What Lululemon allows image-conscious urban women to be

I don’t want to get too deep into the sheer (a pun, by the way) craziness that is the ongoing Lululemon story, but I came across this piece in the New Republic on the company’s founder, Chip Wilson, and it seems worth a read for a few reason:

  • It traces Wilson’s work history back to the oil fields of Alaska. Where every yoga company CEO begins.
  • It conflates Wilson and Whole Foods Market John Mackey and their shared love of Ayn Rand and libertarianism. I can’t help wondering if there is something that further conflates libertarianism and liberal business — particularly consumer business. Do old-fashioned liberals/progressives not have the John Galt spunk to create their own yoga clothing behemoth?
  • It ends with this line: “But perhaps most crucially of all to its business model, though, Lululemon has finally allowed image-conscious urban women to be full, unembarrassed participants in the true American dream—wearing sweatpants in public.”

Here’s a little more:

There is a boom market in ostentatious wellness these days, one that is underpinned by the same synthesis of seemingly opposite impulses—to achieve, and to bliss out—that drives Wilson. His customers are much more like him than many would care to admit. If you seek spiritual enlightenment through yoga and fasting, go to India or the 1960s. If you want to have the best-looking ass in line at Starbucks, try Lululemon’s free Saturday class and a pair of $82 Wunder Unders.

I think from that you can get the gist.

Perhaps as a palate / mind cleanser, I can offer David Garrigues’ latest:

Listening and feeling within involves a certain ‘heart donkey’ work in doing long periods of zen koan like, inward turning puzzle solving that takes the form of active thought and struggling for answers on how to progress. This effortful work alternates with suspending willful striving, receptivity, trust, and letting go enough for answers to arrive on their own. Largely Yoga is about the relationship I develop with my own mind, its entire range from brilliant to brutish. And as I struggle, sort through, let go, and clear my mind, then my connection to the Source can take the lead.

Is the Source the next gen Lululemon material? If it isn’t, it ought to be. (I’ll only take a small %, Mr. Wilson.)

Posted by Steve

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Another reason not to wear Lululemon: Ayn Rand

It’s fair to say that Lululemon is the choice — albeit not the only choice — of Ashtangis. It’s hard not to notice its subtle little logo on the back of pants and shirts that dot an Ashtanga room. (Well, unless of course you’re owning your dristis — surely some yoga teacher has used that phrase — which, given a recent conversation between Bobbie and me, I can say I am not.)

Image from Lululemon

I’ll go out on a limb and bet that more than a few of those Lululemmings kinda, sorta know there is a better use for their $75 than on a pair of yoga pants. (I’ve got a few, so I’m not not pointing the finger at me. It has been years since I bought any… which may prove their value and resiliency.)

Well, now comes news that adds another layer to the reasons not to wear Lululemon. I’ll let the Globe and Mail do the dirty work:

Lululemon Athletica Inc. (LLL-T 53.89-1.85-3.32%), the Vancouver-based retailer of choice for yoga devotees who want to strike a fashionable pose while attaining a higher state of being, is interrupting the positive energy flow of some of its most loyal customers by promoting a controversial novel by Ayn Rand.

In late October, the company began using shopping bags with the words “Who is John Galt?” a catchphrase from the 1957 novelAtlas Shrugged, which rails against government and advocates self-interest as a key ingredient of a better world.

The company also added the book to its staff reading list.

[snip]

A post on the official Lululemon blog explains that the company’s founder Chip Wilson, who readAtlas Shrugged at 18, was inspired by its encouragement to “elevate the world from mediocrity to greatness.”

[snip]

But a Rand expert says the blog post displays a misreading of the author’s philosophy, known as objectivism. “She wouldn’t put it as an issue of living life fully or mediocrity,” said Onkar Ghate, a senior fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, Calif. “It’s between pursuing your own happiness and self-interest and understanding why that pursuit is right, and to regard that pursuit as noble versus a society that regards it as wrong and ignoble.”

I’m sure I don’t have to provide the various “yoga reactions” also included in the piece. But here’s the link to the Lululemon blog.

If I were any sort of a Rand expert, well, first I’d probably not be blogging about Ashtanga, but beyond that, I’d provide a fuller perspective. What I do know gibes with the Ayn Rand Institute’s person’s take on things. Objectivism is not about elevating the world, it’s about elevating the self. And, I dare say, those who disagree with its tenants would likely add “it’s about elevating the self no matter the cost to the world.”

So I’m going on the record to say Lululemon got this one wrong, even if the company is claiming its logos are meant to promote debate.

UPDATE: NPR picked up the “controversy.” A transcript and the audio is right here.

Posted by Steve