Yoga Pants and Technology

Lululemon headquarters.

Yes, you read that right, the title of this post is actually called “Yoga Pants and Technology.” I’m sure you’re all familiar with the brand Lululemon and their trendy workout apparel, but are you aware of the technology used to create their products? I’m assuming most of your answers for this one is no, but then again, I could be wrong. For those of you that don’t know, Lululemon’s product innovation takes place primarily in the Whitespace, a lab located in the depths of their Vancouver headquarters.

The Whitespace is quite literally that, a large white space (10,000 square feet to be exact), where Lululemon develops and tests their future products. A major focus of the lab is to understand how consumers want to feel in their products as opposed to just providing recommendation on a product based on size and the specific type of workout that they’re doing. This is important because they have come to understand the fact that not every person feels the same way when working out, even if they’re doing the exact same workout, at the exact same time, in the same location. Just the other day, I was in a spin class where I was wearing a tank top and crops, but the women next to me was in a long sleeve shirt and full-length pants. I walked out of class beat red and sweating, while she barely had a flush or a hair out of place. We both worked hard in class, but the way that looks was different for each of us and this is exactly what Lululemon is trying to understand.

Inside the Whitespace.

Located within the Whitespace are a materials lab, a sensory immersion lab, a pool, an area where 3D imaging is done, and body scanners. The materials lab houses different fibers and yarns that have so far created thirty-three different fabrics that Lululemon uses throughout their wide range of products. These fabrics are a direct result of the testing that goes on in other areas of the lab and are created to meet a certain need for their consumers. The sensory immersion lab is probably one of the most interesting parts of the entire Whitespace. Here they are able to alter space into just about anything they would like it to be. They are able to create any sort of climate that they would like to test their product in, whether it be rain and wind or extreme heat or extreme cold. Here they also have the ability to hook up the athletes that are testing the products to monitors so that their staff is able to get a better understanding of how the changes are affecting them through their brain activity. By doing all of this, it allows them to see the impact that this will have, combined with the elements, on a specific person and a specific product. 

The Whitespace proved to be a valuable asset to the company when tasked with the job of outfitting the Canadian beach volleyball teams for the 2016 Olympics in Rio. They utilized their 3D imaging to better understand how each individual athlete’s body moved while running, jumping and walking, while also utilizing their body scanners to get an accurate reading of their shape and size. They also utilized the sensory immersion lab to mimic what it would the climate would be like while playing on Copacabana Beach. Once they got an understanding of what type of fit the athletes were looking for, they combined all of this information to design a suit that could meet the needs of the some of the best athletes in the world. After determining that their design would withstand the conditions and surpass the standards that the athletes were expecting, each player was fitted with a custom suit to ensure that it was tailored specifically for them.

Team Canada’s beach volleyball uniforms.

The fashion industry as a whole is huge, being estimated to be worth over $1 trillion dollars globally, and the share of that estimation that is made up of athleisure is continuing to grow, increasing by over 50% since 2007. Morgan Stanley has predicted that by 2021, the athleisure market will have estimated sales of $355 billion dollars. Lululemon is still a relatively small player in the space, especially when it comes to competing with the likes of Nike, Adidas and Under Armour, but they are carving out a fanbase of their own. They surpassed $3 billion in sales for 2017 and have an estimated worth of $15 billion dollars. The time and money that they invest in creating their products and using the Whitespace has definitely made an impact on their business since its opening. I believe that the Whitespace is vital to the continued success of the company and it will be interesting to see what they are able to come up with next. 

12 comments

  1. Talk about a major differentiator among the athleisure market and almost necessary good to outperform these larger brands like Nike and Under Armor. Lululemon is one of my favorite brands within the fashion industry. I recently bought a pair of pants for a formal interview there last week and was shocked to find this category of clothing there. They may specialize in athleisure but they are upping their game in other categories. Your focus on Yoga and Technology is fascinating and could be a gamechanger and competitive advantage for Lulu to take down some of these older sport brands that are not as specialized in the Yoga/Athleisure department. What is next?

  2. dilillomelissa · · Reply

    Really interesting post! I had no idea the type of 3D imaging that went on behind the scenes. The white space that you describe reminds me of massive test kitchens. It makes sense that this type of high-quality product should be put through all the elements and situations an athlete would typically go through. I know I liked their products for a reason! I agree with Jesse’s comment on being surprised that they would sell something other than athleisure. I had no idea. If they continue this trend, I could see them really pushing through to different segments. They would need to do a good job of marketing this since I had no clue this was even an option and I follow them relatively closely.

