Lululemon: ‘We are back’

Lululemon gets the fairly big New York Times treatment this weekend. If that really means the company is back — after a series of gaffes, flaps and sheer pants — is up to you. From the story:

Though largely still built around the peaceful practice of yoga, Lululemon has not given up the fight. Indeed, it seems to be doubling down on the devout yet irreverent corporate culture Mr. Wilson created, though he left the board earlier this year, after selling half of his stake in the company for about $845 million in 2014.

The gathering in the atrium, billed as a Pants Party, was in celebration of a new line of women’s bottoms, which remains the core product for Lululemon. The various designs have names like Naked and Held-in and are being marketed to steer women’s focus from how they look in the pants (not naked, one hopes) to how they feel in them. The atrium floor was decorated with stickers that read, “I feel more locked in than a harness on a roller coaster before it flips upside down,” and “I feel freer than a skinny dip under the midnight stars.”

After Ms. Poseley spoke, the company’s chief executive, Laurent Potdevin, whose résumé includes Toms, Burton Snowboards and (less congruously) LVMH, also took a turn. “Who but you would take our anchor business and turn it on its head?” he said approvingly, in his heavy French accent, to the crowd. “It’s the culture of innovation at its best.”

[snip]

Mr. Potdevin’s strategy is essentially twofold: to grow the men’s business (recently with loosefitting pants designed to give their genitalia breathing room) and to expand globally. To accomplish this, he has brought on a new chief financial officer, as well as new executives to lead digital, “brand and community” and design — all men.

He also said he has tweaked the company culture, putting less pressure on employees to take, as they have for years, Landmark Forum personal-development seminars (though many still do, and the company pays for them, along with fitness classes).

[snip]

The whole operation has been backed since 2014 by an in-house research and development lab, opened in the center of the Vancouver office and encased in glass walls that frost over to assure the privacy that innovation (formerly known as spitballing) requires. It is run by an internal team of engineers and scientists called Whitespace.

The lab is a Wonkaville for athleisure gear. There is a weather chamber that simulates extreme heat and humidity, letting the company determine the effect of elements on materials, seams and other details. There are washing machines to test how well garments withstand the spin cycle. And there is an enormous treadmill built into the floor, surrounded by video cameras to help map out the stretch of seams and — that bugaboo — coverage of material.

I had to include that middle part about the men’s clothing.

Posted by Steve

Lululemon’s latest: Face-attacking tops!

It seems the good people at Lululemon just keep on giving.

The latest “really?” news from the uber yoga power is a recall of more than 300,000 women’s tops that include drawstrings that, if pulled or yanked on, can snap back and strike the wearer in the face with a nasty hard tip. More from Slate:

Lululemon is recalling 318,000 women’s tops in the United States and Canada that the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports led to “seven injuries to the face and eye.” How did these injuries occur? The offending items—more than 20 styles altogether—were manufactured with “an elastic draw cord with hard metal or plastic tips in the hood or around the neck area.” Because of this, when the drawstrings were “pulled or caught on something and released,” they could “snap back, impact the face area and result in injury,” the commission explains.

How severe were these injuries? It’s unclear. When I called the CPSC late Thursday afternoon, the case officer for Lululemon’s recall had left for the day. It’s similarly unclear over what period the seven reported injuries occurred, though a CPSC spokeswoman pointed out that the relevant merchandise was sold from January 2008 through December 2014. Lululemon, for its part, says in a statement that there were “no serious injuries reported” and no lawsuits filed.

As Slate notes, that isn’t very many injuries, which is the good news. The great news? More schadenfreude, which is a very advanced asana indeed.

Posted by Steve

Lululemon’s run of success may finally be coming to an end

Bikram backlash. Yoga patent lawsuits. Now, Lululemon’s losing stock value.

The Kali Yuga, for sure, right?

After Lululemon’s founder announced this past week he was stepping down as chairman, things haven’t taken a turn for the better for the yoga clothing company.

Check out this report from Friday:

Lululemon Athletica Inc.’s shares fell for a second day on Friday following a disappointing forecast from the yoga clothing company.

The retailer’s leaders said Thursday that its image problems are starting to take a toll on its business. The company also said that it expects a key sales figure to be flat in the next quarter and trimmed its outlook for the year. Lululemon also noted that customer traffic in its stores slowed in November.

