June 25, 2019 at 03:57PM by CWC
When I got the email announcing that activewear giant Lululemon would be launching its first ever personal-care line, which it’s calling Selfcare, I was intrigued. Heck, I was excited. “What will it be?” I asked my co-workers, as if speculating the contents of a giant, mysterious wrapped box. We dreamt of body wipes that would allow us to skip the shower line for good; a hair product that would transform my post-gym knot into an office-friendly ‘do; a face wash so fresh, it’d feel like it was made from drops of dew gathered from a meadow at dawn.
Were our expectations high? Absolutely. But this was Lululemon we were talking about, the brand that ostensibly put athleisure on the map by creating workout clothes you wouldn’t just wear to the gym, but, well, everywhere. Case in point: In 2012, Business Insider profiled a woman who didn’t do yoga, but spent $15,000 on Lululemon yoga pants. The company’s impact on culture has been so major that last year, its legendary Boogie Pants (aka “the leggings that started it all” back in 1998), were included in an exhibit at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art. In 2015, Lululemon launched its Whitespace lab, a research and development epicenter dedicated to innovating in the activewear space, and opened its flagship location, which includes space for wellness workshops and concierges to help you find local healthy hotspots. Time and time again, Lulu has proven to be a pioneer in the activewear and wellness lifestyle space—and now its sights are set on the booming personal care market.
“We recognized a gap in the transition point from sweat to life where sweat-related skin and hair problems often arise,” says Sun Choe, Lululemon’s Chief Product Officer. “As with all of our products, we create functional solves for sweaty problems. Some of the problems athletes face are stinky armpits, greasy hair, tomato-face, and dry lips. The products in our [Selfcare] lineup aim to solve these problems for our guests.”
With so many brands now bridging the gap between fitness and beauty, Lululemon would need to roll out a truly innovative product to stand out from the crowd. And yet…
I’m sure Lululemon wants to help solve its guests’ problems, but I’m also sure it wants to make a lot of money. According to a 2018 report from Zion Market Research, beauty and personal care product sales are projected to grow from 3.5 to 4.5 percent between 2015 and 2020, and it’s anticipated that the market will reach $500 billion by 2020 (and $863 billion by 2024). With that kind of buying power, it’s hardly surprising that Lululemon would want to seize an opportunity to get involved. What was surprising, I hate to say, was the quality of the product.
Selfcare’s initial lineup—a natural deodorant, lip balm, moisturizer, and dry shampoo—is underwhelming. The dry shampoo, which retails for a whopping $34, goes on gritty and white—two things that make it, in my book at least, unusable—and I washed the moisturizer off five minutes after applying because the smell was distractingly unappealing. The deodorant is fine, but I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s (as one Twitter user put it) “$18 for a deodorant?!?!” level of fine.
The personal care market is so profitable, in part, because it’s so big. And with so many brands now bridging the gap between beauty and fitness—FaceGym, for example, launched a collection of sweat-activated products earlier this year; Fré‘s skin- and body-care products are specifically formulated to treat the needs of sweaty skin; and boutique fitness OG SoulCycle even has a line of scented products with Le Labo—Lululemon would need to roll out a truly innovative product line to stand out from the crowd. And yet…
According to Karen Wolfe, VP of Client Success at Nielsen, Lululemon has enough name recognition and brand loyalty to rest on its laurels—a luxury that no-name rookies looking to break into the industry don’t have. “I don’t think they have as much to prove from a product perspective,” Wolfe tells me. “They see a white space,” not in the sense that there’s a gap in product offerings, she continues, “but in the sense of leveraging the brand’s heritage and credibility in one aspect of the holistic beauty industry into another aspect of the holistic beauty industry.” And if the fact that Selfcare sold out on Sephora.com on launch day is any indication, she’s right.
The cosmetics industry at present has shown us that anyone can build a beauty brand—but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they should.
And I think that’s what I find so frustrating. Lululemon checked some of the right boxes with Selfcare: it’s vegan and cruelty-free and, in a nod towards inclusivity, being marketed as “unisex” (though it’s admittedly hard to fully applaud this move given how un-inclusive so many other aspects of the brand are). But beyond that: Selfcare doesn’t use ingredients in new ways and doesn’t include any truly innovative, first-to-market products—everything in the collection already exists… and better. From a company that puts so much thought into everything it does—from the number of pockets in its leggings to a scarf that you can wear 50 different ways—the line just seems so thoughtless. The packaging isn’t environmentally friendly. The products are so big, they don’t even fit in a gym bag. As a colleague so aptly put it, “It’s like they did it just so they can say they have this stuff, too, but they didn’t try.”
And honestly, now would be a really great time for Lululemon to try. On paper, the company is off to a strong start in 2019 (share prices and revenue exceeded market expectations in the first quarter), but the brand has suffered in the court of public opinion. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s “living on the fumes” of its former glory, as company founder Chip Wilson (who resigned from Lululemon in 2015) put it, but controversy has followed the company for years, starting with Wilson’s comments about women’s bodies and carrying on through to the allegations that the company enabled and covered up rape and its sheer lack of inclusivity in its product offerings. A buzzy new launch was the perfect opportunity for Lulu to reinvent itself in the wake of all of that. And yet…
Personally, rather than release a line of lackluster personal care products, I would have much preferred that Lululemon use its resources to expand its range of sizing or double down on its environmental commitment. The cosmetics industry at present has shown us that anyone can build a beauty brand—whether they’re an influencer, a craftsperson, a farmer, or, yes, a massive athleisure conglomerate—but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they should. Or so says the white coating of dry shampoo on my scalp.