  3. Really nice post. Always great to see creative and unexpected applications of tech to business models!

  4. I also think the benefit here for LuluLemon is twofold. LuluLemon is making a superior product who’s quality outperforms its competitors, but also, I think advertising the research made in the Whitespace is another. Consumers are attracted to innovation, something that’s not really seen in the clothing industry. I know Nike has been able to attract a lot of consumers with the Nike Lab and NikeID, solely because consumers are interested in the innovation behind it. I think LuluLemon has the ability to make an even stronger connection with its customers by leveraging the Whitespace and showing them what’s happening behind closed doors.

  5. I loved this post because I think Lululemon does a lot of really cool things with technology. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of it, but a couple years ago Lululemon came up of the idea of a “Test Truck,” which served as “a portable innovation hub” that allowed the company the chance to connect with individuals in various running communities across the US and Canada. The truck traveled coast to coast hitting a lot of major events (including the Boston Marathon), inviting runners to product test brand-new Lululemon technology and share feedback that could spark the next innovation in design or fabric. It was about the size of a small U-Haul, and consisted of a glass-like enclosure with a single treadmill inside. I never got to see it in person, but #TheTestTruck definitely created a lot of hype for the brand and all the tech-savvy things it would be doing in the future.

  6. I like to imagine that the top-down approach to fashion is slowly being replaced with a data-centric, customer-first model.
    How do they balance an efficient use of the data for product development while maintaining a concise product assortment? Put another way, this sort of data usage could easily facilitate the creation of hundreds of SKUs – how do you decide what’s statistically significant and what would be “nice to offer to 1,200 customers in southern CA who have a particular need?”

    I wonder if this is the start of Lululemon branching off into custom athleisure. Yoga pants are pretty simple to cut and sew, and the margins are phenomenal. With some paying $900+ for yoga pants I have to imagine there’s a market there.

  7. While I have heard that Lululemon incorporated technology into its product development, I did not have a clue it was to this extent. Very impressive! I guess with the product testing and tech involved, they can better explain their prices. With already a powerful brand name, and also a recognizable logo, as a small player maybe they would be even more powerful if they advertised the time, money and resources put into their product developments. It will be interesting to see how nike, adidas and UA respond to companies like Lululemon that will continue to eat at their market share for years to come.

  8. I had no idea the level of R&D Lululemon has committed to their products! I have always really liked the material they used and often wondered why other companies (Nike, Under Armour, etc) did not make products out of the same material – now I know it is because Lululemon likely created it themselves in the Whitespace. Being a smaller player in this sector of the fashion industry has forced them to put this focus on tech and become one of the most innovative players in the space in order to compete with the giants. Very interesting read!

  9. I am a big fan of Lululemon workout clothes but was unaware of the extent to which they use the Whitespace and technology in general to develop their products. This makes me feel a little better about how much I spend on their pants! I think their commitment to technology and innovation will help them compete with the bigger players, and with such a strong brand following already, it will be interesting to see where they go next. From a marketing perspective, I wonder if we will ever see them add a group of athletes or ambassadors (like Nike and UA have), or if they will try to do something different to increase their following. Great post!

  10. Lulu is and has been a leader at this for years, I think it’s one of the reasons their products are so great. I too can speak from first-hand experience and agree that their clothing is extremely comfortable, versatile and based on sound technology. For example, their men’s abc pants look equally appropriate on a golf course, at work or during a casual Sunday brunch. I can’t help but think this is because of the technology backing all their products.

  11. I loved the personal story bringing home the reality that we all work out differently. (I too am always in awe of those who leave the spin room at soul cycle either heavily clothed or barely sweating.)
    I think this is an amazing example of how tech is affecting us when we are not even aware. I had no idea such a lab and testing occurred and I think it is a great opportunity for Lulu to break into customization.

  12. When reading your post, I immediately thought about Michael Phelps and performance swimwear. During the olympics, I remember reading about how the suits are designed specifically to reduce drag and to help olympians break records. While athleisure isn’t quite on the same level, I think it is important for those who exercise often the nuance between a long sleeve shirt that breathes and prevents sweating goes a long way. The headquarters also resembles a tech company or a think tank that fosters innovation and where new ideas can be generated. It also is a way for Lululemon to increase their competitive edge and marketshare.

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