What The Little Black Stretchy Pants Taught Me About Lululemon [BOOK REVIEW]
I remember when I first heard the name Lululemon. It was in 2013, after founder Chip Wilson famously (or perhaps infamously) stated that some women’s bodies “don’t work” for their clothing. At the time, I was outraged, as I was one of the very women he was referring to. I was a size 16 and definitely not one of the size 2 skinny bitches who did hot yoga on the weekends that they were targeting. I vowed to never shop from the brand, especially after learning that they had the chutzpah to charge over $100 for a pair of leggings.
Fast forward two years and some change and I was no longer a broke college student who was buying leggings and work out gear from bargain bins at Forever 21. I had moved into an apartment that existed within what is essentially an outdoor mall, for lack of better terminology (don’t ask). One of the stores on my block was Lululemon- I was curious and decided to pop into the store.
At first, I didn’t understand what all of the hype was about. The clothing looked sleek and technically sound, but very simple. How could they charge $59 for a tank top? Who was buying this?
Then, I came across their Align pant.
It was the most comfortable legging I’d ever put on. Hands down. I learned that it was made with their Nulu fabric, which provides a naked sensation. Essentially, the leggings were designed so that you wouldn’t feel them when they were on you. No seems or tight waistbands, itchy mesh or tight legs. They were perfect.
From that moment on, I was a lulu fantastic. In the past 3 years, I’ve probably spent some $3,000 at the franchise, on jackets, hoodies, sports bras, and of course, numerous Align pants. Sure, the clothing may be overpriced, but there’s no other athletic brand on the market that makes clothing with this caliber of style and comfort. Plus, I have to admit that it feels good to wear the alpha logo, with that air of superiority and status that Lululemon brings to yoga classes, gym sessions, and to the street.
That brings me to today’s post topic, which is Chip Wilson’s new book, Little Black Stretchy Pants. When I came home for the holidays last week, one of the first things I did was make a trip to the local library to get a pile of books to read for the week. One of the first titles I came across in the New Release section was Little Black Stretchy Pants, complete with a pair of black Align leggings pictured on the cover.
Once I realized what the title was about, I picked it up immediately and cracked it open that night on my couch, complete with a glass of wine and an eye mask. The book details the life and story of Wilson, how he went from renegade snowboarder to an accidental yogi turned lifestyle entrepreneur.
For anyone who has ever been curious about the beginnings of Lululemon, Wilson really lays it all out there. He describes the immense amount of risk it took to bootstrap the operation in the late 90’s, his desire to make yoga apparel that was actually functional, as well as the success he enjoyed in Canada that brought the brand eventually to New York City, the rest of the US, and then the world at large.
Perhaps surprising to many, the idea for Lululemon was actually born the way the best businesses are: out of a need. When Wilson started practicing yoga, he saw how most of the women in class would struggle to do downward facing dog in baggy t-shirts and sweatpants and how the apparel didn’t hold up to sweat or body heat. Back then, everyone wore their worst clothing to workout and he wanted to create clothing that was not only stylish and cute, but that wouldn’t get in the way of the practice. Lululemon was the first of its kind in the ‘athleisure’ space (although it’s a term Wilson is actually not fond of) and in many ways created the now billion-dollar industry.
One of my favorite parts of the book, besides the fascinating story of an apparel startup, was Wilson’s general attitude of honesty. He wrote openly about the famous quote in 2013 that caused him to have to step down from his role as CEO of the company, as well as a few other quotes he’s given over the years that have sparked controversy. He seemed to recognize the error of his phrasing and regretted having made such a tasteless remark about women’s bodies, which I appreciated as a reader. It made me like Chip Wilson, if for nothing more than his willingness to learn from his mistakes.
With that said though, the man is full of contradictions. Right after this expression of remorse, he launched into what felt like a Trumpian tirade about how Lululemon wasn’t growing as much as it could be without him at the helm. I felt the callout of Lulu’s current agenda to be unnecessary and came across as childish. Also, it can’t be denied that Lululemon is doing just fine, as the company has experienced good levels of growth over the past couple of years since Wilson resigned.
Once I closed the book, I found myself both inspired and informed, as I felt I had a much more firm grasp on my favorite apparel brand. For any Lululemon fanatic out there, I suggest reading this book if you want to understand more about the philosophy and design behind everything from those reusable totes, the ambassador program, to the setup of the retail spaces, to the lengthy design process that garments go through before making it to the floor.
For me, the only thing left to be desired with Lululemon is apparel and marketing towards women who train in combat sports. They did a brief collection of gear designed for boxing back in early 2018, but haven’t forayed into that aspect of athletics since. I would be intrigued to see the kind of gear they’d produce for those lacing up gloves or putting on a gi, especially as an increasing number of women start practicing these sports. Lululemon logo hand wraps? Mouthguards? Mitts? Compression leggings? The possibilities seem fruitful.