Is Lululemon a sustainable brand?

The Canadian yoga pants producer has become a cultural staple in the world of lifestyle and fitness. The brand evokes feelings of zen, athleticism, style and casual-comfort all mixed into one. They certainly have the heart strings of active soccer moms and more recently trendy bros, but is Lululemon sustainable?

Lululemon founder story

Chip Smith was certainly a brand-building guru with an eye for innovation. He, along with some amazingly talented designers, are the reason why Lululemon is what it is today – even though he is no longer involved with the company. With that said, he has a questionable reputation (at best) for routinely making strange remarks about women’s bodies.

For example, he said birth control causes breast cancer and leads to divorce, and that yoga pants don’t work for women whose thighs touch. Not the best look for a female-dominated market.

Industry standard and company size

Clothing companies have a low standard in sustainability. High-end clothing brands like Lululemon, have an even poorer reputation. Their main competition is Nike and Under Armour. Enough said.

Lululemon is also a publicly traded company who did over $3 billion in revenue last year, so they are a large company with a global presence, and we must judge their environmental & ethical rating through a global lens.

Material assessment

Most of Lulu’s materials are not eco-friendly.

Their website shares how they use “responsibly sourced and more sustainable materials wherever possible”, but this wording leaves the door open for inaction.

They do recycle well, with a goal by the end of the year to make all their distribution centers Zero Waste by reusing and recycling more than 90% of their materials. We’ll see how that pans out come early next year.

Packaging

Their sustainable packaging policy includes steps to keep packaging to a minimum.

One example is how they switched paper-based packaging to FSC-Certified materials (Forest Stewardship Council), which make up their product hang tags, holiday boxes as well as gift cards and sleeves. A lot of their information suggests exploration rather than execution.

Transparency and ethics

The Climate & Sustainability section of their website is buried on the bottom. While I understand how a consumer brand needs a landing page centered around shopping, this is a serious issue that deserves a tab at the top. Anyway, as discussed above, their founder has a history of making rude remarks.

The CEO stepped down last year amid a sexual misconduct scandal (he had a multi-year relationship with a company designer) and the company has a reputation of pressuring sales reps with unrealistic goals. A strange conglomerate for a company that markets itself on mindfulness & yoga. 

Ongoing evaluation

This company has been around for too long to not be doing more for environmental impact. While Lulu claims to make sustainability a centerpiece of its corporate policy and future goals, other brands with similar global challenges are outperforming the luxury-legging maker.

@lululemon – not bad. but less talking and more doing, please.

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