Lululemon, the brand that invented athleisure, plans its second act

I’m in deep the recesses of Lululemon’s secretive innovation lab, Whitespace, in the basement of its cavernous headquarters in Vancouver.

Everywhere I glance, there are interesting–and once in a while unusual–clinical experiments at paintings. There’s a “sensory immersion lab” the place human topics are connected to displays measuring mind job, whilst neuroscientists challenge converting landscapes on the partitions and change the temperature, humidity, and sounds in the room. In any other a part of the lab, a pc scientist captures three-D photographs of a girl strolling, monitoring in microscopic element how her actions have interaction with the material. “We’ve created this position to know the way you progress, and the way you are feeling while you transfer,” says Tom Waller, a sports activities generation PhD who used to be introduced in to release Whitespace from scratch seven years in the past and lately serves as the lab’s SVP.

As for me, I’ve let myself develop into a guinea pig of varieties. I’m on a treadmill with sensors connected to my neck and chest. Chantelle Murnaghan, a neuromechanics PhD and one of Lululemon’s innovation managers, instructs me to begin operating at a average tempo. After a minute’s jog, we take a seat down in combination whilst she displays me a graph of the way my frame strikes. “It seems that the means that each and every particular person strikes is totally distinctive to them,” Murnaghan says. “It’s like a fingerprint.”

Over the ultimate two years, Lululemon has evolved a approach to establish and measure each and every particular person’s distinctive development of motion. Until now, the whole sports wear trade–Lululemon incorporated–really useful merchandise in accordance with the buyer’s dimension and a particular job. For example, the brand would create bras for high-impact sports activities, like operating, after which come with extra compression in bras for larger-busted girls, who enjoy extra breast motion. But when Lululemon performed its personal analysis, it discovered that two girls with a 36C bra dimension skilled other breast movement as they moved.

In the chart Murnaghan and I read about, I will be able to see that with each step I take, my muscle mass and tissue first transfer up and down, then back and forth. On paper, this takes the form of a determine eight on its aspect, or a butterfly. All of that is completely imperceptible to the bare eye, but if connected to those displays, it’s conceivable to peer each and every minute movement. And as a result of Lululemon is starting to acquire records about loads of different topics, it’s now transparent that each and every of them have a quite other chart. One particular person’s gait would possibly reason their frame to transport greater than someone else of equivalent construct. While the scientists at Whitespace are nonetheless operating to know why each and every folks strikes in distinct tactics, they imagine it has to do with our genetic make-up, our body structure, or even the means we realized to stroll and run as youngsters.

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[Photo: courtesy Lululemon]

Lululemon plans to capitalize on its skill to trace how each and every buyer’s frame strikes. The Whitespace workforce has created a store-ready model of the treadmill I examined in the lab, which shall be referred to as the “Signature Movement Experience.” The concept is for purchasers to be told about their very own distinctive development of movement whilst permitting shop representatives to offer extremely custom designed product suggestions. When I went by way of the enjoy, an set of rules known a most sensible bra for me in accordance with the effects, plus four different bras that would additionally supply the beef up I would like. The first of those treadmills went out at the SeaWheeze Sunset Festival–the part marathon and song match in Vancouver that Lululemon backed this previous weekend–the place the corporate arrange a sales space the place girls may just undergo the procedure.

Now going through pageant from numerous activewear startups, Lululemon is eyeing its long run in a post-athleisure global, the place convenience–now not product classes–determines what customers put on to paintings in addition to the health club. By capitalizing in this individualized, data-based taste of purchaser enjoy, the brand needs to push the athleisure style it pioneered in the 2000s ahead. “It’s a completely new paradigm for us,” says Waller.

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[Photo: courtesy Lululemon]

The brand that introduced athleisure

Whitespace’s new generation is solely one a part of Lululemon’s effort to make use of science to stick on most sensible of an overcrowded activewear trade. In a panorama the place new startups are shooting up on a daily basis, 20-year-old Lululemon is now a longtime participant. Last 12 months, the corporate’s annual earnings surpassed $3 billion and it had a community of 450 retail outlets–and counting–in North America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. It has 13,500 staff throughout the global.

Over the ultimate five years, Lululemon has skilled a enlargement streak, steadily beating analysts’ expectancies, regardless of the truth that it has long gone by way of three other CEOs. In July, former Sephora government Calvin McDonald stepped into the function of CEO after his predecessor, Laurent Potdevin, left impulsively as a result of he had an unsuitable courting with any other worker at the corporate. None of this turns out to have any any impression on the corporate’s final analysis: Lululemon shares soared via 80% all the way through this era.