[snip]

Lululemon also said that it now expects earnings for the year between $1.94 and $1.96 on revenue around $1.61 billion. That’s down from its prior forecast of $1.94 to $1.97 per share on revenue between nearly $1.63 billion and $1.64 billion.

Credit Suisse analyst Christian Buss lowered his rating on the company to “Neutral” from “Outperform” and dropped his target price to $59 from $78. He said in a research note that the weak forecast suggests demand is weakening for the company’s products. He said the company’s missteps, along with the increase of lower-price knockoffs, are hurting demand.

You think?

Posted by Steve

The thighs have it: Lululemon founder quits as chairman

Chip Wilson, the founder of Lululemon and the guy responsible for the series of recent gaffes — fat thighs, etc. — is stepping down as chairman of the yoga clothes company, the company announced Tuesday.

In I’m sure totally related news, no one today was surprised by this.

The company also has appointed a new CEO. Laurent Potdevin takes over for Christine Davis, who announced her plans to leave in June — before Wilson’s latest stuff but after the initial Lululemon-gate — that being the too sheer pants fiasco.

According to reports, Potdevin comes from Toms Shoes, where he served as president. And before that he was at Burton Snowboards, including a stint as CEO from 2005 to 2010.

On top of all this, if you haven’t seen the little bits of news here and there, there does seem to be a growing push-back against the company by former “Ambassadors” — those yoga teachers who get free Lululemon schwag — who are renouncing their ties to the company over its “non yogic business practices.”

As far as I can tell, these un-Ambassadors’ reasons range from the legit — not being comfortable with the Randian philosophy of the company as well as the public actions of Wilson — to the fairly silly — thinking that a company won’t put profits ahead of everything else, or at least on equal standing as “civic good.”

It is a business, after all.

Now, we can watch and see how that business does under new leadership. Drawing someone in from Toms seems to make sense: Similar core customers, similar “do good” image that has taken hits on and off.

Posted by Steve

Stephen Colbert names Lululemon’s CEO his ‘Alpha Dog of the Week’

“Hear that ladies, divorce is your fault.”

And that’s actually among the least offensive things you’ll hear in video from Monday night’s the The Colbert Report.

So enjoy at this link. (WordPress fail on getting it to embed.)

It includes mention of the “heart-felt” statement we noted earlier.

Posted by Steve

 

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

If Lululemon’s Chip Wilson keeps digging himself deeper, will he get to Samadhi?

You know, we try to play things pretty straight here.

There’s probably some snark some times, and we have our opinions on the various heavy issues facing Ashtangis: playing music, practicing at night, injuries.

But we don’t try to lay that out too overtly. We think of ourselves more as conduits for news, with opinion sprinkled in — but often that opinion being yours.

This time, though. It’s hard not to say the obvious: Based on the below video “apology” for his recent statements about women wearing Lululemon pants, the company’s founder, Chip Wilson, is a total ass.

And I really want to use stronger language.

I say that because, if you deign to listen and watch, you’ll discover that he never actually apologies for what he did. Here’s what he says, via various online sites that have transcribed it:

“Hello, I’m Chip Wilson, I’m founder of Lululemon Athletica. I’d like to talk to you today about the last few days of media that’s occurred around the Bloomberg interview. I’m sad… I’m really sad. I’m sad for the repercussions of my actions. I’m sad for the people of Lululemon who I care so much about that have really had to face the brunt of my actions. I take responsibility for all that has occurred and the impact it has had on you I’m sorry to have put you all through this.

For all of you that have made Lululemon what it is today, I ask you to stay in the conversation that is above fray. I ask you to prove that the culture that you have built can not be chipped away.”

Get that? He’s sad because people are upset, not because what he said was offensive and stupid. Sure, he takes “responsibility” and is sorry — but not for what he did. He’s sorry for putting you through this, instead of encouraging you to buy more Lululemon, one assumes.

It’s a classic non-apology, which typically really mean: What’s your problem for being upset about something? And it is more reason to avoid Lululemon, I fear. Even if you can’t destroy the items you have.

But, as I say in the headline: If he keeps digging, maybe he’ll get somewhere.

Posted by Steve