Lululemon Athletica is becoming quite the newsmaker. Since the yoga apparel brand made headlines back in March after pulling its proprietary 'luon' yoga pants off shelves due to "sheerness," the company can't seem to stay out of the limelight.
After ousting its chief product officer, losing its CEO and being berated by disappointed customers, the brand is now under fire again for an offense that has become a common topic among today's clothing giants. In an article by The Huffington Post, former Lululemon employees accused the brand of purposely shunning plus-size customers, relegating larger-sized apparel to a "heap" in the backs of stores.
While most of the merchandise was displayed "out on the floor, hung on the walls, or folded neatly in cabinets," larger sizes, such as 10s and 12s, were not stocked on those same shelves, and were rarely offered in the latest styles and prints. "All the other merchandise in the store was kind of sacred, but these were thrown in a heap," former employee Elizabeth Licorish told HuffPost. "It was definitely discriminatory to those who wear larger sizes."
Lululemon isn't alone on the hotseat. The retailer is keeping company with young adult clothier Abercrombie & Fitch, which came under fire in May for comments CEO Mike Jeffries made a few years back, admitting, "Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.” The resurgence of Jeffries' comments caused many consumers to boycott the brand and sign petitions against it. Shortly after, A&F reported a 13 percent drop in same-store sales in its first quarter.
Critics can't say the same for Lululemon. The brand emerged relatively unscathed from the "sheer pants" problem—a likely result of its cult-like consumer culture that preaches a type of mind, body and soul manifesto. The stock is up 34 percent since hitting a 52-week low in June, soon after CEO Christine Day announced her departure.
As for retail strategy, instead of expanding into the $14 billion plus-size apparel industry—like Forever 21, H&M, Gap and Oldy Navy have—Lululemon is working on building out its menswear. The retailer recently sponsored the Wall Street Decathlon, clothing 173 bankers, traders and analysts in Lululemon shirts and shorts.
"With the decathlon partnership, Lululemon is looking to duplicate the cult-like following it has with women," Alfred DuPuy, managing director of Interbrand Toronto, told the Business of Fashion blog. "When people like the product, they want to pass it on to other people, their tribe. Brands can definitely evolve. The guy who’s telling you it’s girly today, in two years might say, ‘I love Lululemon, I get it.'"
It's also expanding its physical operations—bending over backwards, you might say, to better accommodate customers. The brand recently purchased a 300,000 square-foot facility in Columbus, Ohio to serve as its second US distribution center—and a more efficient gateway to the Midwest and Eastern regions of the US.