News / Vancouver

Does Lululemon use personal failures to sell pants?

Making customers feel bad about their mediocre lives may be the secret to Lululemon’s success at squeezing thousands into stretchy pants, argues research from an Ontario university.

The Canadian yoga retailer’s manifesto, emblazoned on its bags with messages like “stress is related to 99 per cent of illness” and “this is not your practice life,” helps sell athletic wear by promoting a philosophy that blames people if their lives aren’t fabulous, according to the paper published in the Canadian Review of Sociology in January.

The neoliberal political philosophy emphasizes individuals and personal responsibility, said co-author Christine Lavrence, professor at King’s University College.

While that might not seem bad, it can be “deeply unfair” by blaming people for things they’re not in control of – say, a person with an illness or a single mother that sacrifices career advancement to care for her children, Lavrence said.

Lavrence and her co-author Professor Kristin Lozanski aren’t anti-Lululemon (they both own it, wear it and like it), but questioned how the “hugely successful piece of Canadian pop culture” managed to resonate so deeply with consumers.

After studying retail locations across the country and analyzing the corporation’s mission statement, the professors found Lululemon actively pushes a philosophy in a unique way through things such as engagement with customers and employee goal setting.

“They make nice yoga clothes, they’ve got nice bags, but they’re promoting a very specific political ideology,” Lozanski said.

The researchers were critical of the message that mediocrity leads to a “lousy life,” as it puts even more pressure on people is a society obsessed with winning.

Lozanski hopes the research will encourage people to rethink individualism and the way society makes individuals feel fully responsible for success and failure.

For the next phase of their research, they will interview about 30 Lululemon customers to see how or if the company’s ideology affects them.

Lululemon representatives were not available to comment on Tuesday, but the company has stood by its political stances in the past.

It famously stirred controversy by using bags quoting Ayn Rand, a philosopher popular with libertarians and American conservatives.

“Our bags are visual reminders for ourselves to live a life we love and conquer the epidemic of mediocrity,” explained a company blog post on the issue.

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