Lulu Who?

Lululemon Athletica is a female, workout-clothing brand that is primarily known for it’s yoga clothing.  Lululemon is recognized for its high quality products, but the yoga community it supports and has become part of, is the fundamental and significant quality of the brand. As such, Lululemon is a very well defined brand and has created a new market in workout clothing, supplemented with an established story of who they are and what they stand for, that has allowed them to witness immense success and loyalty amongst their consumers who want to attach the lulu brand image and identity to themselves. At the heart of the brand’s essence, it’s the yoga lifestyle, identity and cultural loop that have been instrumental in its success. Lululemon has monetized on the growth of yoga (and yoga communities) and demonstrated successful strategic branding to become synonymous and iconic in the yoga world. Their holistic integration with the spiritual, yogic world has allowed their brand to act as a desired, fully encompassing and attachable identity and narrative for their consumers that further drives their loyalty and growth.

The Ideal Lulu Consumer & “New Age Spirituality”

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Lululemon’s advertising focuses on the spirituality, yoga narrative and lifestyle, rather than the products.

Lululemon has filled a void of alternative female workout clothing by embracing the culture of yoga in North America and is monetizing on the branding of the consequent lifestyle and image it’s established. Lululemon is not a luxury brand but neither is it extremely affordable. Lululemon’s strength and brand distinctiveness lies in how they’ve extracted, translated and embedded spirituality and other characteristics of yoga and the yoga communities into their branding. As the Western world embraces and obsesses over the Eastern practice and culture of yoga; lululemon has taken an aggressive approach in creating a synonymous relationship with it, as its first and foremost a workout-clothing brand specifically for yoga.

Sarah Banet-Weiser in her book, Authentic, illuminates the current phase of  “new age capitalism” we’re witnessing, which is essentially the expansive commodification of eastern spirituality. She emphasizes that “yoga in the US has transformed from a relatively small practice, with clear Hindu roots, meant to promote a state of stability, calm, introspection and reflexivity, to a full-fledged trendy business available only to those with financial and cultural means to support it” (Banet-Weiser, 192). Lululemon, as identified by Banet-Weiser, has seized this opportunity and monopolized by establishing a new market for yoga wear, guided and developed around the spirituality and practice, becoming a significant and recognizable part of the rapidly rising, yoga culture. Consequently, this also strengthens the claim that to know and consume lululemon, one must significantly know, appreciate and understand yoga (culture) to understand the cultural value and make the substantial financial decision.

Evermore, working within and as a part of this new, commodified culture of yoga and spirituality, lululemon’s ideal consumer is certainly athletic but assumably more sophisticated as lululemon’s brand identity isn’t solely married to the product quality and the durability they promise, but also the yogic lifestyle that’s the defining and blatant element of the brand’s identity, that raises their prices. As Banet-Weiser illuminates that spirituality itself has been branded, lululemon is succeeding by attaching themselves with this greater brand of spirituality and the ultimate exemplification of spiritual branding; yoga. The ideal consumer for lululemon, that is much in line with Banet-Weiser’s assertions, would hence be able to afford lululemon while desiring and participating in the yoga culture, spiritual identity and lifestyle narrative the brand has created in conjunction. Additionally, their ideal target can be identified as mostly female, active/athletic and educated, high cultural capital consumers (HCC).

Cultural Capital, as Holt synthesizes Bourdieu’s idea, are “ a set of socially rare and distinctive tastes, skills, knowledge and practices” that are usually dictated by presuppositional “generative social psychological structure” called habitus (Holt 3). Consumers due to their elite position and background/habitus acquire high culture capital. As Holt illuminates in his piece, “Does Cultural Capital Structure American Consumption?”, HCC’s are drawn to and value eclecticism, individuality/identification, exoticism, aesthetics and connoisseurship, of which many can be recognized and acknowledged in the lululemon and spirituality/yoga branding. Consumers are allured by the brands aesthetics, eclectic and exotic, eastern spirituality and practice, and attach the lululemon brand and lifestyle to depict and define their personal identity. Arguably, it has also become an iconic brand in the world of athletic/yoga wear, as the customers value lululemon “as much for what they symbolize as for what they do” (Lury 149).

To more accurately understand lululemon’s target customers it’s most appropriate to study the representational branding strategies lululemon uses to reach these consumers. These strategies depict the ideal audience they’re trying to reach as the strategies illustrate their detailed, communication tactics.

