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Lululemon Accused of Fat-Shaming, Discriminating Against Plus-Sizes

in Business of Yoga

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Aw shit, is Lululemon purposefully shirking plus-sized yogis by hiding everything beyond size 8? That’s what some insiders and former employees claim. Save for the self-incriminating words from the horse’s mouth, we may have another Abercrombie & Fitch scenario on our hands.

This interesting Huffington Post article by Senior Retail Reporter Kim Bhasin goes in-depth on the potential reasonings, and ideologies, behind the claim. According to a former employee, Elizabeth Licorish*, most of the smaller sized merchandise was presented out on the floor, “hung on the walls, or folded neatly in cabinets for all the world to see.” But the largest sizes, the 10s and 12s (note: lulu’s largest size is a 12) “were relegated to a separate area at the back of the store, left clumped and unfolded under a table.”

Licorish adds that “larger offerings were rarely restocked” and “the only styles available in those sizes were old designs whose fashion moment had long since passed.”

“All the other merchandise in the store was kind of sacred, but these were thrown in a heap,” Licorish told The Huffington Post. “It was definitely discriminatory to those who wear larger sizes.”

Frankly, none of this is very surprising when you look at most of lulu’s ads, the culture of young, affluent, tight butts, and even their intendedly feel-good, at worst, bigoted, at best, naive, blog post from 2010 called “Love Your Body,” which backfired when images of skinny Lulu ambassadors were plastered right next to the words “there’s no size restriction on beauty and confidence.”

Commenters were quick to notice the disparity.

“So what you’re saying is ‘Love your body… but not unless you’re skinny enough to fit into our clothes,” one commenter replied. “How hypocritical. Your stores do not follow the philosophy you claim to follow,” wrote another.

And consumers continue to speak up about the lack of, not even plus, but typically “average” sizes. There’s even been a Change.org petition to get lulu to stock plus sizes and support “fitness at any size.”

“Wouldn’t it be amazing if Lululemon took an active stand in showing women of all sizes being athletic?” the petition’s author, Cordelia Storm asked.

Would it?  We think we’re ready for someone else to take that torch and run with it. This from the HuffPo’s Bhasin pretty much says it all:

Far from an accident, the exiling of larger clothing by Lululemon is a central piece of the company’s strategy to market its brand as the look of choice for the stylishly fitness-conscious, according to former employees and consumer advocates. They say this treatment of larger clothes and customers reflects the culture that Lululemon represents — one that falsely suggests skinniness is the paramount feature of health. Lululemon declined to comment.

The truth is, lulu is so damn profitable right now, why do they need to cater to all these other people bitching and moaning? After all, Jeffries the CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch made it a clear personal and business decision to exclude larger folks and they’re doing ok. Earlier this year we were all reminded of his comments from a 2006 Salon interview which ignited a fury:

“A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong,” Jeffries told Salon. “Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either.”

Lululemon, with its cult-like Landmark Forum influence and don’t-be-mediocre Ayn Rand ideologies complete with an exhausting manifesto, is certainly operating in the exclusivity department. And that’s before you ever mention the lack of larger pants options, or that they’re 100 bucks.

“They’re basically saying, ‘To be healthy, to do yoga, to be a part of this manifesto, you have to look like this,’” petition writer Storm said.

Or maybe they’re just being cheap? HuffPo points out a 2005 interview with Lululemon founder and former CEO Chip Wilson who told the Calgary Herald that making plus-size clothes takes 30 percent more fabric so, naturally, they’d have to charge even more money for them. And being that plus-size people are so sensitive, he said, he would never do that because there would be a serious backlash from the community. Ya think?

“It’s a money loser, for sure,” Wilson told the Calgary Herald. “I understand their plight, but it’s tough.”

Good grief, man. But with old Chip gone and now CEO Christine Day jumping ship, we wonder if they’ll continue to feel the same way. Though it really is about the bottom line (you know they’re expanding to do straight up men’s stores now, right?) According to Margaret Bogenrief, co-founder and partner at ACM Partners, a boutique financial advisory firm, all this seemingly discriminatory stuff is just about doing good business.

“They hate unhealthy living, and for better or worse, plus-size people aren’t included in that,” she [Bogenrief] said, referring to the company’s culture. “Lululemon is very image conscious. That’s why women are shelling out $100 for a pair of pants they could get at Target for $20.”

Because everyone with a larger body is unhealthy, you see. And they just can’t have yicky, icky unhealthy looking people in Lululemon now can they? Why can’t we all just understand that?!

