I am not your target customer

Wunder Groove Crop

Image by lululemon athletica via Flickr

I got my hair cut today (short! ish!) and Nat hasn’t seen it yet.  So I’m sitting here, post-yoga, trying not to fuss too much with my hair before he gets home.  What better time to write a post?

I’ve mentioned before that I have a little bit of an obsession with lululemon.  When the weather’s warm, it seems as though I can’t escape these shorts.  I see these pants all over the place.  That stylized ‘A’ they use as their logo haunts my dreams.  Every time I see one of their products I think about how much I want it.

Lately, though, I’ve been asking myself what it is about lululemon apparel that appeals to me so much.  I’ve never tried on a lululemon product; I’ve never even been in a lululemon store; my skin has never come into contact with anything they’ve made, not even one of their reusable bags.  So wherefore my lululust?

For one thing, their mission statement and manifesto make them seem so approachable.  I mean, sure, you can’t easily read the manifesto, but how many companies even have a manifesto to begin with?  And theirs is filled with phrases that will lift your heart and make it sing, like “Dance, sing, floss, and travel”!  And their mission statement makes them seem so full of integrity.  And they like yoga…But even as I sit here reviewing these things, I can’t help but think of Special K, and the fact that I spoke to their director of nutrition marketing, who told me that their goal was to make women focus on health, and encourage them to feel good about their bodies (not necessarily make them feel as though they had to lose weight).

To be honest, I’m pretty sure that my interest in lululemon has more to do with the people I see wearing the product than the product itself.  Every time I see the lululogo, it’s worn by an attractive thin woman who looks like she could be a model on their website.  When I see runners wearing those shorts in Central Park, I can’t but notice their toned thighs and flat stomachs.  Same thing with the pants.  I’ve come to associate the product with a body type that I wish I had, and, like many a victim of advertising, I’ve convinced myself that owning the product will give me that body type.

It’s easy to understand how this would happen, what with the plethora of young, thin, fit-looking women in New York City…not to mention the plethora of young, thin, fit-looking women modeling lululemon apparel on the brand’s website.  I guess they have to use thin, fit-looking women to model their clothing, though, right?  Because no one wants to see thunder thighs in shorts like these, amirite?!  I mean, I understand the concept of modeling, and how it’s important to make the product look good.  But I guess I fail to see why a brand that posits itself as being health-oriented and accepting only seems to really promote one body type.  A visit to their website brings you to a picture of several women in lululemon hot yoga apparel, supposedly mid-practice.  All have flat, toned tummies, all are gorgeous.  Walk into any hot yoga studio anywhere and sure, you’ll see people like that.  But you’ll also see people who are bigger, or who have thin thighs and less toned abs, or large hips and a small chest.  You’ll see a variety of body types, because healthy doesn’t come in one size.  Healthy comes in all sizes. In my opinion, companies like lululemon have an opportunity to get that message across; they reach a broad audience, and their product is popular.  Why not use that position to try to change the way people see things?

Ultimately, if brands like lululemon were to live up to their manifestos and use models of every size, larger thighs in short shorts wouldn’t be so shocking to us, it would be as normal as smaller thighs.  Instead, though, we only see small, “perfect” bodies, even when the copy points out that the waistband on a particular pair of pants “helps eliminate muffin top”.  If that’s the case, show the consumer the pants on someone who has a muffin top to conceal.  After all, a company that encourages people to “do one thing every day that scares you” can’t really claim to be afraid that putting their clothes on women who are larger than a size 2 will result in a drop in sales, right?  That is, unless it doesn’t really operate according to its own manifesto.

Do you own any lululemon apparel?  How do you think their message of positivity compares to the images they associate with their brand?

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23 comments

  1. I own quite a bit of lulu stuff. You’re right about the body type. My husband often remarks that he thinks to even get a job at the store you need to put on a pair of their pants as part of the interview.
    I feel like it’s more of a lifestyle then a clothing line.
    I mostly buy it because it’s long enough for my leg length, and the bras are amazing for support. Not because of the name attached to it.

  2. Wow… I feel silly that I never put this together. I think I was a totally marketing victim too — I just accepted that lulu was for a certain body type, or that their products instantly made people look/feel a certain way. I know that people love the brand because it’s functional, high quality, etc. But come to think of it, I’ve never walked in the door of the store because I’m too intimidated by the image of their ideal customer that they portray — someone who is NOT shaped the way I am!

    1. That’s the exact same reason I’ve never been in to a lululemon store. I’m totally intimidated! I have this (probably irrational) fear that I’ll be the biggest one in the place and that there will be some weird you’re-not-one-of-us vibes from everyone else there. I know it’s silly, but only to a point, you know? Because if their website is any indication of what they want their customer to look like, then I do not fit the mold.

  3. I don’t own any lululemon myself so I can’t testify to the quality of their garments.
    But the price point of their clothes and the fact they use only slim and toned women as models is against the yoga philosophy that anyone can do yoga. Lululemon wants it to be exclusive: for the gorgeous, rich, and thin.

    …and that’s what they are going for. The wow factor. The label. They want you to want the clothes because you want the lifestyle that they’re trying to sell. It’s about image, just like any high-end fashion label. And it’s obviously working really well.

    1. I agree. And I’m such idealist about these things that it’s massively disappointing to me that this is the case. I *really strongly* feel that if a company is going to make a point about how connected it is to yoga-related philosophy, they should see that through every aspect of their brand. It wouldn’t be hard to do, and it would send such a positive health-at-every-size message.

      Honestly, these things get me so exasperated and worked up.

