Lululemon is introducing a new approach to its yoga pants — the Lululemon product that sparked the current athleisure craze — with a line categorized by “engineered sensations.”
Pants will be differentiated by how they hug certain parts of the body or how relaxed they are, and are made from a new, looser-fitting fabric Lululemon is calling “Nulu.”
The move is seen by observers as a continuation of the company’s effort to recover from its quality issues from a few years ago and as a way to fight new competition in the space it essentially created.
Lululemon is taking a particularly Lululemon-ish approach to its new set of categories, using words like “hug,” “embrace,” “engineered sensations,” “compression,” and “strategically placed zoning” to describe how its pants will feel when they’re worn.
“They would take [leggings] into the changing room and they would come out, and I’d look at it and say, ‘Actually, this is a little big for you. It’s kind of baggy in the knees, the waistband isn’t fitting the way it should,” Antonia Iamartino, Lululemon’s design director of future concepts, told the Washington Post. “You actually probably want to go down a size.’ And the guest would say, ‘I just don’t want something that feels this tight.’”
Some observers say that this is the company making a concerted effort to show its customers that it cares about them, after badly mangling its own quality issues by essentially blaming and fat-shaming some of them when consumers pointed out a flaw in one of its pant's design. And still others say it's a recognition that the company is fighting a whole new host of competitors, which are selling groovy performance gear that can be worn on the street — so-called athleisure — at much lower price points.
But there could be something else going on, too — “Nulu” may help Lululemon begin to differentiate between yoga pants that are perfect for the gym or asana space and those that are perfect for socializing and wearing out and about.
That might seem like a departure of sorts from the athleisure idea — which depends on the concept that women can wear the same tight-fitting clothes they use in the gym out in public (whether or not they’ve actually put time in the gym). Are we going back to separate clothes for the street and for the gym?
That would also mean a Lululemon customer may want at least two pair of its new pants, and that sounds like a sales strategy.
It could be dangerous one for Lululemon, though, which might look like its abandoning its core product — and that could be confusing for its customers, Liz Dunn, chief executive of retail consultancy Talmage Advisors, told the Washington Post.
“I understand what they’re trying to do, I get what the goal is. But it does seem to add a layer of confusion,” Dunn said. “And to me, it suggests they’re still experiencing a bit of pushback about people’s perception of the quality of their pants.”