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The lululemon manifesto

Firstly, the lululemon manifesto is a very essential and revealing representation and document for the brand.  The manifesto can be seen in their stores and frequently on their recyclable bags that customers receive with their purchase. The manifesto includes quotes such as, “friends are more important than money”, “the pursue of happiness is the source of all unhappiness” and “breathe deeply and appreciate the moment. Living in the moment could be the meaning of life.” These quotes and the mere presence of their manifesto illustrates the spiritual nature and identity of their bran, the lifestyle they participate with and share, coupled with the positivity they exude. Their ideal consumer would appreciate and form a connection with this manifesto that is a result of their yoga centric lifestyle and identity.

The ideal consumer lululemon hopes to reach, additionally, would also have some background of the history of yoga and the rich Indian spirituality, that would further inspire and excite the consumer to participate and develop an aligned and long lasting identity. To this point however, Banet-Weiser states that, “the decoupling of Hinduism from the practice of yoga makes it something that can be sold as a particular sort of branded commodity to a wide audience of consumers while retaining the spiritual mystique of Hinduism” (Banet-Weiser, 194). Interestingly, the manifesto depicts this phenomenon as the brand maintains a broad appeal of spirituality and mystique of Hinduism that is appealing and appropriated for the North American and high cultural capital audience (Canclini, 38). Yoga and Eastern spirituality is “deterritorialized”, as it’s taken from India and adapted and modified for the West (Canclini, 92), by which it’s appropriated and simplified to fulfill the spirituality needs of the West, through the process of eliminating the true Hindu yogic and spiritual principles for a more relatable, western, modern and positive ideology of spirituality.

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A woman practicing yoga in the window display of the lululemon Toronto store provides exposure and intrigue to the brand, but ultimately attracts the target consumer.

Overall, lululemon wants to highlight and emphasize the yoga culture and spirituality to ultimately make it deeply synonymous with their own culture and identity. The heavy importance and weight placed on spirituality can be can be furthered noticed by their in-store endeavors. The lululemon store employees are called “Educators” who are expected to be much more than salesmen as they’re required to embody the narrative and the yogic lifestyle. Further, lululemon has a program called “gift of yoga” which features free classes that they routinely hold in their showrooms and offer online. The store décor is also aligned with the sentiment of the manifesto and the yoga culture, as the stores feature bright colors, inspirational quotes, knowledgeable educators and occasionally educators, experts, and lululemon ambassadors practicing yoga in the window displays. The yoga in the window displays additionally also assists in drawing the right audience/customer who is intrigued and appreciates the practice of yoga. Henceforth, Lululemon is a place to participate with the yoga culture not only through purchase, but also through education, observation or even the act itself.

#LululemonMarketing

Lululemon employs a few, different and purposely chosen media formats to reach their customer base. The media marketing campaigns align with their yoga and spiritual philosophies and continually enhance and support their image and brand identity.  To interact with their consumers and to converse about the spiritual fitness lifestyle, lululemon has created a robust social media program. It is of significance to observe that lululemon doesn’t spend much or any time on traditional media as their target audience characteristics feature tech savvy and modern hence, positioning their focus online and in store.

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Screenshot of lululemon #thesweatlife page that features pictures tagged by customers displaying their participation in the lifestyle through working out, traveling, wearing lululemon etc.

Lululemon is successfully present on Facebook and Instagram with major followings and ongoing conversations. They created the hashtag #thesweatlife allowing consumers to share their brand and yoga experiences, which they also feature on their website. With the hashtag they ask consumers, “how they live their #sweatlife” allowing consumers to bond and interact with the brand much after the purchase. It exemplifies their mission to demonstrate the expansive qualities of their branding. The social media program is very interactive and provides inspiration and tips that their consumers would be interested in and would want to engage with. To further support the development of local yoga culture and institutions, lululemon athletica also created a cellphone app called “om finder” which allows users to find yoga classes, teachers etc. and provides tips and tricks from local yogis. This app seamlessly displays their dedication to the yogic lifestyle and the cultural loop their profiting on. As they state on their website, the app and lululemon are “supporting your yoga habit since 2013.”

Lululemon’s social media program certainly does allow them to engage and interact with their loyal and established consumers but their Instagram also draws a younger audience. Creating #thesweatlife and now launching a new program #letsgetfullon provides a relatable entry for a younger, millennial audience as these hashtags spark their interest and welcome their participation. It allows millennials to interact with yoga and the brand in a way that is more attuned to their comfort and communication methods. For example, millennials post pictures of them living the lululemon lifestyle/ “the sweat life” as they post pictures after their workouts, after a healthy meal, a meditation session or even just with lululemon clothes on. Further, lululemon reposts the pictures posted by their consumers on their sweat life website page, demonstrating the value and power of the collective lifestyle and way of living. Additionally, though the app was a very strategic move to create a symbiotic relationship with the yoga culture and empire, it also provides visibility and brand awareness to consumers who want to try yoga and enter/become a part of this culture. It continues to maintain their relationship with the loyal yogis and participants while drawing in new audiences.

