Lululemon Athletica Inc. was founded in Vancouver, Canada, in 1998 by Chip Wilson (Lululemon). This yoga inspired clothing store began as a design studio by day and a yoga studio by night, and is now one of the most sported brands on the market (Lululemon). Their stores appear across the world with over 250 locations globally which offers customized yoga clothing, bags, yoga mats, headbands, bracelets and much more. Although this successful brand provides quality apparel, the advertising and marketing is fundamental to what made Lululemon what it is today. Lululemon Athletica is the embodiment of the ‘Western' world's ideology of yoga. The use of the ‘West's' romanticism towards the ‘Eastern' world proves to be a good business platform in the ‘West' and exemplifies its obsession with yoga as well as this particular brand. In the following paper, I will discuss how Lululemon Athletica uses yoga influences to legitimize themselves as a successful clothing brand through their manifesto, yoga classes and connections to the ‘East'.
Lululemon's manifesto is displayed on all their bags and advertisements (Lululemon). The displays portray different phrases of inspiration which appeal to the eye. Phrases such as “Love yourself” and “Jealousy works the opposite way you want it to” are examples of the empty phrases that cover the bags and appear on the walls of the store (D'Orsogna, 33). Their manifesto is mainly comprised of quotes that imply how to live a better life, ultimately through yoga. Although meaningless, every quote has an objective and a subconscious mission to make people think they will realize these quotes once they buy Lululemon clothing. In addition, this marketing hack is essential for the brand to target the specific audience in which Lululemon gears their apparel towards.
Vivekenanda is essential to understand the audience Lululemon is geared towards. This young swami directly fed America “yoga” and the ‘West' accepted it with open arms (Parent). When Vivekenanda came to America, he believed the ‘West' was missing spirituality therefore created an entire yoga system that the ‘West' soaked up (Parent). Lululemon, as a brand, plays on the same goals in which Vivekenanda had when he came to America. Lululemon, just like Vivekenanda, believes that one should be doing yoga to take a break from the capitalist lifestyles that ‘westerners' live (Rosman). When you buy Lululemon apparel, you are not only buying their items however also buying into their lifestyle and set of values (Gregoire). As De Michelis mentions about Vivekenanda: “Its message was that many in cultic milieus worldwide had been waiting for a flexible set of teachings that would meet their craving for exotic but nevertheless accessible and ideologically familiar forms of practical spirituality” (150). Vivekenanda won the hearts of many in America and from there bore modern postural yoga; yoga as we know today (De Michelis, 190). “We know that yoga rejuvenates our bodies and calms our minds, and one of the ways we practice giving without expectation is by sharing our love for yoga” (Lululemon) can be found on every Lululemon bag and encompasses exactly what modern postural yoga; the idea that yoga is solely about the unity of mind and body. In addition, the practice of giving without expectation, a familiar phrase that can be attributed to Buddhism. Many phrases have subtle Buddhist influences such as “the pursuit of happiness is the source of all unhappiness” (Lululemon) which is clearly from the four noble truths, where our suffering as people stems from the fact that we want everything to be permanent (Parent). It is interesting to recognize that although Buddhism is not quoted or mentioned on the bag, the small empty phrases can offer more meaning than it seems.
The most important thing to note is that Lululemon directly targets people who live capitalist lifestyles. As D'Orsogna claims: “the (phrases) are sound bites which lack context and substance, but create a feeling that Lululemon can help consumers successfully balance their pragmatic capitalist lives with an anti-stress ethos of yoga.” (263). D'Orsogna depicts the ‘Western' population when she describes the capitalist lifestyles. Lululemon also has quotes that target business oriented individuals such as “Successful people replace the words ‘wish', ‘should' and ‘try' with ‘I will', ineffective people don't” and “Write down two personal, two business and two health goals for the next 1, 5 and 10 years, do this 4 times a year, goal setting triggers your subconscious computer” (Lululemon). Once people buy Lululemon, these phrases relate to them and become part of their identity. “Lululemon Athletica was formed to provide people with components to live a longer healthier and more fun life” (Lululemon). Such phrases suggest that if you purchase their clothing that are directed towards yoga do-ers, it is a step towards living a more fulfilled life that everybody seeks and suggests that you have begun the practice of yoga. Furthermore, “If we can produce products to keep people active and stress free, we believe the world will be a better place.” (Lululemon), which targets overly busy people who feel the need to slow down and practice stress reducing yoga.
