In case you needed a reason to be even more creeped out, turned off, astonished by Lululemon, an anonymous employee’s account of the wacky behind the scenes will surely give you that extra push. Entitled “Lululemon Diaries: My Life in an Exploitative Libertarian Happiness Cult” the post appeared on Jezebel Wednesday and has been met with shaking heads, both of disbelief and told-you-so.
“Immediately after I started work at Lululemon, I realized that almost all their talk about empowerment and happiness was empty,” the author begins. “The years I’ve spent there since have confirmed it: the company’s culture is delusional, hypocritical, and cult-like.”
We might have guessed some of this just based on past accounts of what it’s like to work at Lulu, combined with their endless stream of public screw ups, including multiple marketing faux pas, and their notorious founder and former leader, Chip Wilson, who, steeped in the Landmark Forum philosophy of greatness, projected his ideologies on his brand and his employees, and even his female customers, who apparently don’t have the right body type to wear lulu pants.
Our anonymous employee’s story begins at the “lost” age of 21 when they were interviewed by a perky Lululemon rep who spoke of living your “best life,” setting goals and the whole song and dance selling the company line.
“I went for it hook, line and sinker.”
They became an educator, which is what lulu calls their salespeople. Turnover was high.
Since then, I’ve watched hundreds of people cycle through my store and the stores around me. The turnover at Lululemon is one of the highest for any retail company; even outside the store, upper-level management is constantly changing. It’s a company that really purports to be about their people, so you’d think they’d examine this more, especially since their 10-year goal is “getting our global collective scores within the top quartile of happiest people on the planet.” But who measures that, and with what measuring stick?
The entire account is worth a read, but one of the most interesting tidbits is about just how much yoga this “yoga-inspired” company practices.
Everything in the Lululemon corporate culture is based on a bastardized version of yoga: the employee regulations book is called “Pramana,” which is a word that roughly translates to knowledge in Sanskrit. Ironically, Pramana really means true knowledge you gain from experience, not just what people tell you. The theft guide is called “Asteya,” which means “non-stealing”—an ethical guideline from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. That’s typical Lululemon for you; they co-opt something from yoga and warp it until it loses its true meaning. We once made a shopper that spelled out the Sanskrit word Brahmacharya (virtue) in drugs, junk food and hypodermic needles. The company is so disproportionately tone-deaf it’s astounding. They mean to be relevant, and instead they manipulate good ideas until they become totally corrupt.
The emphasis on goodness and “yoga values” can be very insidious, very cult-like. You get constant feedback and “coaching,” which means that you’re scrutinized from the moment you walk in the door till the moment you leave. If you’re in a bad mood when you walk in, you have to do a “clearing,” which is this neo-spiritual way of making you say whatever is going on in your life, and then someone coaches you on how to get over it.
And again, this practice of mindfulness could be good in theory. But when it’s warped by who is in charge, it’s full-on positive psychology meets Tea Party. Ayn Rand’s books are in our “core library,” and you can’t escape that pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mindset. When a customer comes in and is rude to you, it’s your choice to be offended. It’s you not taking personal responsibility for the situation. If you point out something wrong or unethical, it’s labeled as your choice to complain. One of my managers told me she had a conversation with the former founder, Chip Wilson, where he talked about how he didn’t believe in public assistance or welfare, that people who were “entrepreneurial” would survive and be successful.
Maybe this is all just feeding into what we already assumed? Again, this is one person’s account of what it’s like, but we’ve been hearing these tales of brainwashy-ness for years now. With “forced inspiration” and fake positivity as the core business methodology, as well as smoke and mirrors. Even with a new CEO – Laurent Potdevin formerly of TOMS – the message hasn’t changed.
Laurent kept talking about “real talk” and “being transparent,” which is laughable. Lululemon is the least transparent and real company. I get my news about Lululemon from Googling it.
Ideologies and ideals. This is Lululemon. And they’ll do what it takes to hold up the image. They even have an ideal customer which none of us could ever live up to but somehow helps explain why they’ve had so many issues regarding people with larger bodies and smaller budgets.
Lululemon is all about ideals. The man and woman Lululemon designs for and creates marketing for is called our “muse”: the man is called Duke, and the woman is called Ocean. Anything you do, you appeal to that ideal, imaginary muse. Ocean makes six figures, she doesn’t want to have kids, she has a master’s degree, her core workout is yoga and she also likes running and spinning. The whole idea is that your guest is never going to actually be Ocean. It’s aspirational. They can try, but they’ll never be.
This sounds familiar. Chip’s new pet project Kit and Ace also has its ideal yuppie unattainable lifestyle muses, who also sound white, childless, and affluent, by the way.
All in all, it’s not that Lululemon is evil. In fact, this anonymous employee actually still works at a store and has risen to manager since starting there, so it can’t be the devil, not entirely. But it’s also not what they want you to think it is from the outside looking in.
Still, there’s no getting around the fact that the essential corporate strategy is basically to get people working and create this insane cult-like loyalty, and if anyone dissents, you just coach them out of their job. Nothing changes, no one acknowledges the hypocrisy, or the legitimacy of employee’s concerns. You have to stick to the party line. After the conference, I came back to the store, and I couldn’t say that any of it was a load of horseshit. If I did, I’d get fired. Instead, I just have to present it to my team, shove it down their throats. And everyone just has to smile and take it.
Read the whole account here.
- Lululemon Gets Slapped in the Manifesto – A Provoking Parody
- Lululemon ‘Brahmacharya’ Shopping Bags Depict Junk Food, Needles, Condoms and Alcohol to Promote ‘Moderation’
- Lululemon’s Chip Wilson Is Finally Out, Leaves Trail of Women Issues, Moves On To ‘Next Lululemon’
- Why These Yoga Teachers are Lululemon ‘Ambassadors No More’