Except, in reality, people are expected to spend an estimated $332 million on athletic wear sold at plus-size women’s clothing stores this year, according to market research firm IBISWorld, and that doesn’t include plus-sized purchases from stores that carry all sizes. The plus-size apparel industry itself is a $14 billion industry and it continues to grow as brands like H&M and Forever21 add plus-size stores. Also, guess what? Plus-size people do yoga.

If you ask us, the Abercrombies and the Lululemons of the world can continue being the exclusionary fat-shamers they are and we’ll continue on living our lives without them, even if it is extremely disappointing that a yoga-inspired company would be so discriminatory to so many yogis (or even people who just want to dress like one in the supermarket.)

*what a fantastic name.

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21 comments… add one

  • Brooke

    I worked for a holiday season (October to January) at lululemon in the Philly area. As a rule, lululemon puts out size 6s on all of the mannequins and the displays. Otherwise, clothes were ranged in size, with 2s on top of the pile and 12s on the bottom. They put out doubles of 6s and 8s since they are the most common sizes. I don’t know which stores were doing this ‘hiding’ crap, but it wasn’t any of the ones in the Philly or New Jersey areas because I have worked at almost all of them and never witnessed this !

  • Moira

    And……most shoe stores only display size 5 or 6 shoes. Is this discriminatory to people with big feet?
    And no, I CAN”T get the same pants at Target for $20. This $20 pants will sag, pill, and wont last for 5 years. Lululemon pants are worth the money.

  • Vision_Quest2

    Lululemon pants also pill and retain lint after a while. Note: I do not wear Lululemon, but I do pay attention to the condition of the Lululemons worn to a yoga class. They MUST be pilled, worn out and lint-ridden, for the most part, for me to feel comfortable practicing in that studio.

    That means, folks, chances are the rates are reasonable, class pack expiration dates are on the generous side, and/or the classes are physically accessible to my skill level (after years) …

    I am not young, I am not a size 12, and I wear Athleta, Nike and unknown brands …

  • Vision_Quest2

    I specify I am a size 10 and that’s only because I became thinner than I ever had been with all my bones sticking out, due to chronic illness …

  • I range in size from a 10 to a 14. We own a yoga studio. Prime candidate for wearing Lulu, no? Except I refuse, as long as they adhere to their size 12 cap on sizes. I wrote the company explaining my position and was told that there’s no consumer demand. Ridiculous company–boycott ‘em!

  • Dana

    As a yoga teacher and a size 4….I have stopped buying from them. I still wear the stuff I have, but as a teacher how can I support my students if I am sending money to a retailer who is brainwashing women and are becoming a part of the problem. I am with you.

  • James

    As a yoga pupil, if I see my instructor using certain equipment I consider it a de facto endorsement of that equipment.

    Your students (probably) don’t know your spending habits but they do know what you wear.

    As far as being “with” Laurie’s boycott? You’re not.

  • Jessica

    I think the main point is that people are simply sick and tired of hearing about Lulu’s faults. I won’t shell out $100 for their pants (and being a Plus sized yogi, I apparently cannot since they don’t carry a size that would fit my “unhealthy” (their word, not mine) ass) but I WILL shell out money for well made yoga pants that I KNOW will last forever and be something I can wear in my practice for years to come. Other yoga wear companies make at least an XL that fits my plus sized self and I love them. I am personally tired of hearing about Lulu – they need to shape up their image, talk about unhealthy! But I personally do not care what sizes they stock, do whatever you want, be judgmental of other body types. I wish you a blessed day Lulu workers!! Namaste. :)

  • Lala

    I just celebrated a birthday and received a gift card to Lululemon. I have really big legs, very muscular with some fat, in proportion to my torso and upper body. I went to Lululemon to use the gift card. I fit into the size 8 pants but they made me bend over and said they were too sheer. So, I bought a size 10 and it is baggy in the crotch and belly.

    They really need to step up their game.

  • Let’s be realistic, please. I’m a size 10. And I have size 4 lulu pants. Even when I was a size 16 I could still comfortably wear most styles of tops and pants on a 12. So I’m actually quite grateful and it’s not a bad feeling walking out wearing a sizer smaller then I thought I was. I second what Brooke says: I’ve been to many lulu stores and have never seen any size hiding or shaming. They are all there, 6-12, and if there is less colour or style variation in a 10 or 12, well, could it be that they may actually sell out faster?
    By all means, I’m not a huge supporter of lulelemon, I think the prices are outrageous and I feel it’s getting a little “elitist”. But I feel this article is unjustified.
    Maybe someone should write about the actual quality of lulu wear slowly declining. Now that’s an issue!

  • Mus

    i have to agree that the quality is declining. I have a pair of crops from this season and a pair from 2 years ago and the degradation of quality is very clear :-( . It’s getting harder and harder to buy their products when their quality is declining not improving!

