• Angad Chowdhry

The Athleisure Market is Booming. What Makes Lululemon Stand Out?

Photo by Katie Bush on unsplash

Loungewear sales spiked during the pandemic, especially in March 2020 and November 2020, as countries went into lockdown and people embraced a new way of life. Work-from-home was accompanied by comfort food, comfort TV, and comfort wear to cope with the times.

Come 2021, people started prioritizing their health and fitness and embraced a more active lifestyle. Virtual workouts and comfort fitness such as yoga, pilates, and barre gained traction and with it, athleisure clothing, particularly among 18-45-year-old women.

Athleisure or ‘athletic leisure’ — hybrid clothing made of activewear that can also be worn to school, work, casual and semi-formal occasions — includes (but is not limited to) yoga pants, track pants, sneakers, and leggings. Believed to have been popularised by soccer moms and millennials, it has become a wardrobe staple irrespective of whether the wearer is into fitness or not as it is both comfortable and fashionable.

Kantar reports that the athleisure market grew by 53% over the last year alone. We also see an 18% increase in search interest for formal athleisure wear that can be worn to work (online and offline). A leading brand in this apparel category is Lululemon, an athletic apparel retailer headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia with 491 stores worldwide.

More about Lululemon

Founded in 1998 by Chip Wilson in Vancouver, Lululemon Athletica started out by specializing in yoga wear but has since expanded its line to include a wide range of athletic wear and accessories for men and women. The brand still calls itself a ‘yoga-inspired, technical athletic apparel company’ that seeks to create a community of people passionate about fitness, healthy living, and mindfulness.

In June 2020, Lululemon acquired Mirror, ‘a fitness startup that sells an interactive mirror with a camera and speakers for at-home workouts’ given the growing trend of virtual workouts in light of the pandemic. The founder, Chip Wilson, was also recently on The Tim Ferriss Show talking about building Lululemon, the art of setting goals, and decision-making.

Quilt’s Culture AI analyzes Lululemon’s digital marketing

Using our proprietary Culture AI tool, we analyzed Lululemon’s 3000+ Instagram posts to understand what makes them stand out in the athleisure market.

Community is everything

Online communities are underrated and if you look at leading brands across product categories, be it Nike or Airstream, they have a close-knit community of customers connected by common interests and passions. In the case of Lululemon, it is passion for a healthy lifestyle, mindfulness, and #thesweatlife.

The Lululemon community shares personal stories, training plans, inspirations behind their fitness journey. Running, yoga and training are the main focus areas of the brand and community, and digital content put out by the brand features interviews with trainers, training plans, pro tips, and workout routines.

While brands like Nike target professional athletes and serious connoisseurs of sports, Lululemon’s content comes across as more accessible and meant for anyone who is keen to lead a more healthy lifestyle (both body and mind). The brand’s Instagram feed features photos and videos of professional trainers and athletes but the focus remains on everyday fitness. The apparel, too, appears trendy and comfortable, great for the outdoors, and for all kinds of athletic activities. The post captions do not dwell on the technology, product features, and material itself, but a way of life — the sweat life.

Ambassadors are key

When our AI analyzed Lululemon’s Instagram captions, it detected the following phrases:

We see a strong emphasis on global ambassadors, be it ‘yoga ambassador,’ ‘store ambassador,’ ‘new york ambassador’, or ‘elite ambassador’ in Lululemon’s digital communications. With various categories of ambassadors promoting Lululemon’s products, in addition to online campaigns and training content, Lululemon establishes its online presence as an industry leader in athleisure wear that is more than just its products.

While Lululemon’s global ambassadors consist of renowned athletes, yogis, trainers, and creatives who are passionate about ‘changing the world through sweat,’ the store ambassadors are about local community leaders who host workshops and events, bringing the Lululemon brand and ethos closer to home. This kind of engagement ensures the community is connected and progressing towards the common objective of healthy, mindful living.

Feelings Matter

The top five emotions detected by our Culture AI reading the brand’s Instagram posts are Happiness, Affiliation, Sensuality, Creativity, and Solitude.

Lululemon’s content is positive, inspiring, engaging, and revolves as much around its community as individual growth and potential. Their activewear and accessories are stylish, catering to the increasing demand for sustainable, versatile, and feel-good clothing without compromising on style.

What other athleisure brands can learn from Lululemon

The global athleisure market is expected to reach $257.1 million by 2026 according to Allied Market Research. Denim jeans are being replaced with athleisure in consumers’ wardrobes according to the 2020 Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor™ Survey. Even fashion labels are putting out athleisure lines in their collections. To stand out, brands in this category must invest in building an engaged, close-knit community of consumers that is bound by common interests and passions. Like Lululemon, athleisure brands can offer on-demand services like fitness and wellness classes to engage their customers and provide value that extends beyond apparel and accessories.

Sustainability is no longer an option given the climate crisis, and Athleisure brands must adapt and shift to sustainable and durable materials and packaging, fair trade practices, diversity, and inclusion. Athleisure brands can carve out a niche for themselves by catering to underserviced consumer segments through plus-size activewear, maternity activewear, and customization options.

Further, digital marketing is essential for brand communications and positioning. AI can be leveraged to optimize online reach and engagement. We asked our proprietary AI ad-generator to create ads for Lululemon based on our findings in a way that resonates with the Lululemon community. Here’s what it came up with:

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