Magazine article Newsweek

Plus-Sized Women Want Yoga Chic, Too

Magazine article Newsweek

Plus-Sized Women Want Yoga Chic, Too

Article excerpt

Byline: Katie J.M. Baker

Thanks to high-end workout gear line Lululemon, yoga is no longer just a spiritual discipline: It's an aspirational branding opportunity. The company, founded in 2000, has a massive, cult-like following of juice cleanse-guzzling, elite gym-going women who wear Wunder Under leggings ($98) and Virasana blanket wraps ($148) inside and outside of the yoga studio to signify how rich, hip, and healthy they are. Healthy, of course, is code for thin - 67 percent of U.S. women wear a size 14 or larger, but you'd be hard-pressed to find Lululemon's largest size, 12, or even a 10 in most stores.

Billionaire founder Chip Wilson is famously dismissive of larger customers: He has said the extra fabric it takes to make plus-size clothes would hurt his business and that part of the reason his company had to recall thousands of indecently sheer yoga pants last spring was because customers were trying to squeeze into too-small clothes. One former Lululemon staffer recently said the company purposely refrains from restocking larger sizes. Earlier this month, Wilson sparked national outrage when he told Bloomberg TV that some of his pants pill because not all women are Lululemon-worthy. "Quite frankly, some women's bodies just actually don't work," he said. "It's about the rubbing through the thighs."

Some viewers were offended, but competitors in the activewear arena were thrilled. Many of them are inspired by Lululemon's high-tech style but hope to attract the average American women instead of excluding her.

The activewear market is a $30 billion industry that's growing two times as fast as the overall apparel industry, according to NPD, a consumer market research firm. (Lululemon's projected revenue for 2013 is around $1.6 billion.) Plus-size women hold 28 percent of women's apparel purchasing power, but spend only 17 percent - maybe that's because 62 percent of plus size woman say they have a hard time finding the styles they want.

If they can't find them (or fit into them) at Lululemon, they might try Threads 4 Thought, a sustainable apparel line that recently advertised its new yoga line ThreatsActive as "Never Sheer, Always Flattering, for Every Woman, No Matter the Body Type," a not-so-subtle jab at Lululemon's embarrassing recall. "Hopefully it's clear without being too offensive," laughed co-founder Eric Fleet, who added that he didn't agree with Wilson's strategy and "wasn't sure that it's going to work out for them.

"Any brand should want to appeal to as many women as it can, instead of alienating them," he said.

According to Tasha Lewis, a professor of fiber science and apparel design at Cornell University who has been following the post-recall marketing strategy, Athleta, which was acquired by Gap Inc. in 2008 and carries sizes up to XXL, is Lululemon's biggest threat. She says it strategically places its stores in close proximity to Lululemon's. Athleta hasn't sent out any snarky emails and wouldn't comment directly on Wilson's most recent comments, but a spokesperson noted the brand's Give-It-A-Workout-Guarantee, which allows women to bring back clothes if they, say, pill. …

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