Lululemon: Paper Was Wrong, Seaweed in Clothes

Discussion
Nov 20, 2007

By George Anderson

A report in The New York Times last week that Lululemon Athletica’s VitaSea seaweed-infused T-shirt did not contain seaweed fiber has put the company’s alternative culture status in jeopardy with the yoga and Pilates devotees who buy the company’s products.

Lululemon has billed its VitaSea line of clothing as being made of 24 percent seaweed fiber. Tags on the garments make the claim that the clothes released “marine amino acids, minerals and vitamins into the skin upon contact with moisture.”

Carolyn J. Otten, director for specialized services at Chemir Analytical Services, a lab that tested a sample of VitaSea, said, “Seaweeds have known vitamins and minerals, and we searched specifically for those vitamins, and we didn’t see them.”

Robert Meers, CEO of Vancouver, Canada-based Lululemon, said in a press release: “Product quality and authenticity are of the utmost importance to Lululemon. Integrity goes to the core of everything we do and is at the heart of our relationship with our guests. For this reason, we test our products for content using a leading testing facility. We absolutely stand behind our products, our processes and refute any claims in recent press reports to the contrary.”

On Friday, Canada’s Competition Bureau said Lululemon agreed to remove any claims on its labels, in stores and on its website that the VitaSea product line could provide therapeutic benefits to those wearing the clothing.

Discussion Questions: If “product quality and authenticity are of the utmost importance” to Lululemon’s customers, what will The New York Times report mean for its business? Now that the report is out there, will consumers believe the Lululemon’s assertion that its VitaSea products are made with seaweed? What do you think the company has to do at this point?

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8 Comments on "Lululemon: Paper Was Wrong, Seaweed in Clothes"


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M. Jericho Banks PhD
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M. Jericho Banks PhD
14 years 6 months ago
How clever of VitaSea’s Robert Meers to claim his company was refuting reports that some VitaSea products failed to deliver on their claims–and then offer no refutation. He probably meant “deny” or “challenge” or “dismiss,” but “refute” sounds final and decided even though the issue wasn’t final or decided at all. Apparently this same wordsmithing was also used to describe the benefits of VitaSea garments. And what outlandish claims! A garment containing 24% seaweed releases vitamins into (not just onto) the wearer’s skin upon contact with moisture? How does that work in the washing machine? A soup bone boiled too often eventually loses all flavor. This incident is from the “don’t confuse me with the facts” school of decision making. Also matriculating at this school are families who consume only organic products because it makes them feel better about things, despite the fact that organics are not more nutritious or chemical-free than non-organic products. As Joel Warady pointed out, VitaSea is a lifestyle brand choice and sales are unlikely to suffer because of the recent… Read more »
Odonna Mathews
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Odonna Mathews
14 years 6 months ago

Integrity is everything to a brand, especially a health-oriented brand like Lululemon. It is imperative to check and recheck standards with suppliers.

Although most consumers would have to question a “therapeutic benefit” to clothing.

The fact that the company has agreed to remove any claims on its labels, stores and website doesn’t sound good to me for brand integrity.

Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 6 months ago

To some folks, The New York Times is actually the Word Of The Lord. But a lot of folks don’t read it. In fact, newspaper readership is declining generally, especially among younger folks. If Lululemon continues to invest in skilled publicity and stylish clothes, they’ll do fine. In mid-October, the company predicted comp store sales increases of around 25%. Check in after Christmas and let’s see what happens.

Sue Nicholls
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Sue Nicholls
14 years 6 months ago

A large percentage of the customers who wear Lululemon have never done a downward dog in their life (unless they accidentally drop something on the floor), and think that a “savasana” is a disease. For many, Lululemon is the “in” fashion–with or without seaweed in it. But shame on Lululemon for making the claims–although they do sound pretty hard to believe anyways.

Don Delzell
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Don Delzell
14 years 6 months ago
If, in fact, the claims made were known by management to be untrue, or, if management made a concerted effort to “not know,” then I sincerely hope this brand tanks in the retail market. As a consumer, an analyst, a consultant and a business man, I am completely fed up with exaggerated or untrue product claims. Make a better product, design one that meets a need, and then let the marketplace determine your success. I couldn’t care less if the therapeutic benefits of seaweed fiber are difficult to measure or even prove. The FDA gets it wrong all the time…My beef is with not putting the fibers in to begin with, and then initially blaming the vendors. If seaweed fiber is a critical part of your product design, how could you NOT insure that it was present? I have to believe, having spent over 2 decades in product development, that apparel fabric with seaweed fiber probably comes from a very small number of suppliers, and probably has to be dyed to order. This is beyond… Read more »
Joel Warady
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Joel Warady
14 years 6 months ago

I don’t think the NY Times report will have a negative effect on Lulelemon’s brand. Their brand is a lifestyle brand, and people who buy their high-priced active wear do so because of the way the clothes fit, and the way the clothes feel. Not necessarily because they thought they were getting a seaweed spa treatment while wearing the product.

In 2007, people are aware of marketing claims, and they take them with a grain of salt. How potent are the vitamins in Vitamin Water? How many POM drinks must you drink before you really are able to take advantage of the anti-oxidants? The point is this. Lululemon had a great story, and they will have to alter it just a bit, but they will still have a great story, with evangelical loyal customers.

Their brand is safe for now.

David Livingston
Guest
14 years 6 months ago

This sounds like a very far fetched claim to begin with. Any consumer who believes these claims is probably not smart enough to be reading the New York Times.

Laura Davis-Taylor
Guest
Laura Davis-Taylor
14 years 6 months ago

If they did this knowingly, shame on them. We need brands like this to be setting the standard, not creating skepticism for others like them. It’s frustrating, as so many of us want to believe that there are more businesses out there that are basing their decisions on ethics and the core values of their beliefs. I guess money will typically drive most business decisions, but what about Karma? Of all vertical genres, you’d think a yoga brand would respect this!!!

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