Despite its founder's best efforts, Lululemon is still growing

Lululemon Athletica has engendered the gratitude of men everywhere for their popularization of yoga pants. Now the company is trying to turn men from spectators to customers with the popularization of Broga. Broga is yoga for men and the name makes it sounds even worse than the growing fad is in reality.

More than 15M Americans already practice yoga and that number growing rapidly at an average of 20% annually with men making up about 25% of all yogis. When you look at the demographics of people who practice yoga, it is easy to understand Lululemon’s success. Of individuals who practice yoga, 44% make more than $75k and 24% make more than $100k annually. The median family income is around $50k. It’s no wonder that Lululemon offers free yoga classes at its stores and is trying to get more involved.  The company has over $1.37B in revenue. 

Companies like Nike, Under Armor and Lululemon have been trying to capture more of this lucrative market and have increased their success with to the male demographic as athlete an endorsers like LeBron James, Ray Lewis, and Victor Cruz have all credited their success as professional athletes at some level to yoga.  The key is getting men to look past the branding of yoga being for women and hippies and get down with downward dog. I do yoga occasionally (typically Saturday’s at CrossFit Cadre), and it’s a lot tougher than it looks. I promise you I’ll never wear tight fitting yoga pants though, no matter how flattering they may be.

Despite the growing popularity of yoga and the company, Lululemon has a long history of significant faux pas. Earlier this year, Lululemon endured a product recall of see through yoga pants that may have caught many Broga participants’ eye, but cost the company $67M after they had to pull 17% of the inventory from shelves. They have no yet been able to catch up on inventory and CEO Christine Day resigned shortly thereafter in June and the company still has not found her successor. Despite those miscues, the company is experience rapid growth so there is really only one reason that makes this job unappealing.

Chip Wilson founded Lululemon Athletics in Vancouver, British Columbia after taking his first yoga lesson. The name Lululemon doesn’t have any significance, beyond its catchy and memorable three l’s. As a businessman, Chip Wilson is a big fan of Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophy illustrated in her novel Atlas Shrugged and incorporated it into the company values. He went so far as to put the phrase, “Who is John Galt” onto the store’s shopping bags, which outraged some customers. (As an aside, regardless of your beliefs, Atlas Shrugged is a book everyone should read just for an understanding of the perspective.)

That isn’t the only incendiary statement Wilson has made. Wilson publicly said, “Birth control and smoking are the result of higher divorce rates along with more women suffering from breast cancer.” He tried to explain his statement by saying birth control encouraged women to enter the business world and made hem feel like a man’s equal counterpart, which gave them a feeling of power that led to cigarette smoking. To cap it all off, he also once said, “third-world children should work in factories.” Coincidently, Lululemon produces 70% of its products in factories that are in third-world countries. I think he and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford would get along well.

Just last week Kelly said some women's bodies, "Just don't actually work" for his company's pants. He has thus far refused to make sizes that would accommodate all women. Under Armor put out an add days later that featured the slogan, "designed for all shapes." 

Despite a founder that needs a PR team working around the clock, controversial company values, and the occasional see through product, Lululemon has had great success. As yoga and Broga continue to grow in popularity, Lululemon is expected to have strong growth as well. 

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