Inside The (Possibly) Dangerous World Of Lululemon

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lulu2Photo: Via Lululemon/Instagram.
Yes, technically and for all legal purposes, Lululemon is not a cult. It's more of a retail athletic apparel brand that sometimes sells see-through pants and used to have a very problematic CEO. But, in reading this Salon piece by Mary Mann, you might be forgiven for forgetting all that for a moment as some cheery sales associate asks if she can help you next time you hit up your local outlet for tank tops.

As Mann explains, the relentlessly positive (and secretly Objectivist) yoga apparel brand attracts and cultivates a sales staff that is at least as relentlessly positive as corporate HQ. On top of having their gym memberships paid for (no surprise there), Mann reports that store staff are encouraged to meditate on their goals and "passions" with a regularity that would surprise almost anyone who's worked in the usually spiritual dead-letter office that is corporate retail. The culmination of this would be a trip to Landmark, "a sort of group therapy-cum-self-help seminar that any Lululemon employee was invited to attend, gratis, after six months of work." Throughout the piece, the enthusiasm of the staff...sorry..the "educators" seems a tad maniacal — which could be a good thing depending on your personal perspective.

Now, Mann makes it pretty clear again and again that she was in it for a quick buck, so perhaps her take on life inside the Lululemon retail bubble is jaundiced. Nonetheless, she reveals a few stunners. First off, Lululemon has anthropomorphized their ideal customer, namely "Ocean," a woman who, "'does yoga every day, makes $100,000 a year, and dates a triathlete named Mountain.'" Good to know, if slightly nuts.

Mann's piece becomes more darkly interesting once the news of the now-infamous Lululemon store murders bubbles up. On learning that another Lululemon staffer killed her fellow team members, Mann writes, "It seemed inevitable. As educators, we were pressed to be our best selves, treat life like a party, and never give up on greatness. If you were unhappy, angry, paranoid, just tell a different story. The idea that you could shape reality to look however you wanted suddenly seemed dangerous, easily abused, especially among my Type A co-workers, who exercised and worked and exercised and worked and ate so little that it was not really a surprise that someone, eventually, snapped."

It's a fascinating take, if possibly a very disingenuous one. We mean, for all its recent public faults, Lululemon isn't exactly minting a new generation of Lycra-clad, impossibly upbeat serial killers. It's just another company, trying to sell a unique product in a unique way (unless there's some other dark secret we haven't heard of).

Whatever the case, do dig in to Mann's piece at Salon. It's not going to stop us from shopping at Lululemon, but it does make us oh-so-grateful that we've graduated from the retail grind. (Salon)