Squeezing Lemons

Today has me thinking about sizes. Specifically, for work out clothes.

Being a larger gal, I sometimes have trouble finding a size that fits me properly when I am buying running specific gear. Work out tops never fit the way they are supposed to, rolling up, fitting loose on the bust and tight at the belly. Pants are either too long in the leg when they fit the waist, assuming I am a 6′ giant if I have a waist that big, or so tight at the waist I’d have to wear spanx underneath them to get them to fit (which I have done… Don’t judge, people, I looked fierce and no one was the wiser). I have worn XXXL running pants, when my normal jean size at Old Navy is a 12 to 14. I kid you not. I cut the tag off, because they fit awesome and I liked them. Stupid numbers mean nothing, right?

It is frustrating though…. In my darker moments, I rant and rail at sports clothing companies who defer “plus” size to the back of the store, ignore it completely, or assume that plus size is something I would consider skinny. I get pissed off when I want to buy a brand I really like, but can’t because they don’t have my “size”. I mean come on! Fat girls run! Fat girls do yoga! Fat girls spin and weight train! AUGH! *flail*

It can really, really suck any positive self-esteem right out of you when you are shopping for cute work out clothes (or clothes in general, really) and none are to be had within your reach. Plus sized exercise clothing stores are out there, and more and more are coming on board, like Old Navy, Gap, H & M, Sportive Plus, http://www.junonia.com/… There are tons out there, Google is your friend. This is a good thing.

But are any as lucrative and sought after as popular brands that “everyone” wears? Are they as stylish and trendy as that popular brand? Hmmm…

The catalyst for this train of thought today is because I read an article about Lululemon coming under fire for “fat shaming”. http://www.cbc.ca/newsblogs/yourcommunity/2013/08/lululemon-under-fire-for-fat-shaming-marketing.html is the article. So I thought I would put down my own thoughts about this controversy, be they good or bad. I am aware some of what I think might seem disrespectful or slightly bitchy, or defending Lululemon without regard to how they make larger women feel… But remember, I am there with you. I jiggle my size 14 arse into that store and come away empty handed too. I love their styling, I love the colours, and sometimes wish I too could fit into those tiny stretchy shorts I see on every single other woman when I go to yoga.

For the record, I do not fit into Lululemon yoga pants. Their tops, their bras… but not the damned pants. It has caused me woe in the past, I won’t lie, and I have made mental fists at the Lululemon brand and said “You suck, make plus size!”. I don’t anymore though.

Here is why… at length (my apologies).

I think Lululemon is brutally market savvy, not purposely “fat shaming”.

This is a sports and active lifestyle clothing store, geared towards women (yes there are men’s clothes but it is not their main market obviously) who participate in fitness. The price point puts these clothes squarely on young professionals, teenagers, and more affluent folks. The styling and colours are always on-trend, furthering the demographic to mainly young people. Yes, dads, moms and fit folks of all walks buy Lulu, but I personally don’t think it is their main money-making market (A marketing person would likely explain demographics, market share and profitability matrices much better than I could, but I’ll give it my best shot).

Case in point: Youth (teenagers) lust after the clothing (the pants are banned in a lot of high schools in this area for their skimpiness and status symbol issues), young 20-somethings live in their Lulu clothes. I rarely (note I did not say never!) see middle-aged people in the store (when I am there, which is once a week, for fun to browse the clearance rack) buying for themselves, but I do see lots of parents shopping for their kids. It is trendy, and satisfies the image conscious folds of society.

Case in point two: I am a young mom (ok, sort of young) with two kids, and I lead a fit lifestyle. But… I can’t always afford to buy stuff at Lululemon because hey, the kids have to eat, we have bills…. The idea of paying over $100 for a pair of spandex pants makes me clutch at my tummy and worry about keeping the Hydro on if I do. Perhaps we aren’t the norm, but quite a number of my 30 to 40 something friends might agree. Lululemon is too expensive to make up much of their wardrobe.

Ask someone with more expendable cash if Lululemon is too expensive, and the answer is likely different.

I have also heard… “Why would I pay that much for a piece of clothing that, if I work hard, will not fit in a few months, or because it just fits, will wear out too quick? I would rather buy Wal-mart capris and throw them when I can fit into a smaller size.” My husband has even said “When I get to the weight and size I am happy with, then I will spend the cash on good clothes that will last.”. I know I have thought this way too. It seems silly, because we are worth having nice things no matter our size and point in our journey, but there it is.

I have no idea if this is a common sentiment amongst others , or if my husband and I are miserly grumps about spending money and completely bonkers.

