I don’t remember when I first heard about Lululemon, but I do remember I never knew how to pronounce it. It was not until a store opened in Memphis with a frenzy of female obsessiveness that I realized that it was pronounced Lu-lu-lemon. I was impressed at their marketing and how quickly my athletic friends became addicted to everything – I mean everything – Lululemon. They hosted yoga classes on the top of the Peabody, runs and yoga classes in the park. Being a corporate rat, I realized that their strategy was to build community and, with it, brand loyalty. It was very, very smart. And the fitness clothes were very, very cute and sexy… and …. I thought …. functional for athletes.
I remember the first time that I thought I was fat. I was about 14 or 15, and I was coming home from a basketball camp at Southwest Mississippi Junior College. I was just at the age where I was starting to worry about how I looked. I had always been a tomboy, and I was active. At the camp, we played basketball all day. I never put on makeup or did anything with my frizzy curly hair because I’d just mess it up. One night we got dressed to go somewhere, and I did my hair and makeup. When I walked in, the girls were shocked at how different I looked. I remember it made me feel sort of ugly…. and self-conscious if I wasn’t made up. I was driving home from that camp with my Dad, and I looked down and saw my thighs on the seat. I’d never noticed that they were so … well … spread out. I remember being horrified that I was fat. Now, I weighed about 110 pounds, so I was not fat. But that didn’t really matter to the voices in my head who told me I was fat. Every day since that day, those voices have told me my thighs are fat. They NEVER shut up.
So, Chip, founder of Lululemon, made a serious faux pas this week. He was trying to explain the quality issues that the chain has had with their $130 yoga pants. They pill in the thigh area. Now, these pants are $130. I actually don’t own any pants that are $130. I have a few dresses that cost $130. Even my most expensive yoga pants were $80. I felt like that was expensive. And, they are nice. They are Athleta’s Kickbooty yoga pants… the ones that make “your back side your best side.” They deliver on that promise, too. I’ll buy Kickbooty yoga pants until I die, thank you very much, because they make me feel hot in an area where I have been self-conscious since that day I came home from basketball camp. They don’t pill. I run in them. I do yoga in them. I shop in them. I do whatever the hell I want in them. I even kick booty in them. No problem. So, for another $50 I could buy a pair of Lululemon yoga pants that pill because – as Chip puts it – my thighs rub together. There’s no problem with the pants according to Chip. It’s the fact that my fat thighs rub together when I run. Oh boy, now that makes me want run out and buy a pair.
What Chip didn’t think about was that the emotional fervor that causes a woman to plop down $130 on a pair of yoga pants is the same emotional fervor that will cause a change in buying habits when a company insinuates their thighs or their ass is fat. I have worked in corporate America all my life. I know that companies have to limit their market focus, and maybe Lululemon is mainly marketing to women of a certain size and shape and lifestyle. But, you don’t say it in the media, Chip. Oh, yeah, and one article said that some stores don’t even put their largest sizes (12 and 14) on the floor. If you wear that size, you have to ask for them. Now THAT makes me feel sexy! Hey, I need some of the fat girl pants. Could you get me a pair? I want to pay $130 for me to feel fat. Great marketing ploy, Chip. I like the way you think. If only Chip had thought to say something that acknowledged that Lululemon had quality issues that they needed to fix in order to serve all of their customers. That would have gone so much better. But, now Chip is not going to have a good weekend. All because his fat lips keep rubbing together, and now his brand is falling apart.
I actually think Lululemon will survive this. I believe this will be a learning curve in the life of the brand and will hopefully make it stronger. I also think there will be some fallout among it’s customer base. My trainer has already said she’s done shopping there, and she was a big fan of the brand. The style was not a good fit for me, so I shop Athleta. My floor right now is littered with Athleta clothes. I have at least 10 Athleta dresses, several skirts, and all kinds of running gear. I have at least 6 Athleta bikinis, and I don’t even like to swim. Here’s the kicker. I’ve never liked the way I looked in a bikini in my life – until I found Athleta. I’ve never been able to go braless until I found Athleta. Their clothes offer support, style and functionality. When I went to Austin, I had my first opportunity to go into an Athleta store. My friend Denise calls it the Mother Ship. They wrote my name on a chalkboard in the dressing room. They didn’t limit the number of clothes I could bring in. Because my name was on the chalkboard, every sales representative knew my name and called me by it. I felt like I was shopping with friends. And I spent money. I spent loads and loads of it. I have a list of more that I want to order from the catalog. How’s that for kicking booty, Lululemon? Athleta likes my fat thighs, big boobs and bubble butt. And, I love them because I feel good about myself in their brand.
Think about this, Chip. What if one of my dear plus-size friends decides to train to run a 5K? She gets her Couch to 5K plan. She follows it diligently for months. She struggles. She backtracks. She gets back on course. She gets ready to run the race and wants something special to wear. She excitedly tells me that she saw this really cute top at Lululemon, and she wants to go get one for the big day … for her race. OMG… what do I do? Do I tell her that they don’t have clothes to fit her there? How would I do that? Or, do I go with her and look at her face fall when she realizes that they don’t sell her size…. that … she’s too fat for your clothes? This is my friend, Chip. This is a person who has worked hard for a goal and who has struggled every day to shut up those voices in her head that tells her she’s fat. I know that struggle. The voices don’t shut up. Your brand just said it to her again. Why, Chip? Your brand promises to be empowering women to be beautiful and fit. But, it’s only for a few.
This is what I’m going to do, Chip. When my friend shows me that outfit, I’m going to tell her that I know of a better brand to buy. I’ll tell her there’s a fitness brand that’s sexy, feminine and functional that has a great plus size line. I want my friend to go to the starting line of her first 5K feeling on top of the world and looking like it. One of the best things about running with women is that we text each other pics of our outfits before the race. I bought a beautiful Athleta outfit before my first marathon. Yeah, I’m not supposed to wear something new in a big race, but I do. Because I know Athleta fits. I trust it. It has value. It has style. And it likes my fat thighs … even if they rub together for 26.2 miles on a cold Chicago morning.
Power to the She, Chip. You conveniently forgot about that. You may want to get a pair of those Kick Booty pants.