It is also essential to recognize the type of person within capitalist lifestyles which they target. Lululemon leggings are priced at 96$ plus tax. This high price combined with thin white women models that appear on their website and on store walls suggest that Lululemon targets the employed or wealthy woman (Gregoire). It is interesting to see the correlation between the people who practice yoga in the ‘West' and Lululemon's target. To further discuss the targeted audience, there exists yoga statistics that tell us that there are 77.1% of people who practice yoga that are female and the rest are male (Lamb). Additionally, 29.1% of people are between the ages of 18-34 and 41.6% of people are between the ages of 35-54 (Lamb). Similarly, women of child bearing ages also fall into the same ranges and are also included on their manifesto: “children are the orgasm of life” (Lululemon) which further proves that Lululemon targets mothers as well. It is also important to note the white presence in a yoga studio. The United States Department of Labor expresses the dominance of white women in the work force, 40% to be exact (Women's Bureau). This domination combined with the overly busy work / family life directly correlates with the people who perform yoga. It is important to note that their manifesto directly uses yoga to deal with their lives and is one of the factors that make Lululemon into a successful brand. The target of working women who can afford to pay outrageous amounts of money for the apparel makes perfect sense. Lululemon sells a balanced life to these women who juggle a lot in their lives. This can offer us insight and questions if modern postural yoga is only for the bourgeois in the ‘West'?
Their manifesto also portrays that yoga is a way to deal with the stress that is often associated with a capitalist lifestyle (Demeter). “Do yoga it lets you live in the moment and stretching releases toxins from your muscles” (Lululemon). As mentioned above, Lululemon embodies America's vision of yoga as a health ideology. Yoga in the ‘West' revolves around a health practice above all else and certain insurance companies have even included its practice in their health insurance coverage. Yoga is used as a way to get back into shape while still securing some spirituality to it (Demeter). With the rise of health and wellness industries in the ‘West', yoga is incorporated in this category. According to Kerri Krom, “health and wellness is the next trillion dollar industry”. She expresses that wellness is the new status symbol of the effort to establish a balance between body and mind (Krom). It is merely a growing industry and Lululemon suggests that yoga is the answer to balance working individuals' lives. Not only does Lululemon suggest this, but also doctors, instructors, gyms, the work place, our insurance pushes us towards this ‘yogi' life. Lululemon just happens to be the place to get started if you want to jump into this “capitalist kumbaya lifestyle” (Rosman). The Huffington Post expressed that yoga is a 27$ billion dollar industry in the United States alone (Gregoire).
As well as their manifesto which clearly depicts yoga influences to legitimize themselves as a brand, they also provide weekly yoga classes in their stores (Lululemon). To experience the class first hand, I attended one of the yoga sessions they provided on March 9th in Fairview, Pointe Claire. One of the first things to be noted is everyone who I was surrounded by owned Lululemon Athletica. From bags to mats, to headbands and leggings and shirts, you could have mistaken the class for a Lululemon commercial. They not only spoke about the love for the store but also for their love of yoga. They were convinced they were not able to practice yoga without their Lululemon. It was also interesting to note that although I have been to other yoga classes before, I did not notice its attempt to link the class to the ‘East' until this day. The class was mainly filled with women and to my surprise a couple of men as well. Before the class, I took the liberty to ask the yoga teacher how she chose this career path. She wished that her name not to be disclosed in the paper, the instructor said she fell in love with yoga in a studio. She began to practice yoga after her anxiety got “out of hand”. She decided she wanted to go to India, where she thought she could get “the most authentic experience”. She was taught by a guru and she compared her journey to India to an “Eat, Pray, Love” experience (D'Orsogna). It was fascinating to hear her preconceptions of what yoga means to her. Yoga as a health practice shines through her decision of beginning yoga because she had anxiety (Demeter). The class was deeply focused on breathing and maintaining the poses. Once the class was finished, the instructor bowed and said “Namaste” (D'Orsogna).
In addition to the yoga influences that the manifesto and yoga sessions do to legitimize Lululemon Athletica as a successful clothing brand, their connections to the ‘East' also provide a strong base for their excellent business platforms. In the Lululemon store, there are multiple Buddha statues around the room as decoration. So I decided to ask around: the women I asked loved it, they believed it brought a calmness and a relaxed vibe to the room.
It would be incomplete if I didn't mention how the presence of the Buddha statue was a form of cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is characterized as the adoption of certain elements from another culture with little knowledge of it and using it in our own lives. The decoration of a room with a Buddha statue is the perfect example of cultural appropriation. It is taking a symbol from the ‘East' and making and using it as our own.
