While sportswear brand Lululemon describes itself as a yoga-inspired company that cares about the well-being of its employees, one woman who currently works in one of its stores says that, in fact, the opposite is true.
The anonymous employee wrote a scathing essay for Jezebel in which she describes what it's really like to work for the clothing store, from being told to suck it up when a customer spit on her to keeping tight-lipped despite witnessing plenty of illegal practices.
'Immediately after I started work at Lululemon, I realized that almost all their talk about empowerment and happiness was empty,' she said. 'The years I’ve spent there since have confirmed it: the company’s culture is delusional, hypocritical, and cult-like.'
Calling them out: An anonymous Lululemon employee wrote an essay criticizing the company for how it treats its employees
Company culture: The employee said that Lululemon stores have high turnover, indicating that many employees are unhappy
When the unnamed employee interviewed for a job as a salesperson there right after graduating from college, she thought the company seemed appealing. The girl who interviewed her sang its praises, and she believed what she was told about its great corporate culture.
But her feelings started to change pretty quickly. The writer says now that she was 'very naive' to believe all of the great things she was told about how the company empowered women and cared about its employees.
In fact, she saw right away that the store in which she worked had very high turnover - which is often seen as a sign of unhappy employees. She's seen 'hundreds of people cycle through' during her years there.
But what, exactly, makes these people flee? The writer first explains that the corporate culture is based on a 'bastardized' version of yoga. Sanskrit phrases are co-opted and misused for everything from their theft guide to their employee regulations book.
'The company is so disproportionately tone-deaf it’s astounding,' she said.
In October of last year, Lululemon partnered with Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education in October of last year. While they no doubt believed it was a great PR move, as they pledged to donate thousands of dollars to the nonprofit, the public reaction to the relationship was split.
Many people believed that linking the retailer to the educational organization was in bad taste, and merely a marketing tool. For executives at Lululemon, though, it likely seemed like a perfect fit.
Namaste? The company's bases its culture on a 'bastardized' version of yoga, said the employee
Follow their lead: She explained that the way those yoga values are adopted is 'cult-like' and 'tone-deaf'
The Jezebel writer said that they use their 'yoga values' in a 'cult-like' way. For example, if an employee comes to work in a bad mood, they have to undergo something called a 'clearing', in which they discuss whatever it is that put them in a bad mood and allow someone else - another employee, not a qualified therapist - to coach them on how to get over it.
And that's not the only coaching done in stores, either. New hires also do 'goal coaching'.
The company is so disproportionately tone-deaf it’s astounding
The writer described how they are required to list their goals - which are hung up in the store for every employee to see - and told not to make excuses about reaching them. This is even the case when someone says their goal is to pay off student loans - they will be told that they shouldn't let that 'limit' them.
The company promotes the idea that when you think negative thoughts, you bring that negativity upon yourself.
But the yoga mentality isn't the only philosophy adhered to by successful Lululemon employees. The company's founder, Chip Wilson, is a big fan of Ayn Rand, and puts the author's books on a required reading list.
The writer said that she was once told that Chip didn't 'believe in' public assistance, and insisted that people could survive by being 'entrepreneurial'.
Chip has gotten in trouble for many other comments that he's made publicly in the past. He once claimed that the rise in breast cancer was due to 'Power Women' who smoked and went on the pill. He also explained away concerns that the brand's pants pilled easily,blaming women whose bodies didn't 'work' in the pants because their thighs rubbed together too much.
Choosing his words: The company's founder, Chip Wilson, has gotten in trouble for his 'tone-deaf' statements in the past
Controversial reading material: Chip loves Ayn Rand novels like The Fountainhead, which is considered a bible for those who believe in individualism; Chip once allegedly said that he didn't believe in welfare
Lululemon also doesn't stand behind its employees, the writer charged. She wrote about one instance in which a 'guest', the company's name for a customer, spit on her. When she naturally got upset, a manager told told her that it was her 'choice' to feel that way. The same attitude was held when customers followed employees to their cars, and even when one customer threatened to shoot up the store.
But even worse, the writer claimed that some of the company's labor practices were, at best, legally ambiguous. For example, one store once hired a salesperson with Tourette's and told him that he could be himself there - but then fired him for 'making guests uncomfortable'.
There was also a time that employees were ordered to take off-the-clock fitness classes while wearing Lululemon products. After being sued for the practice, managers no longer explicitly make this request - though the expectation is still there, the writer alleged, especially for employees who hope to advance up the ladder.
And although they expect employees to be walking billboards at local exercise classes, Lululemon won't support those who get injured while working out. The company even pays for the classes to encourage employees to take them - but the writer recalled a salesperson who broke her ribs at one exercise class and was not allowed to work, and was then denied worker's compensation and disability on top of it.
Startlingly, the writer said that many people also work off the clock and feel that they don't have a choice in the matter. Frequently, she explained, employees will be unable to finish everything they are required to do in a single shift. If they leave without completing their tasks, they'll get in trouble.
Crossing the line? The employee alleged that a lot of the company's practices may not be completely legal
Say it ain't so: She recalled one employee was who was allegedly fired because his Tourette's made customers uncomfortable
So in order to wrap it up, they end up working off the clock, since Lululemon won't offer overtime. Managers, the writer claimed, sometimes work 20 unpaid hours a week.
'At Lululemon, it’s incredibly personal, while you’re constantly being told not to take anything personally,' she said.
According to the anonymous employee, Lululemon also expect employees in leadership positions to be 'relentlessly positive' and not question anything about the company - including when they believe it is committing Occupational Safety and Health Administration violations.
