November 29, 2011
Two things you might not have expected together: Ayn Rand and yoga pants
Stretchy pants-retailer and public company, Lululemon, is grabbing some attention this week with its new shopping bags.
If you’ve ever purchased something at this pricey athletic clothing store, you know that it comes in a reusable bag that is typically red and white, emblazoned with motivational text in a cheerful design. They usually have a picture of a woman in a yoga pose and the patchwork of text says things like: “Breathe deeply,” “Friends are more important than money,” and “Do one thing a day that scares you.” If you look on the Lululemon website, you'll notice it calls this patchwork of text its “manifesto.”
The past few weeks, Lululemon shoppers haven’t received the usual upbeat and slightly preachy red bag, but instead a black bag that says only “Who is JOHN GALT?” in white lettering – a phrase from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.
At this point, if you’re wondering “what the what?” you’re in good company.
The company hasn’t offered an official explanation, but many people have gone to a blog post on the company’s website to figure out what these new bags are about. The post, written by a staff member, explains that the company’s founder, Chip Wilson, read Atlas Shrugged when he was 18 and felt inspired to “elevate the world from mediocrity to greatness.” The post further states:
“Our bags are visual reminders for ourselves to live a life we love and conquer the epidemic of mediocrity. We all have a John Galt inside of us, cheering us on. How are we going to live lives we love?”
The comments section to the blog post is officially on fire.
Comments are ranging from the simple (“Just clothes. Stopping mixing in politics.”) to the more emphatic support or opposition (“This is the lamest thing ever. Package Republican propaganda in a $100 pair of pants and call it yoga.”). Here’s one of the more elaborate comments:
“Lululemon, in reading the comments of some of your customers, I was reminded of a similar reaction to the Wall St. Journal’s op-ed by John Mackey CEO of Whole Foods in 2009 in which he attacked ObamaCare and proposed a free market solution to our health care crisis. It turned out that he, too, was an admirer of Ayn Rand.
Many of Whole Food’s customers were also outraged, as some of yours apparently are. But they went a step further and organized a boycott.
It was a total failure. As a matter of fact, Whole Food’s stock just reported record profits and their stock recently made all time highs.
I wish you similar success.”
Some customers have declared they won’t buy Lululemon clothes again and are retiring their logo-emblazoned gear to the back of the closet rather than showing it off in tree pose. Many have expressed the sentiment that Rand’s philosophy is contrary to the teachings of yoga.
The media world is also abuzz with this story – everything from a mention on last night’s Colbert Report to the NY Times (see, e.g., here, here, here, here). (And an interesting Slate piece argues that yoga circa 2011 isn't such an odd fit with Rand’s ideology as yoga practice in America has become “hyper modern and individualist, a lifestyle devoted to realizing one’s own potential in the tightest, most space-age fabric possible.”)
The aspect of this story that I find most interesting is how to interpret these new bags – are they just a new angle on the company’s marketing? Like when a perfume company or fashion designer uses suggestive ad campaigns or ads to raise awareness of social issues? Does the management think this will sell more yoga pants? Or is this political speech? And if so, what does this example illustrate about who is speaking when a corporation speaks?
November 29, 2011 | Permalink