By Tauni Hopkins
Yoga pants and stretchy pastel-colored athletic tops are not typical work attire. But for the “educators” at Lululemon, this is dressing for the job. Clad in skin-tight black athletic pants and zip-up hoodies, these fresh-faced young women greet guests as they enter the store with the question: “What do you do to workout?”
The wood-framed Lululemon Athletica at NorthPark Center acts as more than a gateway to a shopping experience. The popular athletic-wear store welcomes you into a community.
When you walk into a Lululemon store, something stands out. It’s not just the empowering slogans on the walls, the cheerful chatter or the general positive aura of the place. It’s the sense of joining a like-minded group, people who share your views and values.
The company, now worth over $10 billion, has come a long way from its initial $2 stock shares when it went public in 2007. The yoga-inspired athletic apparel brand did not gain such success through luck or chance, but by fostering a well-connected community of health and fitness enthusiasts.
It is no secret that the athletic threads at Lululemon are on the pricier side. The top-rated Wunder Under yoga pant can set you back a hefty $72. A coordinating Cool Racerback rings up at $42, and the best-selling Define Jacket comes in at a whopping $99. These steep prices, however, have not deterred customers. Yogis across North America continue to scramble for Lululemon’s crop leggings and breathable sports bras.
Kevin Willoughby, who teaches Fashion History & Culture at Southern Methodist University, says that Lululemon has done a masterful job of branding the product.
“People buy the brand because they like the story and they like the brand narrative,” he says. “I think it’s magic whenever a brand can capture the imagination of its customers.”
As you enter a Lululemon store, empowering messages and images grace the walls. You’ll see these on online advertisements and social media as well. The company is not only geared toward selling a product, but also promoting self-empowerment, self-actualization and self-esteem.
Our national epidemic of obesity aside, Americans have fallen victim to the latest health-related trend: fashionable activewear. Appearing to be in a state of good health is nearly as important as actually exercising.
“Whether or not the Lululemon wearer has actually gone to yoga that morning is completely irrelevant,” says Willoughby.
The wearer is showcasing that, in her heart, she has every intention of being healthy, continues Willoughby. “The thing about Lululemon that is so seductive is they are outfitting their customers to enter this body project and gym culture.”
The trend of women’s athletic wear is no new idea to the fashion world. In fact, there has been a tradition of sportswear in American history. Patagonia, Gap, Nike and Juicy Couture were all predecessors to Lululemon’s successes.
University of North Texas marketing major Alex LaBarba sees the brand all over campus. “Lululemon is the standard outfit for girls going to class,” he says. ”But the name brand is the primary factor in driving purchases.”
SMU junior Kian Hervey says she sees Lululemon as the Banana Republic of Athletic wear.
“Sure I can go to Old Navy or Gap, but Lululemon is top of the line. You literally get what you pay for when it comes to athletic wear, and Lululemon lasts,” she says.
An A-Z list of product features is included on the brand’s website. Emergency hair ties, 360-degree reflectivity, headphone cord guides, moisture wicking and zipper garages are all unique features the brand offers.
“The quality of product makes the apparel stand out from lower-end brands,” says Hervey. “The elasticity is much better than other brands and the breathable nature is very appealing.”
For those lining up to purchase Lululemon, the craze is about more than just great fabric. It’s about a lifestyle.
Cultural anthropologist Ian Dorfman notices that even on a fashionable campus such as SMU one will see a lot of girls in tights and running shoes.
“I definitely understand that they might feel a little nicer than the $20 tights you get at Target, but there is definitely something else involved in the pricing of a Lululemon pair of workout clothing,” says Dorfman. “It’s not purely function. In real economics it’s not only functionality that determines the price. There is also emotional attachment.”
The first store that opened in 2000 was created to be a “community hub” where people could learn and discuss the physical aspects of healthy living from yoga and diet to running and cycling as well as the mental aspect of “living a powerful life full of possibilities,” according to the company site. This may sound like a mouthful, but the idea has placed the brand on the fast track to the top.
With reasonable competition in the market, it takes more than fancy fabrics and inspiring slogans to keep women lining up for $80 yoga pants. The focus on people and relationships has done wonders for the brand. The local Dallas store offers a free running group on the Katy Trail on Tuesdays and complimentary sunset yoga every Wednesday. These opportunities serve as catalysts to forming a community of like-minded thinkers.
Unlike other big-time athletic brands, you won’t see any celebrities on a Lululemon billboard. Instead, the brand uses everyday women to market the lifestyle they want consumers to embody. Real yoga, cycling and Pilates instructors act as brand ambassadors who are given clothes at a discounted rate in exchange for their advocacy.
Social media has also played a role in fostering a well-connected community. The brand boasts a well-maintained blog, Instagram account, Twitter and Facebook. The Lululemon Instagram account, with well over 100,000 followers, frequently posts inspirational pictures of sweaty workouts, bits of advice to get moving and filtered images of yoga classes.
The feel-good aspects and cultured community keep clothes selling, and the brand shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
They have hit the nail on the head when it comes to finding the sweet spot among the active, smart, comfortable lifestyle,” says Willoughby. “Women’s sportswear has always been underserved by the industry, but Lululemon has nailed it.””