  4. I totally agree. I’ve never been to a lululemon store but I hear everyone talking about them. I definetly don’t fit their profile BUT I find it interesting that Oprah did rave about them so that must mean that they fit regular sized people somewhat? Either way I have the hardest time trying to find workout pants period because they all seem to be fit for a certain body type. Especially the capri ones. My runner’s calves just look gigantic in those capri style pants.

  5. I have a pair of lulu crops (a relaxed cut, don’t know that they make that exact style anymore) that I love for yoga. But only in my own home… I’m not sure that I’m confident in the claims that everybody’s butt looks fantastic in their clothes.

    I love their manifesto. I have it hanging in my office, it’s full of beautiful sentiments. They’ve featured different sizes on their blog, I recall a post where they showed women of all different shapes/sizes and how the same cut of pants fit on all of them. I think they honestly do try to help with the positivity in this world, it’s just that they are falling victim to the expectation that all the models of product must fit certain ideals.

    And those Hot Class short that you linked to? Yikes… I’m hard-pressed to think of very many people that those would actually flatter. I’d look horrible in them and feel horrible in them.

    But with all of that said, as much as I want to shop there… I always feel intimidated by the store.

  6. Apparently I missed the boat because I’ve totally waltzed into a lululemon store and bought stuff…and I am not their target audience hehe. That being said, I have a wonderful tennis skirt from them that is superb quality. On the other hand, I don’t think any of their bras/tops actually accomodate boobs over a C (ahem, DDs here…)

    1. The bust stops here is actually awesome…it comes in actual bra sizes. I’m a D and it has changed my life. No movement. I didn’t even know that was possible! I don’t own any of their other bras or tops, though, so I can’t speak for those. I do have arm warmers (which were actually pretty inexpensive – $20) and a hoodie that I”m sure was outrageously expensive, but was a gift and I love them both.

  7. I have seen women who are not the size pictured on their website wearing lululemon. Frankly their price points keep me away. I’m planning on visiting their outlet store when I go to Orlando to see if I can afford them there.

  8. i kind of love this.

    i’ve never been into a lululemon store. somehow, part of me just can’t justify spending fifty dollars on a shirt i’m going to run in or seventy five on a pair of stretchy yoga pants. maybe i’m just jealous. but really, i’ve never had the desire to step in there. maybe it’s the image i’m intimidated by. regardless, i’m pretty happy with my target running shorts and old t-shirts. but i’m with you — i see straight through that advertising bullshit.

  9. What you said is very true for a lot of products. Almost all products, unfortunately. My problem with companies that tell you to love yourself and then show “perfect” (or “ideal”) women wearing the product is that I worry that I won’t be able to wear their clothes. I’ve never seen a lulu store, so it would be different if I could actually go in and try it on. Seeing it online, though, makes me think that I’d stretch them in all the wrong directions. 🙂 Love the idea of seeing clothes modeled by different types of models. It’d be great if online stores did this – I’d feel confident about buying the product.

  10. My English might sound a little awkward, but I’ll say what I want to say anyway. I own several lulu pieces of clothing and I consider every single one of them either a great investment or an awesome present. They look great on me I don’t wear size two (not even close). The reason why their clothes fit so well is because they don’t just make size 2 bigger so it looks like size 8 or 10. They try them on different bodies so it will work on different shapes (a size 10 butt rarely has a size 2 butt kind of shape). This is something I have a lot of respect for. I once wore size 12 and 14, and since then, I can easily make the difference between both “methods”.

    I’m always thrilled to go to a lulu store, and I never had a strange vibe or got the feeling that I was not where I belong. The staff has always been nice and helpful, even when I would leave the store without buying what I tried on. I agree on the fact that it’s very expensive, but they work on beautiful design, offer great apparel, and I believe they try to give their staff good working conditions.

    That being said, I agree that if a company would take the “risk” of advertizing sport apparel with different body shapes, lululemon should be the one to do it.

    1. Your English never sounds awkward. I wish my French sounded as natural.

      Part of me wonders about the difference between lululemon in the US and lululemon in Canada, in terms of what the retails stores seem like. Or maybe part of what adds to the intimidating atmosphere for me has more to do with the NYC market than with lululemon itself. And it’s possible that if I had some of their apparel or a positive experience in one of their stores, I’d have a different opinion about their website and the image it seems to promote. But as a consumer whose exposure to them has been online for the most part, I have to say that a lot of what is positive about them doesn’t come through, and I think that would really change if, in addition to making their clothing based on a size 12 instead of a larger version of a size 6 (just to pick two sizes arbitrarily), they could show us what women of those sizes look like in the clothes. I don’t understand why they only take their message halfway, when they’re in a really good position to really drive a point home.

      1. It never even crossed my mind that there might be a difference between lululemon in Canada and in the US. But now that you said so, it reminds me that every time I’m in the US, I find commercials bizarre on TV. Chances are good there is a different “aura” in NYC too.

        Anyway, you are SO right about all of this. It’s not because we know it is the business that it is ok to let it be like that.

  11. i’ve actually only heard / seen lulu on blogs. i hear it’s expensive but everyone is always OMGMUSTHAVELULU. i don’t get it because it’s so pricey. but then again our culture is driven to keep up with the jones’ no matter the cost. plus, women will do anything to feel thin/beautiful even if that means a pair of $50 running shorts.

  12. I don’t wear Lulu, and I most likely never will. They don’t currently make products in my size, and I would rather support companies that really believe that healthy and beauty come in all sizes, and stand behind that statement. As somebody that is larger, it is frustrating to try to find clothing for working out in, it’s even more frustrating when a company claims to believe that healthy comes in all sizes, but not mine.

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