda’ etc. Good Karma! Make money!

lululemon_yoga_as_brand_nytimesThe NYTimes article takes a drier tone to present the oozing of “yoga-lifestyle” in pop culture and Lulu’s attempt to stamp its logo on everyone’s tush in the grocery store, and rather successfully we might add:

And after all, one lesson of the “action sports” niche is the power of the lifestyle crossover. Just as you don’t have to skateboard to wear skater sneakers, you don’t have to be able to nail a sun-salutation pose to wear yoga pants.

But it’s more like the message of glossed-over get-happy cliches. And more broad strokes:

These days, Lululemon doesn’t make a lot of specific claims about sustainable materials; its positive messaging is more vague, projected through upbeat achieve-your-goals slogans like “Friends are more important than money.”

Both articles of course mention the detractors: for NYMag it’s Yoga Inc.‘s disgusted John Philp, whom they refer to as ‘the Michael Moore of yoga.”  The Times gets a little less obvious with Boulder, CO, writer (past contributor to Yoga Journal), author and yogi, Elaine Lipson, who bemoans the dawn of the “yoga chick,” where upper class ladies sport the garb to distinguish themselves. The Times also smartly cites some brainy ivy leaguers who penned a paper called “Conceptual consumption”:

“what we buy is not simply some thing but some idea that is embodied by that thing.”

Brilliant. We all know that by now, right? Fashion, jewelry, fancy cars: all symbols and representations of who we are how much money we have, and now, apparently, how awesomely yogic we are!

But don’t worry lulu lollies, the exclusively expensive club brand won’t get TOO big. CEO Christine Day may have been head honcho of Starbucks, but community-relations director Eric Petersen assures us:

“You’ll never see Lululemon stores everywhere,” says Petersen. “We have no interest in being a thousand-store chain.” [NYMag]

Phew! At least we know Old Navy and Gap can breathe easier.

Thanks New York publications. And especially NYTimes for that special graphic.

Earlier…Cult of Commerciality: Lululemon’s Agenda of ‘Calculated Nonchalance’ at Yoga’s Expense

Gap Gains on Lululemon’s ‘Free Yoga’ Game

Greatness Risk: Lululemon Profit Slump, Lower Prices? Eh, That’s Mediocre

More Lululemon

13 comments… add one
  • I have 2 pairs of pants that The Hubs bought for me…because no way would I spend $80 per pant.

    gotta admit — they make my butt look so good that I wore them for my photo shoot!

    but seriously, I know more than a few yoginis who are not shall we say, svelte, and lulus are the only pants they buy because of the material and the fit.

  • One of my friends in San Fran went for a job at Lulu once, but was turned off by the demands that all employees complete Landmark Forum and other ‘personal growth’ courses. A mandatory part of the job, apparently!!

  • lulu pants make my butt look so much better than nike…. just sayin….

  • Yeah, that’s my big conundrum w/ Lululemon ~ though I have issues w/ their ethics and image, their clothes are super comfortable and make my butt look hot. However, my $25 Old Navy yoga pants achieve almost the same effect…

  • Kim

    yogini butts look good in anything. there is nothing to hide. if anything, your butt and the way it looks should make you do yoga even more—reaching the point where you do not need lycra or lulu to help you make your butt look its best.

  • aja

    I have a pair of Lulu pants and I love them because they are reversable (why can’t all clothing be reversable?? so smart) but honestly, until I started reading this blog, I had no idea they had a bad rap – or at least a controversial one. My one experience in Chicago buying my reversable pants was quite pleasant – everyone was really nice….

    But there is something making me feel weird here – talking about “upper class ladies (who) sport the garb to distinguish themselves. ” Not to sound polly-anna here, but it doesn’t sound nice to talk about people that way. Its sounds dismissive and negative. People can wear whatever they want, me thinks.

  • Elizabeth

    I bought my first pair of Lululemon pants because I liked the fabric and construction. The fabric stretched enough tha I wasn’t hiking up my pants (or yanking them back down), and the seams appeared to be well-sewn enough to survive many washings. I’m familiar with garment construction, and annoyed with cheaply made items that are inexpensive but do not last. So I bought a pair of pants.

    Several years later, I still have those same pants. (I have also replaced dead yoga pants with Lululemon pants–though I have tossed more dead pants than I have purcahsed Lululemon pants–and have purchased a few tops that I like as much as I love these pants.) The fabric does an excellent job of wicking sweat away (as I don’t so much “glow” as “drip all over my mat”). The seams look the same as the day I bought them. These pants have, to date, enjoyed a longer life than other pairs of pants I have owned. I figure that from a cost-per-wear standpoint, these pants cost less than other pants I have owned–because instead of having to replace them frequently, I’ve just bought one pair. (Creating less waste? Rock on.)

    Maybe there are people who pick pants because of how their butts look, and I’m sure there are some fashionistas out there, but that is not why *I* bought my Lululemon pants. (So, like, don’t judge me, yo!)

    In addition to loving the pants (and tops, and one pair of shorts) I also received excellent and personal assistance from the people working in the store. I even applied for a job at the Portland store (and there was zero mention, at any level, of Landmark Forum–maybe that was just a San Francisco thing?).

  • Hi there – thanks for mentioning me and my comment. My point to Rob Walker, as he made clear, was that a lot of people who might really enjoy and benefit from yoga may be completely turned off by companies like Lululemon appropriating yoga as if they have some special claim to the “yoga lifestyle,” and as if their values are every yogi’s values. Of course they, and their customers, can do whatever they want. But in my book, it doesn’t have much to do with yoga, and I wish they’d stop pretending it did.
    Besides generally being turned off by them, my deep distrust of Lululemon comes from researching their false claims about “seaweed fabric” in their attempt to jump on the sustainability bandwagon. And that was before I knew about the Landmark connection.
    I also object to their sexism. For their offensively named “ta-ta-tamer” bra, the marketing copy is coy and silly, written as if we’re all giggling eight-year-old girls. It’s repulsive to me. So I took a look at the web page for the men’s briefs — roughly equivalent garment, requiring good fit and good support — and of course it’s written completely differently, as if their male customers are intelligent adults.
    Nobody has a perfect track record of buying only from perfect companies; it’s pretty hard to do in America. But I choose not to buy from a company that I believe to be blatantly sexist and opportunist. There are other good choices out there.

  • For years I loved Lululemon – when you had to know someone in Canada or go there to get the clothes – the colors were beautiful and the designs flattering and unique. But when they went public and expanded all over the US they stopped making the great clothes I loved. I still wear them today, those clothes I bought years ago, but have not found anything in their stores that I like now that they are on every corner . I wish they still had the spirit they had when they started out – I think the negative hype came after they went “mass market.”

  • Lisa

    I agree with Elizabeth’s comment. I wear Lululemon pants because they are extremely well made, last forever, and are really comfortable. I have bought other brands of pants too, and gone through them while meanwhile I still have pants from Lulu from 5 or 6 years ago still going strong. I do get creeped out by the overly friendly customer service in Lululemon stores, but since I only go shopping there once a year or so since their clothing is soooo durable, it’s really not a big deal to me.

  • I love lululemon. I have two pairs of lululemon pants which I use during my yoga sessions or sometimes going elsewhere. They really fit me and I felt so comfortable.

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