Lululemon used to be based in 1998 via Chip Wilson, a charismatic and once in a while arguable businessman from Vancouver. An avid yogi, Wilson believed there used to be area in the marketplace for a corporation that created fine quality, high-performance tools particularly designed for low-intensity workout like yoga and Pilates. He engineered $90 leggings that have been stretchy, however that didn’t supply the similar more or less intense compression essential for high-impact sports activities. For a number of years, Lululemon used to be only a area of interest womens put on boutique in Kitsilano, a fancy Vancouver buying groceries district, with Wilson’s place of job on the second flooring.

But via the early 2000s, Lululemon used to be putting in place retail outlets in large U.S. towns and gaining a cult following amongst girls obsessive about the yoga pants. Some raved about how joyful they have been, whilst others liked how flattering they have been, since they flattened the abdomen and looked as if it would elevate the butt. Fans created blogs, the place they feverishly mentioned and reviewed new merchandise. Buzzfeed has a listicle titled “23 Signs Your Lululemon Addiction Is Out Of Control,” and Business Insider has one with the headline, “This Woman Spent $15,000 On Lululemon And She Doesn’t Even Do Yoga.” At a value level that used to be considerably upper than different activewear manufacturers, Lululemon clothes was a standing image amongst well-heeled girls in New York and San Francisco.

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[Photo: courtesy Lululemon]

All of this reworked Lululemon right into a family identify. The brand expanded its product variety, developing leggings for operating or high-impact workout routines, quite a lot of bras, down jackets, raincoats, baggage, and the rest that may pass in conjunction with an aspirational way of life targeted on wellness. (It has since expanded into menswear and ladies’ clothes.) By 2007, the corporate had filed for a $240 million IPO, had 52 retail outlets, and used to be raking in $149 million in annual earnings.

Lululemon has benefited from different cultural shifts. First, customers are extra than ever of their well being, spending more cash on health club memberships and wholesome meals. And secondly, Americans have develop into an increasing number of informal of their get dressed. This used to be pushed, partially, via Silicon Valley tech corporations that inspired staff to ditch formal garments for no matter made them joyful. Over the ultimate decade, it’s develop into applicable to put on yoga pants out of the studio and into different sides of lifestyles, from brunch to the place of job. Many characteristic this pattern, which is now referred to as “athleisure,” again to Wilson himself.

These days, Wilson is now not formally affiliated with Lululemon. In 2012, he stepped down from his place as leader innovation and branding officer to take a sabbatical in Australia. He used to be then ousted as chairman of the board in 2013 when, after consumers complained that some yoga pants have been see-through, Wilson blamed the truth that some girls’s legs have been so huge that it created friction in the thigh house. Nonetheless, the pattern Wilson helped create has now successfully overtaken the whole style trade. Between 2008 and 2015, international activewear gross sales larger via 42% to $270 billion. In truth, analysts imagine that yoga pants and operating tights stored the clothes sector afloat all the way through the financial disaster.

The problem going through Lululemon as of late is that it’s now simply one athleisure brand in an ocean of manufacturers competing for the similar client.

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[Photo: courtesy Lululemon]

But How Does The Customer Feel?

That brings us again to Whitespace. Many of Lululemon’s competition–together with different mega-brands like Nike and Adidas–discuss high-performance clothes in purely purpose phrases, emphasizing such things as compression, moisture-wicking houses, and breathability. But by way of their analysis in the lab, Waller and Murnaghan firmly imagine those are the flawed metrics to be monitoring. “It’s transparent to us that folks enjoy the very same prerequisites very another way,” Waller says. “It’s now not simply that our our bodies transfer and reply to the global another way: We even have very other perceptions of the global.”

This turns out evident, however the price of this perception starts to make sense while you consider your own cloth wardrobe personal tastes. For example, I in point of fact hate feeling constricted once I workout, even in a high-impact exercise. I additionally want materials that really feel heat and delicate in opposition to my pores and skin. But this isn’t true for everybody. Murgnahan explains that different girls really feel unsupported when their garments don’t supply a large number of compression, and they would like fabrics that really feel cool and slick on their pores and skin. “If you are feeling uncomfortable in a restrictive bra, you’re now not going to accomplish at your easiest,” says Murnaghan. “But the means you are feeling in a bra might be completely other from the means that anyone else feels in that similar bra. We’re looking to reconsider functionality to believe how a buyer feels.”

