Lululemon gets slammed for Dalai Lama partnership

Relationship with Tibetan leader puts retailer in PR storm

Yoga-wear retailer Lululemon announced a partnership with Vancouver’s Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education last week, but the relationship with his Holiness has landed the brand in hot water.

As part of the partnership, Lululemon will contribute $750,000 over three years to support the Dalai Lama Center’s work. In a press release, the company said the partnership involves “a variety of initiatives including researching the connection between mind-body heart, sharing the work globally, and expanding the reach of the Center’s Heart-Mind education initiatives.”

Consumers, perhaps still mindful of the connection between pilling pants and rubbing thighs, spoke out about the partnership on the company’s blog.

“While I do respect [the Dalai Lama’s] beliefs and values, I don’t think they match yours,” wrote one commenter. “As he believes that luxuries are not necessities, you believe in $100 yoga pants.”

Another wrote: “There are some things in this world which should remain non-[brandable]… It is offensive that you have sunk so low as to use the Dalai Lama and his image as part of your branding. How dare you.” Many commenters said they would stop shopping at Lululemon, while a few offered their support.

In an emailed statement to Marketing, a Lululemon spokesperson said the partnership is about “expanding the village that it takes to raise generations of compassionate, kind, and resilient children,” though the organizations are still exploring how the work will roll out.

And, according to the spokesperson, the collaboration is not meant to be a PR move. “The partnership is not meant to benefit the brand from a public relations standpoint – it’s in line with the company’s vision and giving without expectation.”

Jeff Swystun, president and chief marketing officer at Swystun Communications, told Marketing that however well-intentioned, the partnership is not the solution to win back customers.

“Lululemon needs to return to its roots and reconnect with the values that first made it successful: health, wellness and self-awareness,” he said. “Success made them big and corporate, which disconnected them from their passionate brand advocates… Lululemon’s fortunes lie in their retail locations that are designed to be embedded in and involved in the local community.”

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