The company’s culture is delusional, hypocritical, and cult-like
Employees are told that it is their 'choice' to complain, and that it shows a lack of positivity - even when those complaints are about things as egregious as having a fridge and microwave in the bathroom because they won't fit in the break room, as is the case in one store.
Not everything that the writer dislikes about the company involves potentially illegal activity - some of it is just points to hypocrisy.
While the company proclaims that 'they care about you', it offers no paid maternity leave (except for those who work in the Canadian corporate office), no 401(k) plans, and no paid vacation for salespeople. It also starts pay at just $12 an hour, which the writer says seems especially low considering that most Lululemon stores can be found in wealthier communities.
But Lululemon isn't the 'most evil company', the writer admitted - in fact, she likes a lot of the people there, and thinks many of them are well-meaning. But, she said, they are still doing a lot wrong.
The writer also touched on the idea that the company doesn't even treat all of its customers as well as it could be.
Dissatisfied: Past employees have also spoken out about the unpleasant aspects of working for the company
Lululemon markets itself to its 'ideal' woman. This make-believe 'muse' is named Ocean. She is 32, has her master's degree, makes six figures, and doesn’t want kids. According to the writer, she's meant to be 'aspirational', an ideal that most customers will never reach.
The ones especially unlikely to reach it may be plus-size customers, whom Lululemon has been known to actively discourage. The brand only makes clothing up to sizes 10 and 12, and those sizes can often be much harder to find in any given store, according to Time.
Elizabeth Licorish, a former employee, told the Huffington Post in 2013 that those items were purposefully left 'clumped and unfolded' in a special area, under a table: 'All the other merchandise in the store was kind of sacred, but these were thrown in a heap.'
In 2013, a former employee wrote another revelationary piece, this one for Thought Catalog. In it, she listed 28 things that she learned while working at Lululemon - most of which weren't good.
Explaining that a manager once smiled when she cried, the ex-employee claimed that most people who worked there during her tenure were unhappy. Complaining, though, was considered a bad move - even it you were sexually harassed. In fact, she said, if you accused someone of sexual harassment, you would be labeled a 'trouble maker'.
This person also said those who were promoted were nearly always friends with the boss or else among the few male employees, adding: 'They value straight males above any other type of employee- having a penis is like a constant “get out of jail” free card.'
Daily Mail Online has reached out to Lululemon for comment.
To read the full essay, please visit Jezebel
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Yoga is a physical and spiritual practice for any age or experience level. But only women of a particular economic privilege and physical slimness can buy Lululemon Athletica yoga pants, the status symbol of yogis du jour.
Lululemon sells pants and tops in sizes 2 to 12 (US sizes). In short, size small is the word on the street. And this is exactly how Lululemon wants it. As company founder Chip Wilson explained to Bloomberg Television's Street Smart this week:
Quite frankly, some women's bodies just actually don't work for [Lululemon's yoga pants]. It's about the rubbing through the thighs and how much pressure is there.
His interviewer, Bloomberg's Trish Regan, asked if Wilson meant to imply "not every woman can wear a Lululemon yoga pant", which range in price from $82 to $118 on the website. Here, Wilson backpedaled. "No, I think they can," he replied. "I just think it's how they use them."
Let me translate from biz-speak: if your thighs rub together – meaning if they touch – you might be too plump for Lululemon pants. They might as well have a "thigh gap" measuring device in their stores. Only if a woman is slim enough to fit the sizing, she can "use" the pants – as in, you know, actually wear them during yoga practice. As Chip Wilson clearly explained, the problem is not the pants' sizing, but in the woman's body.
The average US woman's dress size is 14, according to the president of the lingerie line Frederick's of Hollywood (among other studies). That is not, however, a size Lululemon even offers. Over the summer, the company was accused by a former employee of hiding its larger sizes (10 and 12) in the back of the store. Elizabeth Licorish told the Huffington Post the Philadelphia Lululemon Athletica store where she worked intentionally only displayed smaller sizes on the floor. Customers in need of a bigger size had to ask – if they dared – for larger sizes to be personally retrieved from the back. "It was definitely discriminatory to those who wore larger sizes," she said.
This does not concern the company, of course. In response, Lululemon said their "target guest" is size 2 to 12 and larger sizes are not part of its "formula". It's not the only brand to do this – Abercrombie & Fitch got in similar trouble again this year for comments by its CEO saying the brand is only for cool, skinny kids.
Their "target guest," in other words, is an exclusive one. (Yes, we really are talking about "exclusivity" in terms of fabric that covers our sweaty rear ends.) The brand is an elite fitness status symbol for the skinny and wealthy set – both, not one or the other. Only an exclusive cadre of women can pull off a Herve Leger bandage dress on the red carpet without looking like a lumpy frosting tube, and it would seem that Lululemon ascribes to the same goal in the yoga studio. If you're thin enough and financially flush, congratulations! You're now a walking billboard for both Lululemon and your own success in life (and perhaps maybe even health – hey, remember health?).
As a curvy woman whose thighs touch, I probably could not fit into Lululemon yoga pants in their largest size of 12. But I have not bothered to try. I'm quite happy with my cotton Gap yoga pants (part of the Gap Body line). They not only cost significantly less than $118 while providing great quality, but it doesn't matter how I "use" them. Would you believe it? Yoga pants that can be worn by anyone, for any reason!
More importantly, I didn't finance a company which condescends to me because of my thighs. I don't want to join this club that wouldn't have me as a member, either. If you are not rail slim, Lululemon's CEO has spoken to you this week: spend your money elsewhere on yoga pants you can actually use.