Incorporating subjectivity into the brand’s design is complicated enterprise, however Waller and Murnaghan imagine it can be a boon for Lululemon’s final analysis. In apply, it method developing quite a lot of other fabrics and kinds to supply consumers merchandise adapted to their motion patterns and private personal tastes.

It is already operating towards making a complete vary of bras. It lately makes 33 other choices designed to offer numerous compression and textures in opposition to the pores and skin because of the brand’s huge catalog of proprietary materials. (Only Adidas and Nike can compete with Lululemon’s vary, and they’re 7 and 10 occasions the dimension of Lululemon, respectively.) One bra, the Enlite, has more than one straps on the again to offer a large number of beef up, and is manufactured from Ultralu material that feels cool and easy in opposition to the pores and skin. The Flow Y bra, on the different hand, is a racerback, which gives a looser have compatibility, and it’s constituted of Nulu, which is buttery-soft.

The Whitespace workforce may be operating on a brand new approach to acquire data from consumers that is going past asking for his or her dimension and measurements, together with questions that are extra subjective. Lululemon has created a brand new more or less virtual profile that consumers can fill out on-line or on pills in shop that gathers records concerned about how they prefer to really feel of their clothes. For example, it’ll ask whether or not you favor feeling your frame transfer freely while you run, or whether or not you favor feeling extra tightly supported via your garments.

This records, mixed with the insights about each and every buyer’s distinctive motion development, will permit Lululemon to offer custom designed product suggestions. The corporate won’t proportion this knowledge with any 3rd events, however it’ll anonymize and combination it to higher perceive whether or not the merchandise inside its collections are in truth assembly consumers’ wishes. It is Lululemon’s personal twist on accumulating insights from buyer comments–one thing many manufacturers do.

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[Photo: courtesy Lululemon]

A bra four years in the making

Lululemon is especially concerned about how fabrics really feel in opposition to the pores and skin. The corporate creates all of its materials from scratch, somewhat than the usage of generic functionality materials on the marketplace, which many manufacturers do. One of the brand’s hottest merchandise, the Align Pant, feels velvety to the contact and used to be at first designed to cut back distractions all the way through yoga apply. But many ladies don’t use it for yoga in any respect. Some put on it on lengthy airplane rides or for snoozing. Others put on it to paintings. One girl wore it with a button-down blouse and heels right into a board assembly.

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[Photo: courtesy Lululemon]

Lululemon needs to use the findings popping out of Whitespace to create new merchandise that have the similar well-liked attraction to consumers who need to be joyful–irrespective of whether or not they’re at the health club or now not.

Take the brand’s new Like Nothing bra, which hits retail outlets as of late. The Whitespace workforce came upon that feminine customers have been looking for a bra that felt like being bare, however that nonetheless equipped beef up all the way through workout. There used to be not anything inside its present line that used to be particularly designed to create this sensation. So they spent four years development a product that allowed the breast to transport naturally the usage of a proprietary material referred to as Light Ultralu that conforms to the frame’s form, offering mild, even compression all the way through the whole bra somewhat than tightening round the widest a part of the chest. The corporate evolved a three-dimensional cup that adapts to the form of the breast, and subtly modified the development for each dimension inside the vary, since girls with other cup and band sizes require beef up at other puts. The edges don’t seem to be hemmed, however somewhat lower via a laser to cut back friction.

“When you mix our analysis about how we transfer with the insights we’re accumulating about how girls need to really feel, you find yourself with attention-grabbing merchandise,” says Sun Choe, Lululemon’s leader product officer. “But in some ways, a bra like this makes such a lot sense for a way we are living now: Women need in an effort to motorbike to the place of job or take a Pilates elegance after paintings, with no need to modify bras.” In some ways, Like Nothing is the final bra for the post-athleisure global. It’s the bra an identical of Lululemon’s loved, ultra-comfortable yoga pants, which catapulted the brand into an international phenomenon years in the past.

Still, Lululemon’s actual paintings is solely starting. Its major problem as an organization is speaking its design procedure to consumers, to turn them how Lululemon stands except different activewear manufacturers on the marketplace as a result of it’s concerned about convenience for each distinctive form of frame. Whitespace, and the buyer stories it’s creating, is a part of that effort.

“All our lives, we’ve realized that human our bodies transfer in kind of the similar means,” Waller says. “A large a part of problem for us is explaining this new science to our consumers. It’s one factor to collect insights in a lab, and reasonably any other to carry this information into the global to lend a hand folks in finding garments that give a boost to the means they carry out in on a regular basis lifestyles.”