“To be honest, every time I tell someone I partner with Lululemon, their response is, ‘I thought they just did yoga products,’” Dr. Ryan Greene tells me over the phone. “Most people just associate it with women’s yoga pants.”
But these days, Lululemon is actively trying to shed its image as a store that caters solely to (for a lack of a better word) basic, yoga-faring white women, and convince the world it’s a store for men, too.
It’s not a full-on rebrand — Lululemon has been selling menswear since its inception, and it’s not about to completely disregard women, its most lucrative market segment. But it is a slight redefinition of what Lululemon is, who it’s for and how and where it’s clothes can be used. Specifically, Lululemon wants men to think of it as a brand they can wear for almost all occasions—not just the place where their girlfriends shop.
To better market itself to men, Lululemon has enacted a three-pronged approach — a nationwide ad campaign; a new, men’s-focused retail location; and deputizing male brand ambassadors (such as Greene) to conduct grassroots evangelizing among their bros.
The epicenter for this push is the new Lululemon store at the Westfield Century City mall in Los Angeles, which Lululemon intends to be the flagship location for its line of menswear. With white walls, wood flooring and shelves and overall minimalist aesthetic, the shop is like an Apple Store, only with a far more aggressive customer service style — I had five different Lululemon employees asking me if I needed help within my first five minutes of arriving.
The men’s items were prominently displayed at the front—but surprisingly, it was the men’s casualwear, not the athletic apparel, that was placed front and center. Things like button-downs, track jackets and sweaters.
A central component to Lululemon infiltrating the men’s market is convincing men that Lululemon isn’t just about activewear. As we noted last week, women constitute a majority of the compression shorts and pants market Lululemon is best known for. And anecdotally, most men I know are more than fine working out in a ratty T-shirt and pair of mesh shorts they’ve owned since they were a teenager. Casualwear that men can wear to both the office and the bar, however, is a potential market opening.
“Right now, the Lululemon man is someone who’s health-conscious, but at the same time wants something that’s comfortable and versatile,” Greene explains. “They can wear their outfit out to drinks with friends, but then go work out in the same clothes.”
Greene — a 30-year-old osteopathic physician and co-founder of Monarch Athletic Club, a health center that combines exercise, nutrition and medical consulting — is one of the three male ambassadors for the new L.A. location, the other two being chef and restaurateur Jeff Mahin and Adam Garone, co-founder of the Movember Foundation.
The brand-ambassador program is a loose arrangement. Brand ambassadors receive a certain amount of free Lululemon merchandise and a store discount, but are under no requirement to pimp the brand to their friends, Greene says.
Greene has done so anyway, and says he’s converted 15 male friends, colleagues and family members to Lululemon athleisure glory. “I don’t know anyone who hasn’t enjoyed something that they’ve purchased from Lululemon,” he maintains.
And last month, Lululemon launched Strength to Be, a global ad campaign aimed at the male consumer and featuring men who are anything but basic. They include:
- Puerto Rican Olympic boxer Orlando Cruz, the world’s first openly gay fighter
- John Joseph, the former punk-rock-frontman-turned-triathlete
- New York City hip-hop artist Zebra Katz
- Filmmaker and professional surfer Mark Healey
- Devout Muslim Ibn Ali Miller, who achieved viral fame earlier this year after he was captured on video breaking up a fight between two teens
Still, there’s the issue of what guy is going to pony up $78 for a pair of athletic shorts when he’s been more than happy to slip into the same old pair for the past decade. On that point, Greene says Lululemon products are built to last for years if properly cared for, and will more than pay for themselves in the long-run.
But he also concedes that yes, the point price is high, and Lululemon is going after a more upscale customer. The Lululemon man is urban and urbane, college-educated, and as concerned about his physical development as he is about his job.
In other words, he’s the guy dating a woman who wears Lululemon leggings.