Bruce Philp is a brand strategy consultant and author of Consumer Republic, winner of the 2012 National Business Book Award
Unless you love Lululemon, it’s hard to like them. For the faithful, there seems to be no substitute. But for the rest of us, the brand is a long way from erasing the memory of fake seaweed pants, inner thigh pilling, the Landmark thing or Chip Wilson’s spectacular insensitivity. And the rest of us outnumber the faithful handily. As recently as the beginning of this month, market analysts worried about Lululemon’s “substantial increase in negative consumer sentiment across all channels,” and expressed their confidence in LULU’s future by dropping the stock’s target price.
So the decision to launch a new casual wear flanker brand called &go this week seems, frankly, odd. It’s understandable that they’d want displace all the bad karma at the top of everybody’s Google search results with something more positive. But it would have made so much more sense if that positive news lifted the brand out of its hole instead of trying to distract us while they keep digging. Instead, the launch of &go feels faintly desperate.
For one thing, it strikes me as risky to extend the brand further into the public sphere by offering casual wear, at least for now. Lululemon’s public image is exactly its problem; they should focus on fixing it before they come up with new ways to spread it around.
The &go line also seems predicated on a questionable insight: “you don’t have time for a wardrobe that keeps forcing you to change.” Pundits have already pointed out the, er, practical problems of going clubbing tonight in the same clothes you wore to your bikram class this afternoon. Past that, it’s improbable that Lululemon’s tribe would be attracted by the idea of needing fewer clothes, even if they are “busy living.”
But the hardest part to understand in all this is how they’ve simply decided to pretend the reputational issues aren’t there. There is enough residual love for this brand that a product fix or two, fewer stick-thin models in their marketing and generally assuming a kinder, more inclusive tone could still turn the tide. That would be very ‘namaste’ of them, and hardly likely to soil their brand. This isn’t Abercrombie & Fitch we’re talking about.
LULU enjoyed a little bump on the news this week, so somebody likes &go. But trading the stock and wearing the pants aren’t the same thing. If more people aren’t proudly doing the latter soon, Lululemon may still end up — yeah, I’m going there — a downward dog.