Boy, oh boy.
About a week or so ago, I saw a headline talking about Lululemon discriminating against plus sized women. At first, I brushed it off thinking... well, who is out there wanting to shell out $100+ per piece on skanky workout clothes if they're overweight anyway? Because, let's face it, most of the stuff at Lulu is made for sweating in workouts that don't exactly happen in the gym, if you know what I'm sayin'...
*Actual workout gear from Lululemon. No, not a swimsuit... or a streetwalker costume.
So I strolled on my merry way, and stopped thinking any more about the subject.
But, something in the back of my head just kept itching. And of course, when you have an itch, at some point you have to scratch.
That's when the googling began.
Let's start with the history. On July 31st the Huffington Post published an article titled "Shunning Plus Sized Shoppers is Key to Lululemon's Strategy, Insiders Say". The article was backed by two former Lulu employees, one named Elizabeth Licorish, and the other remaining anonymous. Essentially, the article touches on how Lulu doesn't carry anything over a size 12, and how most sizes over 8 are somewhat of a sore spot *supposedly* for stores, with them tending to be hidden in back instead of put out on the floor with all other product. In a nut shell, the store encouraged discriminating based on size.
So far, I'm not too shocked. The fitness industry isn't exactly geared towards the overweight crowd.
After the article went up July 31st, I guess sh!t hit the fan for Lulu's PR group. All sorts of people started getting up in arms about Lulu fat shaming, etc., etc. This is where I started rolling my eyes, because while I agree that something is fishy with Lululemon, I don't think any clothing company should be forced to accommodate all sizes... that's why they are a private business, they make their own choices and sell what they want.
Moving on. Apparently, somewhere between August 1st and August 7th, enough of a stink was made that Lulu made a statement:
"Our product and design strategy is built around creating products for our target guest in our size range of 2-12. While we know that doesn't work for everyone and recognize fitness and health come in all shapes and sizes, we've built our business, brand and relationship with our guests on this formula. So it’s important for us to maintain our focus as we innovate our products and expand our business internationally in the years ahead.”
Hmmm... something in this statement this felt off to me. I kept googling and found another article.
"In an interview with the Calgary Herald in 2005, Lululemon founder and former chief executive officer Chip Wilson said it takes 30% more fabric to create plus-size clothes, meaning he would have to charge a higher price for them. Wilson wouldn't do that, he said, because plus-size people are sensitive, and he didn't want his company to bear the fallout of such a move."
OK, wait. I know retail. I worked in product development for stores like Target and Best Buy for over 5 years before I switched into the industry I'm in now. Don't lose me here but... even if you need 30% more fabric, when a retailer takes over 60% markup on their products, that extra bit of fabric is less than 5% of the final sale price of an apparel item. (Product cost isn't just fabric, btw - there is labor, packaging, duty rates, etc. and none of those change based on size). If you introduce less than 10% of your product line in these larger sizes, and wash out the extra cost across the board of all sizes... well, in a nut shell, offering a few more sizes up really doesn't have a huge impact on cost.
I'm oversimplifying here, but it's true - adding a couple more sizes up in limited availability wouldn't really hit Lulu's pocketbook much, if at all.
Or, if it was really that big of an issue, Lulu could offer a plus sized pricing strategy. If they don't realize this option exists, they are either extremely stupid as a company or obviously not very aware of the standard retail market.
I say this because most people are used to seeing the 1X/2X+ realm of products sold under a different pricing structure. Just look at how retailers like JCP or Target sell online and you'll see what I mean. The same item, same design/fabric, will be sold under two different web links - one for XS-XL, one for plus sizes. And typically, the price varies.
Ok, ok. I'm starting to derail my conversation.
Let's reflect for a second on what I've been able to discover:
1 - Lululemon store employees claim they are being encouraged to hide the "larger" sizes (sorry for the quotation marks - size 10/12 is not "large").
2 - Lululemon's PR group says they want to keep their focus on the size 2-12 range.
3 - Lululemon's founder made up lame excuses 5 years ago as to why he won't offer bigger sizes.
This is all starting to sound very reminiscent of Abercrombie and their ongoing behaviors re-enforcing what an ass-hat brand they are. If you don't know what I'm talking about, google a bit about their sizing strategies and their top exec. For example, did you know he profiles people by appearance all the way down to who he'll let be his steward on an airplane and who can clean his house? Insane.
I'm starting to see a lot of parallels between Abercrombie and Lululemon. Think about it. Have you ever seen a "normal" girl working in a Lulu store? Much like walking into an Abercrombie, you will not see a "normal" guy. And if either store is profiling people based on looks at that basic of a level, what do you think they're doing to you when you walk in the door?
As if this isn't enough, I kept googling on and found this article, which was a follow up to the Huffington Post article on July 31st, and was written by one of the sources - Elizabeth. I definitely recommend you read it... she is very well spoken, and if you've ever worked in a company that felt cultish or pressured you to fit in with the clique, you'll have an immediate connection with her story.
Also highlighted in Elizabeth's article is the fact that a Lululemon employee a few years back killed her coworker. I know you can't put an individual's actions on a company, but if that doesn't hint at some of the stress culture Lulu is creating based on appearance profiling, I don't know what is.
So, a brand that focuses on waist size rather than fitness... who says they encourage healthy lifestyles for everyone but only employ the skinniest of women in their stores... and the proceeds to hide their larger pant sizes in the back...
What kind of store is this?
Are you sure you want to shop there?
After posting this blog, a friend directed me to this interesting collection of news blurbs connected to Lululemon. Feel free to read to find out even more about the company...