A few last (please God) words about the latest Lululemon kerfuffle, wherein Lulu founder Chip Wilson offended, well, damn near everyone when he blamed women’s thighs for the recent shearing problems with the company’s pants.
– Keep in mind that Lululemon is first and foremost a fashion company, and a publicly traded one at that. Shareholders ultimately don’t care that Lulu sponsors all kinds of fitness classes or puts people through Landmark Forum training; they care that Lulu makes more money per square foot than any retail chains except the Apple and Tiffany stores. And, the fashion industry is not exactly known for an inclusive or progressive attitude towards women’s bodies- see this recent article about a whistleblower at Prada, or the continuing controversies about the size of models at runway shows if you need any reminders. Given that context, should we be surprised?
– I’ve had or watched several interesting and valuable conversations about this, both in person and on social media. One theme that kept coming up is that Lulu buyers in general and the yoga community in particular bears some responsibility for this s%*tshow.* We- teachers, students, studios- let Lulu become something bigger than a clothing company, and let it have an outsized voice in shaping how the yoga community perceives itself. Many of us started believing, even if it was subconsciously, that somehow wearing that brand equated with being a yogi. Now, Lulu and their marketing certainly had something to do with it, but I’ve spent a fair amount of time at their stores, and I’ve never seen anyone put a gun to a customer’s head and say “you MUST buy”. (or “you must be an ambassador, or…”) If you are affected or offended by this latest controversy, this is a good opportunity to examine what “stuff” you’re bringing to your mat, be it your $200 outfit or an obsession with getting a handstand or your being pissed off if the teacher plays that song you don’t like.
– There’s another idea I want to throw out there, and I’ll be returning to it several times in upcoming post: the dynamics of white privilege in the American yoga scene. (there’s sexual privilege too, but I’ll save that for another post) I plan to flesh this out as I go, but here’s the gist: yoga is an ancient practice with most of its roots in funky corners of India, but your average yogi in the west is an affluent (or at least middle class), white American female. You know, the kind of person that has the means and inclination to drop a hundred bucks on a pair of gym pants. Obviously, yogis come in all genders and preferences, shapes and sizes, but these are the folks that keep the studios in business and Lululemon’s stock price rising.
If you’re not familiar with the concept of white privilege (or bristle when you see anything about race), here’s a primer– skip to the “daily effects”. Or, for the ribald among us, here’s Louis CK’s much less academic take (WARNING- not safe for work, or children, or bunnies, or the squeamish)
I remember I was in a teacher’s group or a training- I’m fuzzy on the details- and an African-American woman in our group said that it was a huge thing for her to be able to trust our (white) teacher. And our teacher, a person I love very much and think very well of, was floored- the fact that someone wouldn’t automatically trust them because of race had never, ever occurred to them. That, in a nutshell, is white privilege at work.
I feel like asking the handful of people I know and like who have in some form come to Lululemon’s defense: do you have any idea how privileged, and how (I hope) naive you sound in making a defense? That somehow it’s okay that someone was paid less than a dime an hour in Bangledesh or China, likely in terrifying conditions, to make your $120 pair of pants, and then hear the company who paid that wage tried to defend it as a noble good? That it’s okay for a company not to make sizes that would fit more than 30% of women in America, and when they ask tell them to make it a goal to fit their pants? That “celebrates” one of the yamas, a sacred principle of yogic behavior, by spelling it out in wine bottles and hypodermic needles? Or what it feels like to work your ass off for victims of domestic violence, probably for crap money, and then have your local Lululemon store make fun of you? How would you react if you were on the receiving end? Would you tell your friends to shop there?
And, I’d love to see more leaders in the yoga community do the same. I bow to the folks who have said publicly that they won’t frequent Lulu, or teach in Lulu- and (oddly, to my mind) faced some backlash for it. I also invite Lululemon ambassadors, people I know are kind, sincere and good-hearted folk, to speak publicly, maybe resign, maybe not, but at least put out statements saying that our community won’t accept or tolerate this behavior that alienates and excludes people from our community. Certainly not from a sponsor. To make it abundantly clear that we are about YOGA, the path to liberation, and not what you wear to yoga class or a slogan on a bag. It would be a brave and yes, yogic thing to do.
* Thanks to my friends Nicole Burrill (aka the Sassy Yogini) and Reina Shanti Lovelace for really driving the conversation about the community’s role in Lululemon’s ascent. I liberally stole from them.