Monday, April 16, 2007

lululemon athleltica

By Ki Hackney

Not long ago, on my way to meet a friend for a quick bite before the ballet, I had a few minutes to spare and headed for Broadway to see what was new. At the northeast corner at 64th, I spotted the most colorful shop with lots of fit young men and women going in and out; then discovered it was not only easy on the eye, the rainbow of stacks and racks held some of the best fitness apparel I had ever seen; particularly yoga wear, with some dance- and running-specific gear added to the mix plus accessories. And these clothes are smart enough to easily transit from athletic to street or weekend wear.

Certified Holistic Health Counselor and Yoga Instructor, Aarona Pinchinson
It’s called lululemon athleltica, and having opened in December, 2006, it is the first New York outlet for the Vancouver, BC-based phenomenon founded by Chip Wilson in 1998. Wilson was a board-sports athlete, clothing manufacturer and retailer when the prescription for rehab from injuries received from these high-impact sports included Ashtanga yoga. Looking around at his fellow classmates, Wilson realized that most of the female participants were wearing poor imitations of men’s workout clothes and instantly adapted.

Lululemon was born in an office that morphed into a yoga studio in the evening in order to pay the rent. As Liz Eustace, the community outreach liaison for the West Side store, says: “It had sort of a kitchen feel and the designers were in the studio.” Wilson took his cues from the yoga teachers and the customers, who were more than happy to offer their feedback. It developed from there.”

A little like one worldwide coffee purveyor we all know and love, lululemon has its own culture and vocabulary. For example, a select group of certified fitness instructors at studios throughout the city function as “ambassadors” and provide feedback on what students are looking for in their apparel as well as on lululemon designs. Salespersons are known as “educators,” which is partially true, because everyone on the staff is thoroughly trained and well informed, and many of them are instructors themselves. One educator, for example, is an amateur boxer; two more are dance instructors, but most are yoga students and, as part of the culture, the company covers the costs for yoga classes for all employees at yoga studios anywhere in Manhattan.
Clockwise from top left: Shape Up Jacket; Reverse Groove Pants, $84.00; Athletic Deep V tank, $46.00; Scuba lulu Hoodie, $74.00; Origami Deep V, $44.00.
Giving back is woven throughout the lululemon corporate culture. While the stores work to insure their employees’ wellbeing, they are determined to provide opportunities for and to inspire their customers. The company “manifesto,” that Wilson himself lives by, includes key elements of a healthy physical, mental and emotional life, and it is posted for customers to read at will.

Each of the 40 stores in Canada and 12 throughout the U.S. has multi-layered community bulletin boards with information about the company, special offers and class schedules from local area yoga studios as well as other participating studios throughout the city and announcements about events that lululemon is hosting. For example, the store offers free yoga classes for customers on Sunday evenings, warm-up and post-race activities for runners and events such as “Spring Cleaning” drives.
Running clinic at lululemon
A recent collection produced 40 bags of second-hand clothing, which the store donated to the West Side Housing Works. The Lincoln Center area store recently held hill-climbing and speed trainings in Central Park on Sunday mornings with stretching and discussions about things like shoes and what makes them fit well back at 64th and Broadway before the store opened for business. Since March, on Friday evenings, different musicians are invited to perform such as those from nearby Julliard. This month events are planned to honor Earth Day.

Liz Eustace, lululemon’s Community Coordinator-NYC
But it’s the clothing that stays top of mind. The runners/marathoners in my family, one of which is a triathlete, have become lululemon fanatics. They applaud the style, the fit and the most advanced high-tech fabrics that help deliver the functionality of “Groove” pants, one of the company’s “core items”, hoodies, tank tops, or the newest shorts with a special pocket to hold your iPod, door key and Starbucks card. The clothes are so refined in their design and fabrication that, man or woman, one can find items specific for each type of yoga. A mix of sophisticated apparel blended with an up-to-date, somewhat crunchy philosophy, lululemon is a lifestyle that’s on the worldwide march. With savvy financial partners helping Wilson guide the way, the stores are well on their way to a global presence. And, in case you are wondering, the name lululemon is fabricated and has no top-secret significance.

1928 Broadway at 64th Street
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