When you hear the name, “Lululemon”, what do you think of? Which images come to mind?
Perhaps you envision a perfectly sculpted individual doing yoga and finding some necessary chi in their busy life.
Or, maybe you see a Cycle Bar class full of attractive, 20-something professionals.
Whatever it is you think of it, it most likely involves some combination of good-looking people and a trendy physical activity.
You probably don’t think of a people riding 300 miles on a motorcycle tour through the Sierra National Forest and Yosemite National Park.
But, according to Ben Stubbington, the SVP for Design + Concepts at Lululemon, that was the inspiration for their collaboration with Wilderness Collective — an outdoor adventure brand that has everything from a quarterly magazine to t-shirts and guided trips.
Lululemon recently released this new line of outdoor-centric gear, which ranges from a (dope-looking) Escape and Explore long sleeve and rain jacket, as well as their Fjallraven-esque Storm Field Pants.
At first glance, the lineup looks pretty good. Although, I’m not crazy about the “Sage Stone/Silver Stage” color option. The black options, meanwhile, look much better.
The products also have the appearance of being more of a day trip, travel gear as opposed to hiking or camping — like you would wear it on a weekend trip to a secluded cabin, but not portaging in the Boundary Waters for a week. They look too nice for that.
So, assuming that these products hold up in terms of being high-quality and functional, what are the chances the Vancouver-based company can successfully pick up some traction in the very crowded outdoor apparel market?
Well, Lululemon is a smart, innovative company, so they wouldn’t branch off into this market if they didn’t think it wouldn’t work out. They also certainly aren’t strapped for cash, so this isn’t an act of desperation to try and improve profits.
The collaboration is limited, so it’s likely that Lululemon is testing the waters; seeing whether or not they could fully integrate into the outdoor apparel market. You may have also noticed that there is not a women’s line yet, but Instagram comment replies from the brand suggest that they are certainly considering it. Perhaps that decision will be based on the success of this initial line.
In terms of capturing some of that market, it certainly helps that the outdoor apparel industry is growing — this despite the fact that the overall numbers in the fashion apparel industry are down. A 2018 report from the marketing firm NPD showed that the apparel market was down 4%.
Meanwhile, that same pool of data showed the outdoor apparel was up 2% from November 2017 to November 2018.
Lee Peterson, the executive vice president of retail consultancy WD Partners Inc. cites “lifestyle branding” as a key component to the success of outerwear companies.
It’s fairly common knowledge that millennials and younger consumers prefer experiences over things when it comes to what they spend their money. This idea of experiencing nature and getting outside is what many of these outwear companies are built on.
Not only are companies like Northface, Patagonia, and REI promoting experiencing the outdoors, but they also encourage an appreciation for the outdoors.
“For REI to abstain from Black Friday, it’s genius,” Peterson says in a The Street article. “And Patagonia, with their message to [President Donald Trump] about preserving national parks, they understand that it’s important to be true to their brand.”
It’s no doubt that younger consumers appreciate this authenticity and backing up the talk from brands like REI and Patagonia and are drawn to their products because they, too, want to be part of the movement to combat environmental issues like climate change.
This begs the question, what exactly does Lululemon have to offer in terms of using their new platform for environmentalism? And do they have an obligation to use there new outdoor apparel for a sustainable purpose (i.e. donating profits to environmental causes or promoting climate change action)?
To the latter question, I would say they don’t necessarily have an obligation to denounce the lack of climate change initiatives in our government today or to donate 1% of their profits towards an environmental nonprofit. But, it is expected that companies operating within the outdoor apparel industry do something to help promote a healthy, sustainable planet and perform well in the avenue of social responsibly. And after all, a healthy planet is in their best interest considering their target market and product offering.
While Lululemon has certainly improved since 2014, an article from then on Seeking Alpha gives Lululemon poor marks in environmental stewardship and social responsibility overall.
The athleisure brand has come out of these scandals and PR nightmares relatively unscathed — due in large part to the quality of their products and the need to be a part of their cult-like lifestyle branding.
But fitness brands should be promoting inclusivity and health and wellness for everybody. And Lululemon has struggled with that notion (perhaps going back to a woman CEO would be the step in the right direction).
For many outdoor fans, the move to enter the outerwear industry may come across as disingenuous and opportunistic.
Outerwear consumers want the brands they buy from to be authentic and generous, which is certainly something Lululemon can improve upon. Especially if they want to try and stack up against the giants of the outdoor apparel industry.
However, Lululemon has dedicated some marketing resources to advocating for getting outside in the past. Their “The Air Out There” campaign a few years ago is an example of this.
A little more of that and a little less controversy could go a long way towards turning skeptics — who don’t see Lululemon as a socially responsible, environmentally-friendly brand — into believers.