Just Say No To Lulu

There’s been a lot written recently about the responsibility of Lululemon to be a good corporate citizen. Maybe that’s because it’s a lot easier to criticize a company than take a hard look at ourselves.  Indeed it’s tough to realize that an organization like Lululemon is really just a reflection of our society.

Lululemon is a publically held corporation. As such its most important obligation is to its shareholders. Fidelity, American Funds and Vanguard own the largest chunks of stock in the company and if you have an IRA or mutual fund account with one of those companies chances are you’ve got a small slice of Lulu pie.

Because they are a “premium brand,” which means using quality materials and manufacturing so that their gear lasts, they don’t have a lot of room for cost cutting. So they have to sell more stuff to make investors happy.

They also need to make the consumer think…through excellent marketing tactics…that they are socially responsible.

Lulu has been brilliant at creating this marketing mystique…making women think that they need to look fashionable while practicing yoga and making them believe that by wearing nice togs to class they will in some way contribute to the good of society.

The company has gone into communities around the country hiring great looking “ambassadors” (think about the use of that word) who proudly wear their clothing. When Lulu holds free classes in their stores they are doing it to get more people into their stores and sell more products – not to create a world full of illuminated souls.

Clearly Lulu wants you to sweat, have friends and live in the moment. They don’t care if you work towards freeing captive Nigerian schoolgirls, fight unemployment in Appalachia or even teach yoga to  inmates at Riker’s.

They only care that you partake in activities that will get you to buy more products. That is their responsibility to their shareholders.

As an individual your responsibility goes deeper. You can decide whether you would rather buy $100 yoga pants or buy ones for $15.99 at Modell’s and donate your change to fight global warming or buy vegetables from a local farmer or save towards a child’s education.

As a consumer, as the lifeblood of Lululemon, the only power you have is to act through your pocketbook. If you don’t like their policies…or if you believe that buying expensive yoga clothing yields a more divided society of haves and have nots…then don’t buy their clothing and don’t invest in mutual funds that support their stock.

No one needs Lululemon. If the company disappeared tomorrow the world would be no worse off. Fidelity, American Funds and Vanguard would find other investments. Lululemon clothing is insignificant in the scheme of things and yoga students should fully recognize that.

But I have my doubts…and Wall Street does too. Maybe that’s why many stock analysts have a “Buy” rating on the stock. They know how frivolous and self-gratifying we really are.

–Brette Popper

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