Oprah has a lot to answer for. The whooping, the hollering, that infamous couch-jumping incident of a middle aged movie star, and of course the mass hysteria (and rocketing sales) which surround any product linked to Brand Oprah. Recently, Oprah released her annual ‘Ultimate Favourite Things’ list. The list is made of products Oprah feels are ‘really really great’ (or perhaps, it is a list of products represented by publicists who are really really good). Items on this year’s list included everything from Ipads and Nikon cameras, to microwave mac’n’cheese, and a brownie pan shaped so that every individual brownie has an edge (google it).
Also on the list was a pair of Lululemon work-out pants. Oprah claimed that these pants ‘cut your butt in half’ and pointed out that anything that does this should be on everyone’s favourite things list. Amen sister. The Vancouver-based Lululemon Athletica is a yoga and running active apparel company, which in the last 12 years has expanded to have stores across Canada, the United States and Australia. The Oprah-touch will do wonders for brand awareness and sales, but even before the big nod from the big O, Lululemon was hot property.
In a crowded sportsware market, Lululemon has tapped into something which its core audience (largely the 15-40 years and female bracket) is really responding to. Buying and wearing Lululemon doesn’t just say ‘I work out’ or ‘I like yoga’, it brands the wearer as being one of the Lululemon sorority. Brands like Nike or adidas, despite producing women’s apparel, can be perceived as overly-masculine. Consider the Nike slogan ‘Just do it’, which is not that far from that great catch-line of modern masculinity ‘Man up.’ Lululemon on the other hand is marketed as distinctly feminine ( I should note here that Lululemon does make men’s apparel). Affirmations like ‘friends are more important than money’ are an important part of company’s branding. Lululemon sisters are young women who are body, and image conscious and do yoga perhaps more for its social cachet value, or the physical benefits to the appearance of their body, than because they want to meditate on their inner chi. These are women who are maybe dabbling with new food trends (veganism, rawism, low or gluten free-diets), who train and take part in sporting events like 10km or 21km runs rather than the more extreme events like marathons and ultra marathons, and who would like to wear their active apparel as leisurewear too. This isn’t a ‘hippy’ yoga brand, but an urban, modern, chic ‘pseudo hippy’ I-do-yoga-afterwork/class-but-before-meeting-girlfriends-for-coffee’ yoga brand.
Recently I was in Halifax, on Canada’s East Coast. It’s no surprise that Lululemon has a store in a prime downtown location in this small city, because there are four universities in Halifax. Such a concentration of univerities in a city of less than 300,000 people means plenty of college girls, ready to pledge their sisterhood through cash or credit to Lululemon. As someone within Lululemon’s target demographic, I began to feel out of place for not wearing the uniform of tight workout/yoga pants, trainers and a Lululemon or similar sweatshirt, whilst sitting in Starbucks tapping away on my laptop. Walking down the street, and at the grocery store, the ladies were sporting Lululemon. The thing about wearing tight yoga pants while out in public is that only the genetically-blessed, or those who really do do a lot of running and yoga, actually look nice in such unforgiving tightness. But fashion not suiting certain body types is rarely a deterrent. In an acknowledgement that their customers often wear the exercise gear as day or leisure apparel, the company has recently launched a line of clothing which is ‘sweat free’, so that wearers can go from working out to doing errands without fear that their odour will offend others. This line is even more expensive than Lululemon’s usual prices, which are already higher end.
I have heard the odd whisper about the quality of Lululemon’s apparel, and this article suggests that hardened yogis are turning away from bigger brands such as Lululemon towards smaller apparel producers, of perhaps higher quality.
It seems unlikely that Lululemon has anything to worry about on that front at present though, with the company having recently announced surprise earnings and with stock trading at record highs. I myself, despite trying to resist being sucked into such obvious brand-lust, was unable to leave the Halifax Lululemon store without purchasing something. I settled for a headband. Easier on the wallet than some running leggings, but still with a touch of Lululemon magic.