A new report from Business Insider reveals that an unnamed director at Lululemon pushed employees to create an All Lives Matter campaign that would be displayed on its website in response to the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing protests. According to the report, this director told employees, “We are not writing Black Lives Matter. That’s not where we’re at,” and asked them to use “approved copy” which involved the phrase “all lives matter.” Employees pushed back against the directive but were told they had to move forward with the approved language and eventually created two mock-ups, one with all lives matter and the other with Black Lives Matter.
Lululemon chose the latter and the director in question parted ways with the company after she apologized to employees. It’s an appalling story, but not especially shocking, either, considering the company’s carefully crafted position in the marketplace as the aspirational brand of choice for the affluent and the white.
As a brand, Lululemon conjures up an incredibly specific image that its marketing team has worked for years to cultivate: a thin, sporty white woman of medium height with perfectly coiffed hair, no visible fat, and just a wisp of sweat. Other people wear Lululemon, but its core brand identity is selling activewear for the affluent woman who never gets waitlisted at SoulCycle and can hit every advanced pose in her yoga class. It tracks that what goes on behind the scenes would match what goes on in the storefront window.
What shocks about the report is not merely that a racist environment might exist at the company, but the level of comfort a senior employee must have felt to be so certain in their position that an all lives matter campaign was tonally correct as to slap it across a website that needs to have mass appeal in order to make sales, in the midst of worldwide protests over racial injustice. It’s the same environment that allowed for a designer to promote an anti-Asian t-shirt; a brand founded by a man who vocally did not see fat women as a viable demographic for sales. (Chip Wilson left years ago, but the brand’s offerings still stop at a size 20, compared to 3X at Athleta and Nike or a 6XL at Girlfriend Collective.) It’s the same environment where, Business Insider reports, the innovation team was dubbed “White Space” as a tribute to the idea of the “‘blank space,’ this white space of ideas” without any consideration about what it meant to assign that name to a team that reportedly had “no Black people.” And according to Business Insider, when employees raised concerns, management pushed back.
Stacia Jones, a vice president and the head of inclusion, diversity, equity, and action at Lululemon, told Business Insider:
“We are proud of the progress we are making to become more diverse, inclusive and equitable across all aspects of the employee experience, from recruiting and hiring to leadership and development,” Jones told Insider. “While we are still early in our journey, we are fully committed to the tangible steps we’re taking that will help create systemic change so that we truly reflect the communities that we serve.”
This isn’t something fixable with a few new hires and a properly executed diversity and inclusion initiative. The problem has always been Lululemon’s need to identify as a brand for the elites in a way that separates them from Nike, their closest competitor. Where Nike is trying to sell customers the idea that they can become elite athletes with the right sports bra, Lululemon sells the idea that the consumer is already elite, and wearing the Lululemon logo will signal this to everyone else. It doesn’t matter if the clothes can or cannot stand up to a 45-minute workout—what matters is the sleek lines they can create, the envy they invite.
They change it all if they wanted to. But with a 2019 revenue report at over $3 billion, there’s not much incentive.