Lululemon opened a "dual design and retail concept" store Tuesday in New York dubbed Lululemon Lab, according to New York Magazine, that is testing limited-edition clothing designed for life outside the gym or yoga studio.
The retailer appears to be taking a page from its founder Chip Wilson’s latest effort, Kit and Ace, with plans for non-workout apparel in subtle non-hues and technical “performance” fabrics.
Items that do well in the store may be expanded to the main Lululemon line, according to the the retailer’s new design chief, Marcus LeBlanc, who once also worked for John Varvatos and Theory, where he co-founded the athleisure unit Theory+.
Lululemon is widely seen as inventing so-called athleisure apparel—workout wear designed to be fashionable enough to wear beyond the gym or yoga studio. Under founder and former-CEO Chip Wilson, Lululemon's approach was to develop patentable fabric blends that would facilitate sweating, theoretically keeping the wearer fresh enough to hit a cafe or bar after her (and now increasingly his) workout. The clothing also gained a reputation for being flattering.
Wilson's new endeavor Kit and Ace also uses signature technical blends, including what Kit and Ace calls “technical cashmere.” Kit and Ace was founded in 2014 by Wilson’s wife and son, and Wilson himself now helps run the company since leaving Lululemon last year.
Lululemon, with this lab store and its incubator in home city Vancouver, is not interested in resting on its laurels when it comes to developing fabric or fashion design, something that's essential, really. The retailer squandered its supremacy in the space after dealing with quality and supply chain issues clumsily and slowly. Wilson also damaged the brand’s reputation with disparaging comments about women.
This happened as other retailers, from Target to Nike, got into the athleisure game with workout apparel that chased that flexible high-fashion, high-performance niche.
As it continues to innovate, Lululemon may be able to regain and solidify its dominance. If it does well with the non-workout apparel it’s testing in New York, it’s Kit and Ace, which let go 10% of its headquarters staff last month, that may be in trouble.