  • After gathering my thoughts, I have to say that although I find a lot of Lululemon’s tactics objectionable, shady or just plain gross, I don’t think it’s fair to single them out as “fat shaming” because they don’t carry clothes above a size 12. Most “fancy” yoga clothing companies don’t offer sizes above a large or extra large (see Lucy, Prana, Be Present, Hyde, Sobha etc etc…Even Athleta has a limited selection in 1x and 2x). Most of the organic, fair trade clothing companies also only offer smaller sizes.

    If the allegations in the Huffington Post article are true – and I’m not saying that they aren’t, even though my experiences with Lululemon stores have generally been positive- then shame on them. But isn’t there a bigger problem here? Shouldn’t we be calling out all of the clothing companies about their refusal to cater to larger yogis?

  • procrustes

    Regarding other companies not building larger sizes.

    It’s pretty common to not build many, if any, sizes at the ends of the spectrum. These are the things that simply don’t get sold as much, and nobody wants to sit on product that will not move. For a good idea of this, check out what sizes and colors are left at any store when they have a sale.

    LLL’s business is about selling all their product. They want to sell out, and fast. Having product sit around until it has to go on sale is less profitable. It’s much safer to make and stock mediums in a popular color than to stock xxL or xxS.

    It’s a reduction of risk and of waste for a business. Designing, pattern making, sourcing, sampling, building, shipping, stocking, and holding product that might not sell isn’t going to keep you in business. This is also why other companies don’t make a large selection of sizes.

    However, I do think there is an opportunity here for an athletic apparel company to focus on this segment of the market. A direct to consumer online business specializing in the manufacturer of larger sized athletic wear is something that might be viable.

    The question would be if the market is willing to choose (and pay a premium) for brand that was “for big people,” or do people want the brand appeal of a mainstream LLL, Nike, Under Armour, Patagonia, or Gap?

  • Anne

    There are many brands and clothing stores who only carry certain sizes. (Lane Bryant, big and tall stores). Lululemon is not in the psychiatry business. They are in the clothing business. They do not have to create clothing sizes based upon whether or not someone’s feelings will get hurt. We all need to grow up and know that life is not fair. Not everyone wins and not everyone is the same size. The great thing about capitalism is that there are thousands and thousands of stores to choose from.

  • Vision_Quest2

    What Lululemon does is NOT yoga, it is worshipping Mammon. It is NOT practicing aparigraha, it is practicing greed.

    Perhaps they should lose any and all affiliation with yoga and yoga cross-promotions, if they would not expand their line.

    They should take on other Activewear companies head-to-head. But they would not have the cojones …

  • James

    Well said, Anne. I don’t whine and complain about discrimination when I can’t find a Nike shoe that fits me right. I just buy Adidas and be done with it. If people can’t find clothes at Lululemon in the correct size and fit then they should just go somewhere else. The article mentions that the activewear business is expanding. Surely each person can find a brand that suits them. It may not be the fashionable chic Lululemon but that really shouldn’t matter.

    At the risk of being (perhaps correctly) called a chauvinist pig I feel the need to paraphrase an old guy-ism: Lululemon yoga pants are a privilege and not a right.

    Lululemon can do whatever they want. I don’t particularly like them so I have never and don’t intend to ever spend money with them. There are plenty of other companies out there.

  • Heather

    Anne and James – seriously. No one is being forced to spend money there. Take it elsewhere if you don’t like it. And quit complaining. Not every store can cater to every person. They are still a business and have to decide where their main market is, they still have to make money. How is it possible to get offended because a store doesn’t think you are their main target? I shop at the places that that speak to me in one way or another, and do not get offended by the places that don’t. I just move on. And if all these people complaining were really Yogis, then they probably wouldn’t be complaining in the first place. They would just let it go and find another place to voluntarily buy clothes.

  • Megan

    Bingo to all 3 of you. So many of us have bought into this facade that LLL is the epitome of not just yoga chic but yoga wear for “serious & committed” practitioners. It’s the only reason why I predict that people are outraged they aren’t highlighting clothes in their size, they care way too much about this company and what it communicates to other people when wearing it. There are SO MANY other yoga clothing retailers that make fantastic products that are also stylish (just do a quick Google search), but some people crave LLL. Let go of that desperate and insatiable urge to be apart of the “elite yoga club”, you are a serious yogi not by the clothes you wear but by the commitment to your practice.

    …and that should be your business, who cares what other people think about you anyway?

  • C Quintal

    I am a male in my fifties and do yoga and stay in shape. When I shop in Brooks Brothers, there is almost never what I want in my size, they are all bigger. They cater to the guy with the 36-38 waist, not 29-30.
    Are they creating an image that only “plus-sized” men should wear their clothes?

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