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.
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.
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.