Letter From the Editor: More Than Just a Brand Scandal – What Lululemon Fallout Teaches Us

Lululemon was back in the news this week, sales but it wasn’t for a late-to-the-party cyber sale or another sheerness or pilling complaint gone viral.  No, health this news was a culmination of all the product and PR fiascos the wildly popular, physician upscale yogawear retailer has endured over the last few years: embattled founder Chip Wilson is stepping down as the chairman.

In a official press release it was also announced that former TOMS Shoes president, Laurent Potdevin will assume the role as the new CEO, replacing Christine Day.

For anyone following the Lululemon Yoga Pant controversy that has included a series of product misteps and verbal gaffes from Chip Wilson, the removal of Wilson should come as no surprise.

A few weeks ago, Lisa Zimmer co-owner of Fleet Feet Sports Chicago, contributed a passionate guest op-ed to SportsDivas, Inc., in response to Wilson’s latest slip, his statement on Bloomberg TV that Lululemon yoga pants were not made for all women’s bodies. The incredible response to Lisa’s spirited and personal article indicates that this is a topic that resonates with so many of us and the SDI audience.

I’m proud of the fact that the SDI audience is full of female athletes, yogis, runners, and lovers of sport and fashion. As a community, we share the same love of sport – for the way it provides a release like no other. For many of us sports are a way of life, which is exactly why I built a community around the very concept, a place that women could contribute, celebrate, and learn.

This rise of Lululemon, the status it conveys and the recent controversy that has resulted, reminded me of how passionate we women are as consumers, and sadly, how exclusionary we can be as well. I’m using this chance as the founder and editor of this site to let a few things I am passionate about off my chest. I welcome your comments below.

Promoting the Acceptance of “All Shapes and Sizes” Is Not Endorsing Obesity:

I read a few articles in the aftermath of Chip Wilson’s comments that used the public backlash as an opportunity to make the statement that as a culture, we should not be endorsing obesity and that woman who are bigger than a size 12 are a health risk.

This is a tough subject because I agree that we should set positive examples as a society of maintaining a healthy weight and regular, daily exercise should be the norm. But if you look at a cross section of America, where 40% of adults are considered overweight, clearly this message isn’t getting through.

Without diving into the weight controversy that so often results from poor food choices that stems from economic conditions, I will say that any woman that chooses to buy athletic gear, whether it is to be used for actual exercise, or to run errands in, should have options.

I’ve seen a few interesting campaigns lately promoting ‘big is beautiful’ and that plus-size women should not be shamed as a group. Yet, never in any of these campaigns have I heard the message that big is healthy – these women clearly know that they are at risk for heart disease, diabetes and all the other ailments that are brought on by obesity. These women simply do not want to be ignored or looked down upon because they are bigger than the average size 12.

I’m guessing that the majority of overweight women would love nothing more than to be a size 6, attend a gym class without feeling insecure, or participate in a half marathon.  If they want to buy a pair of $100+ luxury yoga pants to help them mentally feel better, look good, and motivate them to get moving, then they should have the options to do so, and not be shunned by having to go to the back of the store to find their size, as what has been reported at Lululemon stores in the past.

I’m quite certain that Lululemon’s choice to not carry plus-sized fashion-forward athletic gear will be someone else’s fortune.

Use Your Wallet as a Statement

As modern, athletic women, we are a loud and proud bunch. The reaction to Chip Wilson’s yoga pant comments were swift and fierce with many women turning to social media to express their distaste and frustration over the issue. While many of these comments were entertaining and articulate, the most powerful way we can send a message to Lululemon, or any company that embraces a discriminatory policy, is with our wallets.

Thankfully, there are many other options for fashion-forward performance based gear sold by retailers and brands that are not founded by those who discriminate and cannot accept blame for faulty engineering.

I’m a big believer in shopping local and supporting independent labels as much as possible which is why I always try to shop at franchised own establishments and hunt down smaller labels that offer unique pieces that not every girl in the gym will be wearing.

Back to Lisa Zimmer and Fleet Feet Sports. If you are a Chicagoan, then you are familiar with Fleet Feet Sports. I can’t think of another retailer – local or national – that does a better job creating a genuine community that is based around health and wellness and giving people the right knowledge and gear to excel in any sport they chose – regardless of shape, size or skill set.

Fleet Feet Sports Chicago

Most Chicagoans are familiar with Fleet Feet’s superior in-store shoe fittings and for their vast involvement in producing and sponsoring some of the biggest races in Chicago. But one trip to one of the three Fleet Feet Sports in the Chicagoland area and you immediately realize the importance placed on performance, education and quality.

Their stores carry a variety of lines ranging from Nike and Saucony to up and coming independent labels Lole and praNa. Fleet Feet Stores carry a variety of shapes and sizes – including plus sizes – and no matter how novice of an athlete you may be, you never leave feeling anything but satisfied and empowered thanks to the incredible customer service and variety of top-line products.

Mahdia Prima Pant from prAna: $75.00

So next time you are in the market for new gear, stop and think about why you are purchasing and the message the brands you wear are sending.

Do Not Let a Brand Identify You:  

Whether you love it or hate it, wearing labels and designer workout gear to the gym is becoming the new norm for women. More so than nine-to-five clothing, athletic gear labels are prominently displayed so everybody knows you threw down $100+ for your pants. As if there wasn’t enough pressure on us already to dress to impress, the gym has been added to the list of places we are expected to demonstrate our ability to be part of the clique.

Brands like Lululemon and Nike have successfully implemented brand ambassadors programs using influencers in the community as spokeswomen for their brands. These women proudly wear the clothing for free (or greatly discounted prices) and are often respected leaders in their industry, instructors at the hottest gyms and private studios in the city. They are tasked with creating community events and promotion that tastefully integrate the brand’s latest products for all of us to see and ultimately consider for purchase.  

It’s silly to suggest to women to avoid buying designer brands in lieu of comparable less-priced alternatives, after all, if buying designer workout gear puts that extra step in your kick or motivates you to get your butt to the gym in the morning, then that is a good thing. All I am suggesting is to be congnizent of the image you are buying into.

We all own at least one piece of “cheapie” workout gear that has lasted the test of time, wear and tear. I have a pair of label-free capri running pants from Target I bought six years ago that have lasted through hundreds of washes and sweaty miles. I still wear them because they are functional and make me look about 10 lbs. lighter. The fact that they were $15.00 and are label-free allows me to workout without wondering if I overspent on an inferior product and if anyone is judging me not by the fact that I am crushing it in class, but by what type of pants I am wearing. To me, this is a win-win.

There was a woman in front of me the other day in spin class who epitomized my definition of the female athlete. She was fit, not ripped. She was lean, not rail thin. She worked hard and looked good. And as I caught myself looking at her clothes, searching for that logo that identified her “status”, I found nothing. Whether that was intentional or coincidence, it worked – and left me to admire her for her strength and endurance, and not for what she was wearing.

About the author: Monica Murphy Vargas. Co-Founder/Special Contributor. Monica is the Co-Founder of SDI. A Chicago transplant for over 10 years, by way of her native Cleveland, Monica is an avid fan of the Bulls, Blackhawks, Bears, Indians and Buckeyes. A closet Bachelor fan, Monica is addicted to her BOB running stroller, NFL Red Zone, and Viktor Stalberg.  After 10+ years of rewarding gigs at ESPN and Comcast,  Monica launched SDI while spending time with her now 4-year-old twin daughters, Vida and Vivian. Monica is also the Senior Sales Director for Clever Girls Collective, the social media agency that offers content marketing and native advertising at scale across a vetted network of 6500+ female influencers.

Comments on this entry are closed.

back to top