Lululemon is pop culture’s answer to wearable spirituality. You don’t have to be spiritual. You don’t even have to do yoga. Pull on a $200+ Lululemon yoga outfit and voila – you’re surrounded by an aura of faux enlightenment that Lululemon parades on its shopping bags with its "manifesto" which is really just a random collection of sayings like:
“The pursuit of happiness is the source of all unhappiness.”
"That which matters most should never give way to that which matters least.”
Or this rather strangely-worded one that gives me the creeps:
"Children are the orgasm of life. Just like you did not know what an orgasm was before you had one, nature does not let you know how great children are until you actually have them.”
(Want to read them all? Here you go. They’re proudly displayed on their website.)
There’s something about self-promoting nuggets of packaged insight on the side of a shopping bag that turns my stomach. It’s just over-priced clothing, okay? But clearly, it's much more according to founder Chip Wilson.
The self-important founder over-impressed with himself
In explaining the formation of Lululemon, Wilson talks about the pill, women’s lib, super-women trying to do it all, superheros, breast cancer and another generation of women freed to be themselves. He concludes with this statement, “Ultimately, Lululemon was formed because female education levels, breast cancer, yoga/athletics and the desire to dress feminine came together all at one time.”
This final sentence follows some of the worst dribble I’ve ever read masquerading as social science commentary. It’s remarkable to think that the man who espouses this also built a company that now has more than 100 outlets and $340 million in annual revenue. Then again, Jerry Falwell and Ted Haggard also built great financial empires.
The corporate hypocrisy
Everyone knows Lululemon costs more than yoga wear needs to cost. Maybe giving away all this free spiritual advice is why the clothes cost so damn much.
It couldn’t be the actual cost to make them.
Seventy percent of their clothing is manufactured in third-world countries with factories in China, Taiwan, South Korea, South America, Israel, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.
The Lululemon website explains, “Global economic forces…have shifted manufacturing to more cost-attractive locations and resulted in closures of some domestic factories.”
The truth according to Lululemon is evidently a Rashemon-like multi-versioned thing. On the one hand, Lululemon stands for values like spirituality, fairness, and freedom. On the other hand, a buck’s a buck.
Their stated mission is: “To elevate the world from mediocrity to a place of greatness.” I wonder if the children and adults working in the Thai and Vietnamese factories are rising above their own mediocrity to new levels of greatness. Or displaced Canadian and American workers for that matter.
Placing importance on something that isn’t important
I do yoga off and on. I’m not a purist in any way. When I do it, I love it. When I don’t do it for a stretch (pardon the pun), I don’t. But one of the things I love about yoga is that it takes me away from the commercial world that Lululemon is smack in the centre of. For an hour and a half, the world outside stops. And at the risk of sounding all terribly new agey, I feel grounded, calm and in touch with a sense of myself that I often lose during the daily acts of hurried living. And I could care less about my clothes.
In genuine yoga culture, it doesn’t matter what you wear. And I’ve seen people wear shorts and sweat pants and yoga pants and pj bottoms and ordinary t-shirts.
My last true vacation was a little over a year ago (the last one I’ll have for a while) and was spent at a yoga retreat in the mountains of Colorado. I went for a much-needed time out, and for five days, I spent my time doing yoga and meditation, taking walks and reading. I was up at 5 or 5:30 each morning and in bed by 9. I ate very healthy. I wore not a stitch of make-up. I wore my hiking clothes during the day and my $30 yoga pants in class. And I don’t think I saw any Lululemon the whole time.
Remember one of those lines from the shopping bag? “That which matters most should never give way to that which matters least.”
The kicker: firing someone for not being Lululemon enough. Aka the right shape.
Now everything I’ve written up to this point I’ve known for a while. But nothing made me feel a stronger dislike for Lululemon than learning about an experience that a friend of one of my son’s had.
She got a job working at the local Lululemon store, but later lost it. The reason given? As a young woman on the larger side of average, she wasn’t a good representative of the Lululemon physical ideal. I was shocked. You'd think an organization spouting words like "Your outlook on life is a direct reflection of how much you like yourself" would have a more inclusive approach to hiring than Abercrombie & Fitch.
Chip Wilson, what about namaste don’t you understand?
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