For my item this week I selected Lululemon Yoga Pants, made by a company called Lululemon Athletica.  I am sure some of the girls in the class have heard of this company but doubt many of the guys have.  It is a company that was started in Vancouver, Canada (my hometown) in 1998 and sells yoga-inspired athletic clothing for men and women.  It has been very interesting over the years to watch the company grow and expand from stores only in Canada to now all over the world.  When I first came to Bucknell I barely saw anyone else wearing Lululemon clothing, but now when I go to the gym I see the logo everywhere.

The company prides itself on its social responsibility and being active members of the communities where the stores are located.  They try to promote a healthy lifestyle that revolves mainly around yoga and running.  The companies stated mission is “To elevate the world from mediocrity to a place of greatness.”  The company also has a manifesto with many pieces of advice including “friends are more important than money” and “the pursuit of happiness is the source of all unhappiness.”  The company’s code of conduct which they refer to as “non-negotiables” is as follows:

  • no child labour
  • no forced labour
  • no discrimination
  • no harassment or abuse
  • freedom of association
  • voluntary hours of work
  • workplace health and safety
  • wage and benefit minimums
  • environmental responsibility

In terms of the factories the company uses they outline a 5 step process for how they go about selecting their business partners.  Including audits by third parties and getting all factories to sign off on the code of conduct listed above.  Being from Vancouver it has been interesting to note how their factories have shifted over time.  When they first started out all of their clothing was manufactured in Vancouver and they would pride themselves on not using cheap outsourced labor.  However over time, as they expanded, the economics and costs of producing in Canada could not compete with outsourcing and now I believe most of their clothing is made in China, Indonesia and Cambodia.

In terms of Lululemon’s use of social media, they are all over the internet.  They have a page on Facebook, a Twitter and even a blog on their website.  They have been in the news on various occasions for positive and negative things.  In 2007 a NY Times  ran an article claimed that their so called special fabric “Vitasea” made out of seaweed was just the same as cotton and did not actually have any of the benefits that the label claimed.  This test called into question the marketing of Lululemon products, which all have significant price tags attached to them, for materials that customers believe to be superior.  Another article that I found on a blog, brings into question Lululemon’s hiring practices.  This article states that her friend lost her job at Lululemon because “As a young woman on the larger side of average, she wasn’t a good representative of the Lululemon physical ideal.”  Now I don’t know what to make of this comment because it could just be a disgruntled employee, but it makes me wonder if there is some discrimination against hiring people who are not deemed “athletic”.

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6 responses »

  1. scoutberger says:

    I had never heard of Lululemon until my sophomore year at Bucknell. It seemed like overnight everyone was wearing their apparel. I laughed to myself as I was reading Sarah’s blog because she was 100% accurate. If you go to the gym, you will see girls everywhere sport the Lululemon logo and wearing their neon color outfits.

    The one thing that has always frustrated me about Lululemon is the fact that they really are such a fad and therefore, I sometimes think they have the ability to cheat their customers a bit with their prices. There is no doubt that Lululemon’s material is significantly superior to other companies; however, I still think that it is overpriced. Recently I went into one of their outlet stores meaning that the clothing is already at a discount. I picked up one of their pairs of yoga pants and the price tag said $115. I find this to be absolutely absurd. Yes, their are reasons that Lululemon is going to have higher prices, but I think one of the main factors is that Lululemon has become a fad and they raised their prices because they know that they can.

    On the other hand, there are some clear cut reasons why Lululemon would have higher prices (besides fashion reasons). Because Lululemon is so socially responsible, there are bound to be some things that are different. Lululemon promotes no child labour or forced labour which means that the wages in general are going to be significantly better. With this comes a price for the company. To compensate, the money lost is going to be reflected in the apparel that they sell to their customers.

    While I was reading this blog, I couldn’t help but think about the Nike case. At one point in time, it cost Nike next to nothing to create a pair of shoes, yet they sold these same exact shoes for about $150. Lululemon does not have this luxury because they pride themselves on being socially responsible and doing the moral and ethical thing. However, being socially responsible comes at a price and it seems as if the customers are the ones really paying for it.

  2. Connie says:

    I don’t own any Lululemon athletic apparel, so I don’t really know anything about the company. However, since the company has transitioned to outsourcing their labor, are they still charging their customers obscene prices for their products? If they are, it would be extremely unethical to reap a higher profit margin at the expense of the customers, as well as the laborers in China, Indonesia, and Cambodia. Along those lines, I wonder if this outsourcing strategy has changed the company’s mission statement. In those countries, working conditions tend to be less monitored, perhaps resulting in forced labor and child labor. As a result, it would appear as Lululemon is just playing up this image that they are socially responsible when in all actuality, this isn’t the case at all.

    • Sarah says:

      To answer your question Connie, I would say that the prices have not really changed since they started outsourcing their products. Over the years the price of a standard pair of pants has maybe increased by $15. I think the increase is in part due to the increase in popularity of their products and also some part inflation as well as keeping in line with other market prices.

      As far as the company’s mission statement I don’t think it has changed and social responsibility is still a big part of it. I have to disagree with you that the company is just playing up their social responsibility. Having seen the company develop, witness staff in action at various charity events and know some people who work at the stores, I would have to say that of the companies that I know on the market, Lululemon tries to truly live by its manifesto. Now not having personally visited the factories that produce the clothing I can’t accurately say what the conditions are like. However after researching them for this blog post and reading about their factories and the steps they go through to find reputable partners, I doubt that forced labor and child labor are even issues. First just from a business aspect I think a lot of companies have learned from the mistakes of Nike and don’t want to go down similar paths. Second child labor and forced labor are just not part of the Lululemon persona. Now this may be naive of me to say but I truly believe the company lives by the code of conduct they have set.

  3. Hannah says:

    I, along with Scout, had never hear of Lululemon until coming to Bucknell and she is right in saying that when you go to the gym, you can spot dozens of girls wearing their workout clothes. While I also think that the prices are absurd, I am guilting of owning a few items (but I also got them at a discounted price at an outlet store), because they really are great and durable. Not knowing much about the company, I will give Sarah the benefit of the doubt when she believes that the company is trying to live their values, but the comment about firing the employee seems a bit unsettling to me. I don’t think it is fair to fire someone just because they don’t fit the physical look of what Lululemon embodies. For all we know, that employee could have been the best salesperson on the floor, but just because she didn’t look the part she didn’t have the ability to succeed as much as her “fit” co-workers. Even if Lululemon is guilty of this accusation, they are by no means the only company to hire based on the physical look that accompanies the brand (how about the sales associates that work at Abercrombie or Hollister…young girls/guys that are offered jobs when they walk into the store to shop, simply because they are attractive and “fit the look”). This brings up a point that a company has the ability to be socially responsible on some apsects, but not necessarily on all other values.

  4. jordi says:

    What was the seaweed supposed to do?

    • Sarah says:

      It was suppose to “releases marine amino acids, minerals and vitamins into the skin upon contact with moisture” but now this is what they quote about it on their website “lululemon’s Vitasea® fabric is made with SEACELL®, the yarn derived from seaweed, and blended with cotton and spandex. The end result is an ultra soft, preshrunk fabric that retains its shape and stays soft after you wash it. We use it primarily in T-shirts for women and men.”

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