Blame Canada. In 2004, I was living in Toronto for the summer, right on Bloor and Yonge at the crossroads of Canadian fashion and shopping. Working as a singer/dancer for a cruise line, I couldn’t help but notice all the super-cute yoga pants and athletic tops my Canadian colleagues were wearing to rehearsals. Feeling like King Midas with my $500 weekly paycheck, I decided to join the natives and buy a lululemon athletica top. What a doomed decision.
Seven years later, my collection of Canadian workout gear has expanded to three additional tanks, two skirts, four pairs of hot yoga shorts, six sports bras, two pairs of black cropped pants and one sweatshirt, plus my husband’s own collection of lulu shorts and pants. Between the two of us, I’d say we’ve spent roughly $1,200 (give or take the seldom sale) to look pretty while we work out.
Since opening its first store in Vancouver, British Columbia in 2000, lululemon athletica has become a veritable candy store for yogis, dancers, runners, and gym rats who crave fashionable workout gear. Today, lululemon has 138 stores and 54 showrooms in Canada, the United States, Australia and Hong Kong. With their electric-colored sports bras, bun-shaping pants, and snugly sweatshirts, walking out of a lulu store empty-handed is nearly impossible – unless you’re broke in the first place.
“There are women we know by name, who come in the store once a week and buy whatever’s new and spend $200 a pop,” says Lindsay,* a lululemon sales associate in New York City. With pants starting at $98 and sports bras costing $42 and up, it’s difficult to leave lululemon without dropping a Benjamin, or two.
But regardless of price, that recognizable, swirly “A” logo is appearing more frequently on every booty, shoulder blade, and ankle at the gym. Even yoga and dance studios have begun to stock their shelves with the gear because it seems practically passé to wear anything else.
So what is it about lululemon clothing that makes it so irresistible? Originally, it was the vibrant colors, funky patterns, and unique design of the clothes that drew me in. As a hot yoga practitioner, the lulu bra tops and shorts do a great job of wicking away my perspiration, but it does seem silly to spend so much money on a garment that will end up reeking like an armpit.
According to the company’s website, lululemon has developed several distinctive blends of fabric that enhance its clothing’s athletic ability, but I’m not convinced of that legitimacy. For one, I have a hard time believing that “Silverescent,” a special fabric with silver woven into the material, prevents odors in the clothes because silver has natural anti-microbial properties. (If that’s true, the silver-enhanced material must explain the royal price tag. Tiny Silverescent hot yoga shorts start at $58.) Thing is, my Silverescent lululemon clothes are quite fragrant, and not in a good way. Still, I’d be willing to pay even more if lulu could actually design and manufacture a genuine Bikram yoga outfit that would never stink-bomb my laundry again.
Today, wearing lululemon has become something of a status symbol – an icon of yoga culture. And as shallow as it may sound, I feel hip and healthy wearing the brand. I may not be able to afford the latest off-the-runway handbag, but at least I can tote around a lulu bag with my yoga mat, publicly demonstrating my fashionable and active lifestyle. (Never mind that my lulu fetish seems to run counter to the true point of yoga, spiritually bettering one’s self through meditation.) It may be lame, but lulu clothes make me feel good, and I really do think they make my body look better. Perhaps that’s why the company’s popularity has exploded.
As a seasonal employee, Lindsay worked during the 2010 holiday season and witnessed the lululemon rage first-hand. She has clients who visit the store immediately following a run to gobble up the newest items, but rarely does a patron walk out spending less than $200 on two items. Admittedly, she too has an obsession with the clothing, and took full advantage of her employee discount: 30% off regularly-priced merchandise, and an additional 60% off sale merchandise.
“Since working there, I’ve bought five more pairs of pants, four tanks, two long-sleeved shirts, and one running shirt – and I received a hoodie and a tank for free,” says Lindsay. Of course, that tally doesn’t include the loads of lulu clothes she owned prior to her employment with the company. Lindsay also bought lulu apparel for her fiancé, mother, and brother for Christmas.
Today, 35 states across the U.S. have lululemon retail stores; from Columbus, Ohio to North Beverly Hills, California, so anyone with enough cash (or credit) can join the fad. The latest suckers are men, who have slowly started to catch on to the craze. “More men are coming in, and some complain that there isn’t enough men’s [merchandise],” says Lindsay, “Or they complain that the [men’s items] are too metrosexual.”
My husband owns two pairs of lulu shorts and pants, but he still remains gun-shy when it comes to shopping at the store. “I’m a man’s man who likes football, and the whole yoga culture – being in a room wearing tight spandex – is for girls,” he says. “I like the way lululemon’s clothes fit, but I think most men like to think of themselves as masculine, so I’m hesitant to buy their stuff because of the whole lulu yoga culture.”
Funny that my husband’s problem with the company is its biggest selling point for me: I’m willing to pay any price to feel good, sport the “yoga look,” and appear chic all at the same time. And apparently, so are thousands of women who foster the same addiction.
* Lindsay’s name has been changed to protect her identity and status within the company.