If you are reading this, chances are you either own clothing from Lululemon or know someone who does. For the past few years, Lululemon has been posing as a “green” brand to lure in trend-chasing young people. With its glossy ad campaigns featuring influencers, its futuristic looking stores, and its promises of being environmentally and health-conscious, Lululemon has won over the hearts and the minds of its consumers.
The company does not want you to know that behind the closed glass doors of its stores, its business practices are the complete opposite of its ideals. On the surface, Lululemon seems to make healthy living trendy. Upon closer examination, however, it has hidden its abuses of the environment, labor, and its customers under the guise of being “green” for years.
On the sustainability portion of its website, Lululemon claims that it will make progress towards using more renewable and recycled fabrics. However, the words on its website are empty promises: there have been no concrete actions taken towards using sustainable fabrics as of date. Currently, Lululemon leggings are primarily made out of a fabric called Luon, which is a blend of nylon and Lycra. Nylon is a synthetic fabric whose production causes extreme damage to the environment. It is produced by heating chemicals from crude oil at extremely high temperatures, which causes the release of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. The release of greenhouse gases has accelerated climate change, as the warming effect from them has increased by 37 percent from 1990 to 2015. Similarly, Lycra is another type of synthetic fabric that is highly unrecyclable. Instead of using natural fabrics like cotton, Lululemon puts the environment at risk through its dependency on synthetic fabrics.
Lululemon uses its high price tags as a means of gatekeeping wellness from the less financially privileged. A typical pair of black leggings from Lululemon costs nearly $100, and leggings with designs cost even more. To the wealthy women who could “buy time in their lives,” this may not seem like a big deal, but to your typical minimum-wage or middle-class worker, this amount can be unaffordable. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour (unfortunately). If a minimum wage worker were to afford these leggings, she would have to work for more than 13 hours. With such a high price tag, one would expect high quality, but the company has come under scrutiny for selling clothing that is “too sheer and falls apart” after only a few uses. In recent years, nearly 17% of their leggings were recalled for this issue. Wellness should never have to come at such a prohibitive cost.
As if environmental abuse and gatekeeping were not atrocious enough, Lululemon has had a notorious history of racism, misogyny, and body shaming. The company’s founder, Chip Wilson, explained that he chose the name Lululemon because he thought it was funny that Japanese people couldn’t pronounce it. Though one may write this off as a “harmless joke,” his remarks fall under a disturbing trend of anti-Asian racism that has been going unnoticed for years. Mocking an individual’s accent or saying derogatory nicknames like “Kung Flu” have been ways for people to make Asian Americans feel like perpetual foreigners. Unfortunately, his racist remarks are not an isolated incident; he has a history of saying things that are both blatantly untrue and inflammatory. One of his most bizarre remarks he has made about women was the claim that breast cancer was caused by “the number of cigarette-smoking Power Women who were on the pill, taking on the stress from men in the working world,” a jab at career women. Wilson has openly stated that his brand is not inclusive to all women, blaming the pilling of his leggings on the “body shapes” of some women. He refused to sell his clothing in larger sizes with the excuse of “higher costs.” Even after Wilson’s departure from the company, staff members perpetuated a culture of body negativity by shaming a customer who asked for a larger size. Lululemon needs to wake up and realize that America is changing; to stay viable, it needs to be inclusive to people from all walks of life.
Lululemon extends its culture of toxicity to its employees as well. Several employees have reported a “boy’s club” workplace culture, one where favored employees would get superior assignments that exceed their roles while unfavored employees are overworked with menial tasks. While workplace relationships are typically shunned by most employers, Lululemon embraced them, which exacerbated its favoritism problem. Another former CEO, Laurent Potdevin, dated a designer for the company; other employees reported excessive favoritism towards her. He also invited his employees to “wild parties” at his house, where they drank excessively and did cocaine. The abuses of power and lack of professional boundaries at Lululemon reveal that its leadership only cares about their own welfare, not that of its employees.
Luckily, a number of sustainable athletic wear alternatives have sprung up in recent years. These alternatives actually have a low environmental impact while being budget-friendly.
Boody is an Australian athletic wear brand that creates its garments out of organic bamboo. Instead of empty promises to be more environmentally friendly, it contributes a portion of its profits to environmental non-profits. It is size-inclusive, carrying all sizes from XS to XL, and doesn’t strain your budget. A pair of black leggings only costs $27, which is nearly 5 times less than a pair of Lululemon leggings!
Thrifting or Your Own Closet
Did you know that a typical person throws away nearly 70 pounds of clothing each year? This amounts to nearly 13 million tons of fashion waste worldwide each year. We mindlessly buy more clothing each year, but do we wear it all? Studies have shown that a typical person only wears less than 50% of what is in their closet, which is a conservative estimate. Don’t fall into the trap of buying more clothing when you can save the planet and your wallet by wearing what you have. Most likely, you own athletic wear already, even if it’s not “trendy.” Another way to avoid clothing waste is to thrift. Thrifting is an affordable alternative that can save a nice shirt from going to the trash!
The words “green” and “wellness” have been exploited for the purpose of raking in massive profits. While Lululemon and other similar mega-brands seem to be better-for-you alternatives, the truth is they are no better than your typical fast-fashion brand. These companies have manipulated the public into thinking that being “green” means spending excessive amounts of money to maintain a lifestyle of exclusivity.
Investing in wellness and taking steps to be more environmentally friendly should not come with a hefty price tag. In fact, it is not expensive products but simple, everyday actions that generate the most impact.