Don’t answer that, you. *stink eye*

So, with that in mind, why would Lululemon create sizing and clothing lines for market segments that would not be profitable (for them) in the long run? If they had a plus size line, would it sell enough to recoup R&D, manufacturing, shipping, storage, and display costs? Only the business gurus at Lulu can tell us that, based on sales numbers, financial formulas and inventories. Something tells me, based on the fact that their sizes only go to their concept of “12” says that it is NOT enough of a market segment to make money off of, based on their business models. They also don’t have size 12’s in all of the clothing models (like some of the shorts and tops) which leads me to believe they just don’t sell enough volume at larger sizes to warrant creating the patterns and manufacturing jigs for that size if they can’t recoup cost on it. There is a rumour they used to have more plus-sized clothing, but discontinued it when they changed manufacturers. I can’t substantiate that. Anyone? Bueller?

So, at the heart, they focus on selling, and do so ruthlessly in a market that is cut-throat, and massive. The popularity and status symbol of Lululemon is strong. Their manifesto tugs at heart strings (http://www.lululemon.com/about/manifesto), their “vibe” is desireable. I think it is really brilliant market segment positioning. It works on me, you know. *wink*

However, is this fat shaming, or simply business? An interesting article that makes some points for either side of the argument can be found here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/31/lululemon-plus-size_n_3675605.html?utm_hp_ref=tw

As for the accusations of not displaying the larger sizes, or discouraging “plus” sized women to shop in the stores, I don’t know. I always find lots of size 12’s and 10’s on the shelves, and if I don’t find it, it is brought out for me. I see no lump of clothes under the folding table ever. But then again, I frequent two stores in total. I can’t speak for stores in other urban centres. I have never once had a bad experience in a Lululemon store here in Ottawa. In fact, quite the opposite. I have been treated with respect, courtesy, and even been cheered by staff when talking about recent exploits and goals. They have given me merchandise for free, and when I went with a friend to try on clothes, and my friend fit into a smaller size than she expected, they were genuinely excited for her achievements, which made me tear up as we celebrated. She was so deserving of that praise and success and to have it validated was excellent.

I got to the yoga classes, and I see all shapes and sizes there. The community outreach of the individual stores here in Ottawa is really great, with run clubs, free yoga, and special events that never feel exclusionary. I have heard countless stories of people who do come in and can’t find a size that they are treated with respect and the sales people do try to find them something that will fit, sometimes even going out of their way to research other clothing lines for something suitable for that person.

I have, though, had friends who have had bad experiences, or could not find anything to fit, and I know what that feels like. it sucks. One friend (whom I greatly admire for her tenacity and openness) wrote to them, and her experience, letter and the responses are detailed here: http://runningforalittlelessofme.blogspot.ca/2013/04/humbled.html

I get the lament, and I think sometimes, when a store is as popular as Lululemon, they need to have a well researched, informative and kind response for this often asked question of “why do you not cater to all shapes and sizes?”. They seem to, and instead of a CEO who spouts of about ugly people (I’m lookin’ at you Abercrombie weirdo dude) have a concerted effort to explain themselves. People are going to warp and twist stuff no matter what they say, and haters are gonna hate…

Hence the articles and the debate, right?

Finally, I have an (maybe not so nice, I’m not a bitch, honest!) idea about all this.

I have wondered, as I work towards loving my body now, and dealing with my own image issues, if we are placing a responsibility of body image and inclusion on a store, when in fact it should be placed on ourselves, and our peer groups. Is a popular clothing brand responsible for making me feel good about my body, or am I? if I do not fit into that store’s clothing, is this horrible? Is it the store’s fault? No. There are TONS of clothing stores out there with similar clothing, providing beautiful selections that will flatter.

Perhaps the idea is to change the perception of labels equaling worth. We need to foster thinking that our image is not a swirly logo on a pair of pants or hoodie. Our image is who we are, our achievements, our efforts… Not what we look like on the outside. Heady, hard stuff to get around when there is so much societal pressure in the opposite direction. To be blunt, that pressure to fit in and be a certain size or weight sells clothes, accessories, shoes, cars, homes, luxuries… So of course, companies are going to push that. It works too.

So I say this in closing (let the chastisement of my opinion begin) It is up to us to be genuine to ourselves. If it does not fit, find something that does and love that. No store holds your self-esteem and body image in their sizing ideals.

You do.


One thought on “Squeezing Lemons

  1. Barbara August 3, 2013 / 7:09 am

    I’m cheap and bonkers like you. I won’t pay Lulu prices for clothes I can get cheaper elsewhere. Plus I don’t have patience to shop the clearance racks. People need to own their bodies and body image. You offered lots of good points.

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