Lululemon: What One Cornell Professor Says The Brand Is Doing Wrong



lululemonPhoto: Courtesy of Lululemon.
Tasha Lewis, a professor of fiber science and apparel design at Cornell University, dug into the recent Lululemon controversies concerning its too-sheer yoga pants, CEO Chip Wilson's jerky comments, and its off-putting rebranding of those recalled pants. For a company so concerned with image, it seems bizarre that its marketing strategy these days feels all over the place. However, according to Lewis, many of the brand's actions can be explained.

For example, when it comes to the $92 "Second Chance Pants," Lewis chalks it up, in part, to image: "Many times a recalled item, if it poses no health or safety risks, can be sold through an off-price channel — an outlet store, for example. However, due to Lululemon’s positioning as a lifestyle brand in general, having its items in the off price market is not consistent with the brand image. Lululemon works hard to maintain a ‘scarcity model’ for its products, so upcycling the recalled pants is a rather smart move from a brand standpoint and a way to gain back some of the lost revenue...Lululemon has featured a ‘we made too much’ section on their website for quite some time – this is where they own up to the fact that some items just do not sell well and are discounted. So the second chance pants are consistent with this sort of humble admission by the company that they have failed with a product."

But, what might be the brand's stumbling block? According to Lewis, one man in particular: “Unfortunately the second chance products are on the market at the same time as recent controversial comments by Lululemon’s founder, Chip Wilson. Wilson suggested that certain women’s body types are not suitable for the pants. This could alienate some customers, which may bode well for competitors of Lululemon, particularly in the United States. Gap’s Athleta brand is probably the biggest threat in this regard. Athleta offers more sizes, including some plus sizes, and has strategically placed their store locations in close proximity to Lululemon’s stores.”

With a wider size range, cute products, and no account of see-through-ness, Athleta is certainly an attractive alternative in the fitness fashion department. And, you don't have to be a college professor to figure that one out.