Lululemon is a lesson in brand perseverance. Despite repeated antipathy and controversy from consumers and press, the Canadian-born athleisure brand’s star continues to shine as it continues to expand globally, with its first store just opening in South Korea (Seoul’s trendy Gangnam district, of course).
— lululemon athletica (@lululemon) September 4, 2015
Under the banner of Choose Feeling, it’s now rolling out a revamped version of its iconic crop tops and yoga leggings, including tweaking its yoga pants’ length, color and silhouette, adding four new pant styles and—most dramatically—categorizing them by fit and fabric in order to promote what it’s calling the “Engineered Sensation” of how each garment feels.
Reinventing the customer experience, it’s inviting customers to shop by sensation with its apparel now grouped by how the customer wants to feel, as defined by five distinct sensations: relaxed (with room to move), naked (lightweight), held-in (secure), hugged (comfortable embrace) or tight (locked in) – with the price of its yoga pants inching up to $150 per pair.
Its naked line of lightweight “next to nothing” garments, for example, are produced with a new fabric it’s calling Nulu to evoke the sensation and impression that it will make the wearer feel like she’s working out nude:
It’s a big bet for Lululemon, the ninth most valuable global clothing brand, valued at about $2.9 billion this year with a stock price rise of 16 percent last year. But it’s not too big to fail because no brand is too big to fail.
It weathered the 2013 turmoil that ensued when the brand recalled 17 percent of its yoga pants after customers found the too-thin-material was see-through and exposed the wearer’s derriere. The PR nightmare accelerated when cofounder Chip Wilson (who has since left the company) stated that Lululemon pants just don’t work for some women’s bodies, alienating customers.
Then came the marketing debacle of a “fixed” version of their iconic $98 pants with the new name “Second Chance Pants,” with an added layer of fabric for rear protection. That was followed by the recall of more than 300,000 women’s drawstring hoodies and jackets (due to cords hitting people in the face during workouts) this past June.
Despite all this, the trendy upscale lifestyle brand has attracted and maintains a fiercely loyal audience of customers and employees, attracted by the product, the lifestyle and their cult-like ethos, captured in the new short film about its culture, above.
But some are questioning if the new leggings, ranging in price from $78 to $148, are over the top for even its most loyal customers, for whom premium is just one part of the draw.
“For us, understanding sensation is really about understanding how your body is moving and what you make that mean,” the brand states. “If we can influence how you feel things, then we can intentionally create experiences through our garments where you feel more confident, more supported, more free.”
Light. Free. Confident. Balanced. Fast. Alive. How do you want to feel? #choosefeeling
— lululemon athletica (@lululemon) September 3, 2015
As part of its apparel line makeover, its comparatively pricey garments have been getting pricier. When its Wunder Under Crop II increased from $72 to $88, the price hike lit up the company’s message board with comments like: “As a loyal Lulu customer for many, many, many years I can no longer give my hard earned money to a company that refuses to listen to their customer, treats their loyal fan base like they have and raise prices to ‘reflect values and design principle. If you are going to price pants according to Lulu’s values and design principle the prices should be going DOWN and not up because pants are still SHEER.”
Lululemon maintains that only some prices increased and more than half stayed the same, reports Business Insider. Now it’s changing the conversation with its focus on engineered sensations, which it’s promoting with a “Feel Mobile” tour of its stores.
— lululemonTO (@lululemonTO) September 4, 2015
But are customers ready to shop by how a garment feels, considering the amount of squeezing (“compression” in Lululemon lingo) required to decide on looser pants for lounging and yoga and tighter for runners?
The new “sensation” pants have “strategically-placed zoning [that] keeps you feeling secure through your abs, hips, bum and thighs,” as the Washington Post puts it. Made from Nulu fabric, the naked sensation pants are more adaptable to stretch as “getting looser pants shouldn’t require going up to a larger size, it should mean finding a pant in the same size that simply is constructed differently.”
Lululemon is hoping its revamped apparel will indeed cause a sensation and intensify the feeling of loyalty (and that the brand has your back—and your backside). “We’ve done a great amount of training with our educators, and they’re all ready and up to speed to be able to have these conversations around feeling — which, it is a new conversation, and we are shifting that,” said Antonia Iamartino, Lululemon’s design director of future concepts, to the Washington Post.
— lululemon athletica (@lululemon) September 1, 2015