To further explain the difference between the ‘East' and the ‘West', one can use orientalism. Orientalism, first talked about by Edward Said, is a theory that describes how the ‘West' characterizes the' East' (Parent). The ‘Orient' and the ‘East' does not exist, they are fictions and are created (Parent). It was said that the ‘West' created the ‘East' to create their own identity (Parent). Presuppositions, such as spiritual, exotic, irrational are terms to describe the ‘East' (Parent). Orientalism underlies Lululemon Athletica's brand and is what makes the business thrive in the ‘West'. Lululemon's manifesto expresses the ‘West's' romanticism because, according to Said, we are rational and capitalist people who admire the spiritual and exotic nature of what the ‘East' is about (Parent). Similarly to the yoga instructor who went to journey through India for the most ‘authentic' experience because she wanted to go to the source/where yoga was born. Nonetheless, what she fell in love with was modern postural yoga which its source lies where we live. The problem with orientalism is that our misconceptions make up our mind and thoughts where we believe in the fictional ‘East'. As Said points out, power and knowledge is what drives us to believe it is true (Parent). With these misconstructions, the ‘East' can use this to their advantage. People from the ‘West' have the power to be there, the power and money to go visit the ‘East' and experience their ‘Eat, Pray, Love' experience, for example (Parent). The ‘East' can create this fictional world for us to use it against ‘westerners' (Parent), with the purpose to increase tourism and ultimately feed their pockets. The Dalai Lama is the perfect example.
The Dalai Lama is the human embodiment of orientalism (Parent). A bald, orange robed monk, who has acquired a numerous amount of spiritual knowledge, that has becomes the ‘West's' celebrity from the ‘East'. He became the most popular world leader by 2013 (Lululemon). In 2014, Lululemon partnered with the Dalai Lama Center for Peace + Education who are “both committed to engaging and empowering healthy communities” (Lululemon). This link to the ‘East' solidifies Lululemon as a brand for they partnered with a link to the part of the world “where yoga comes from”. The myth of origins plays a huge role in this partnership specifically and must be explored further (Parent). The Myth of origins suggests that once you find where something started you will find its most authentic truth (Parent). However, the biggest controversy about it is who decides what is most authentic. Therefore, who is to say that yoga in India is the most authentic place to learn yoga. The actual truth is there is a great amount of commodification around the world that there is nothing authentic anymore (Parent). A question we should be asking ourselves is: does authenticity even exist? Back to the example of the Dalai Lama, because ‘Westerners' believe the Dalai Lama comes from the ‘East', there comes this authenticity and truth about him. This smart decision from Lululemon to partner with him legitimizes the brand. It can make all the Buddhist influences in their manifesto, Buddha statues in their stores, yoga sessions become authentic because the Dalai Lama gave his stamp of approval on the company.
In conclusion, Lululemon Athletica Inc. uses yoga influences to legitimize themselves as a successful brand through their manifesto, yoga sessions and their connections with the ‘East'. Lululemon encompasses the ‘West's' ideology of yoga. First and foremost, orientalism underlies the entirety of their business platform from the ‘West's' romanticism of the ‘East', to the Buddha statues and most prominently the partnership with the Dalai Lama. Lululemon expresses that if an individual practices yoga, one will live a better life. Vivekenanda expressed similar goals when he came to America and implemented a system centered around yoga. It is meant to balance out the busy ‘western' lives that many individuals experience. The ‘West's' ideology of yoga is ideally about health and wellness. It is directly targeted at the “capitalist kumbaya lifestyle” (Rosman). Lululemon mainly targets the working women because women are the one's practicing yoga. The fact that there is yoga sessions in the actual store legitimizes the brand because the clothes are in fact made for yoga. The décor and store is setup to look and feel ‘zen' which is our perception of yoga in the ‘East'. The presence of the Buddha statue and the yoga session which ended in Namaste are examples of the the presence of cultural appropriation. Although, the presence of orientalism and cultural appropriation associated with the brand, which are in fact negative factors, these factors are what makes Lululemon a successful business. It would be interesting to note if the presence of these stores in ‘Eastern' countries would do as well. There are only a few stores that appear in the ‘East' however are heavily colonized cities such as, Hong Kong, therefore their success would make sense. It would also be fascinating to go into more detail about why modern postural yoga is greatly female dominated.
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