Lastly, lululemon also has a blog that is a central part of this discussion. The lululemon blog is the ultimate illustration of the living, breathing qualities a brand can possess. It features articles supporting and describing the athletic and spiritual lulu lifestyle, featuring lululemon products, with blog entries such as “how to layer for winter running” and “where to travel.” The blog goes one step further than the social media profiles as it captures the essence of what it means to have the yoga and lululemon lifestyle. It translates the philosophies of the manifesto with real experiences and discussions featuring stories and entries about inspirational lululemon customers, the lifestyle, the products, yoga, and style. The blog covers and captures the dynamic 360-degree identity of the brand.  It allows new customers to begin a bond and understand lululemon while it allows other customers to continuously participate, share and celebrate the same identity and lifestyle.

In conclusion, lululemon atheletica establishes their brand as a way of life that can be illuminated through the way they address their consumers. It’s about the yoga, the spiritual living, and the product but it’s more about the complete, transformative and embodied lifestyle. Ultimately, though this deep integration with the western yogic lifestyle has been their winning accomplishment and is successfully embedded in all their representational and media strategies, it does however, isolate and not appeal to certain consumers. Yoga and lululemon require a significant time and financial commitment and the overwhelming yogic and spiritual culture could also be off putting to some depending on their athletic activities and views. Conversely, lululemon through their communication and branding tactics could ultimately be attempting to maintain their brand authenticity and narrative by drawing in a customer base that, if not similarly participates, is at least inspired and appreciates the culture.

Luluheads Unite

Lululemon’s success and trajectory to becoming a billion dollar empire is undeniably a result of their brilliantly encompassing, well-defined lifestyle branding. From the conception of the yoga wear company, the brand has established an image centered upon yogic and spiritual lifestyle that is cohesive and inherent in all their marketing and visual tactics. Consequently, their established lifestyle has lent itself incredibly well to creating and maintaining loyal, expanding and robust brand communities in North America.

Lululemon’s brand community and the loyal consumers that are key participants of those communities, completely align with the image the brand attempts to project. The consumers that engage and form attachments to the brand are the brand’s target consumers, who are living or are inspired by the lululemon lifestyle. These high cultural capital (HCC) consumers for the most part actively participate or try to participate in the spiritual, yogic/workout-centered, healthy lifestyle, lululemon depicts and is defined by. “Luluheads” are what the “Lululemon’s New York community-relations director calls the brand’s fans” who sincerely wear, share, participate and represent the brand (Urstadt). The consumers that form communities truly relate to the image and lifestyle of the brand and ultimately, want to attach those meanings and identity to themselves. As Canclini eloquently suggests, “identity is a narrated construct” and in our capitalistic world, our consumption truly narrates and depicts our identity (Canclini, 89). The brand community members share a passion, appreciation and dedication to yoga/working out, spirituality and healthy living and consequently the ability to participate in the pricey and encompassing lululemon brand culture for which they want to be identified by.

The lululemon brand hence serves as a basis for communication and community among consumers, which has been a definite strategy of their brand development.  The brand lifestyle and culture is not only inherent with their store, employees and website, but also with the free community, yoga events and their social media marketing initiatives. The lululemon brand allows likeminded and devoted yogis and athletes to come together and share the healthy and spiritual lifestyle that has primarily caused them to identify with the lululemon brand. Lululemon further capitalizes on these communities and maintains their engagement by curating social media initiatives that foster communication between and with these participants who want to share and communicate their lifestyle. Additionally, lululemon’s brand communities are established and strengthened in spaces and platforms for health and workout conscious consumers to communicate and unite.

Lululemon has significant followings on several of the social networks their consumers and brand communities are present on. Through their active presence on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram, lululemon is able to keep their consumers engaged, united and enhances their brand communities. Blogs and social media allow consumers to unite together and share their love for lululemon, but also allow lululemon to curate and perpetuate the conversation. Their hashtag, #thesweatlife and draws a lot of engagement and gained popularity with over 40,000 posts on Instagram. Consumers share images and moments that illustrate participation in the lululemon lifestyle, keeping them involved and bonded to fellow “Luluheads.” The consumers share not only the products they’re wearing and profess their love, but they also are always participating and sharing an integral part of the lifestyle and culture.

Lulu Events

Additionally, the free events and yoga classes held by lululemon are also essential events that further aid and exponentially strengthen their brand communities. Lululemon was very strategic in understanding the wealth and importance of holding regular, free yoga sessions at all their locations. Yoga classes and institutes are locations where consumers bond and create the lululemon brand communities, as everyone is clad in the designated lulu uniform. By maintaining a clear and increasingly inherent connection and attachment between the yogic lifestyle and lululemon, these events are strengthening and growing the brand communities of the consumers buying into the lifestyle. Further, lululemon is also expanding into the increasingly popular, spinning culture (thanks to Soul Cycle), as they believe their HCC consumers would also be interested and attracted to this growing workout and we can notice new brand communities uniting around this up and coming activity that is encouraged by the lululemon brand itself. Ultimately, this is a key recognition to highlight, as the brand communities for lululemon are deeply tied to and around the practice of yoga/working out and additionally, the spiritual and healthy mindset. Lululemon’s community is hence developed and united online on blogs and social media, where consumers can display their passion and lifestyle for the activity and the brand, and also in yoga centers and new niche workout locations, that develops the lifestyle.

Is Lululemon’s Dedication to Spirituality and the Yogic Lifestyle Off-Putting? 

Though lululemon has an abundance of strong and loyal consumers and an established brand community, it also faces much resistance and aversion, especially in the recent past. Ultimately, the very tactics of branding spirituality and yoga that grow and maintain their target market and customers are deemed off putting by the others. First and foremost, the high prices and the yogic identity have constructed lululemon to be an aspirational brand that is specifically targeted towards high cultural capital and wealthy consumers. Additionally, because lululemon does have a rich culture and lifestyle supported by many dedicated fans and loyal consumers, many find it to be cult-like and hence, off-putting (Sacks). For example, in a forum discussion titled, “Why is lululemon so damn expensive?”, popular negative comments took over the conversation. Some mentioned they don’t like the “brand name thing” and majority critiqued the price stating how it wasn’t worth spending my “next paycheck on.” The price and the yogic and spiritual lifestyle ultimately act as discriminating and exclusionary factors creating resistance from people unable to participate and/or purchase. The brand henceforth, is seen as snobby, pretentious, overpriced and unwelcoming.

Undoubtedly, these attachments have fostered the creation of many vocal, anti lululemon groups who view the brand very negatively, unable to understand or appreciate the brand that they see as very pretentious due to the inauthenticity driven by it’s capitalistic and HCC qualities. As one blogger exemplifies, “lululemon is pop culture’s answer to wearable spirituality” and you’re surrounded by nothing more than “an aura of faux enlightenment”, a sentiment shared by many on several, different social platforms (“Why I dislike Lululemon more than ever”). Banet-Weiser could lend some insight to this as she states that “the branding of yoga repurposes Indian religion as “authentic”, in which the practitioner, not the actual practice, is “ authentic” (Banet-Weiser, 194). In the translation of the yogic culture and the brand to the HCC branding of lululemon has ultimately, lost the true Indian sentiments and religious value. Additionally, this loss and lack of authenticity also receives resistance from consumers who dislike yoga and the yogic culture. As lululemon has a deep attachment and relationship with the yogic culture and lifestyle, they are faced with the same aversion and critique. Yoga, as exemplified by Banet Weiser, has established a type of brand identity in the West that has garnered much resistance for its inauthenticity and similar pretentious qualities that is directly applicable to lululemon. Branding of spirituality essentially “is a process that exceeds Orientalism, as it is animated and enabled by advanced capitalist culture” causing such a reputation for ultimately being a “watered down”, westernized money-driven scam (Banet-Weiser, 184).

Interestingly and likewise, there is also a definite community of consumers who practice, enjoy and appreciate yoga but who are very against and dislike lululemon. Essentially these yogis also question lululemon’s authenticity and integrity, as they believe their practices are against the true yogic principles and are capitalist and are dishonestly exploiting and commercializing the practice and culture. As one consumer eloquently summarizes this belief, “Yoga is supposed to be about asceticism, not expensive accessories”, arguably adding to the brand’s inauthenticity (Urstadt). Hence, these communities of consumers who practice yoga build their identity and prove a point by not consuming and purchasing lululemon.

Conclusion: The Lulu Recipe

Lululemon as exhaustively illustrated is a dynamic brand with truly encompassing marketing, branding and advertising strategies. Though arguably the success of lululemon can be linked to the cultural context and the timing of emerging in the era of “new age spirituality”, the brand has sustained and progressed by their dedication to creating an authentic and encompassing narrative and story. Lululemon’s authenticity is ultimately, not judged with the authenticity of eastern spirituality, but it’s their brand mission and lifestyle they must strengthen and maintain as they have. Today, lululemon is identified as the brand in the yogic community, and as the brand grows, its identity is only strengthened. There deep dedication to maintaining their spiritual and yogic driven, high culture identity ultimately, maybe off-putting to some, but as it globally expands its positive vibes and lifestyle are rapidly gaining loyal adopters as the brand make it very seamless to attach meaning and become part of the community and adopt the lululemon lifestyle.

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