Do black lives really matter to Lululemon?

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It seems something about the spandex doesn’t extend to the authentic diversity and inclusion in Lululemon. The sports and lifestyle clothing brand – with more than 500 storefronts and more than $ 4.4 billion in sales in 2020 – was one of many companies to proclaim their support for life. black people following the murder of George Floyd last year. But like many businesses, the Vancouver, B.C.-based brand struggles to keep the same energy in its culture and practices, according to company employees who interviewed. Business intern on condition of anonymity.

From the outside, Lululemon exudes an ambitious lifestyle, with its high-tech sportswear and vibrant colors. Over 500 retail stores designed to reflect the company’s core values ​​of “personal responsibility, entrepreneurship, honesty, courage, connection, fun and inclusion”, according to its website… But according to 12 current and former Lululemon employees who spoke with Insider, the company’s image stands in stark contrast to their experiences behind the scenes of the company’s offices.

regular readers of The root maybe remember the infamous “Bat Fried Rice“ incident that besieged the brand just after the COVID-19 outbreak was declared a global pandemic in April 2020. To recap, the issue involved a post from an art director at Lululemon who posted on Instagram a photo of a T-shirt with an illustration of a Chinese take-out box with bat wings and the words “No thanks” on the back and the right sleeve. This employee was fired as a result and expressed regret for his insensitivity, but as Insider points out, that wasn’t the only incident of bias that plagued the brand last year.

In the days following Floyd’s death, as the company rushed to craft a response to the tragedy and resulting cries for racial justice, an internal “task force” of designers and writers was formed. to revise the home page of the company’s website. However, as reported to Insider, their intention to lead with “Black Lives Matter” was quickly rejected by a “top Lululemon manager” who demanded that it be replaced with the phrase “All Lives Matter”.

The team of about 10 employees had spent hours mocking a version of the homepage with “Black Lives Matter” as the title.

It was then that they were interrupted by an official, according to four former and current employees familiar with the matter.

These people said the director, a director who they said had not previously been involved in the project, demanded that the group use a new “approved copy.” Towards the beginning of the proposed text, the phrase “all lives matter” appeared in capital letters.

“We don’t write Black Lives Matter. We are not there, “said the director to the group, according to two employees present in the room.

After extensive discussion, the employees – many of whom are black, native and colored – agreed to create two designs to present to executives: one with “All Lives Matter” and another with “Black Lives Matter”.

While “Black Lives Matter” was ultimately selected, an employee involved with the homepage project said he felt “triggered and traumatized” and described it as “one of the most disgusting moments. Of his stay in Lululemon.

“After all these black employees, all these colored people, said we couldn’t go ahead with this and please don’t make us do a mockup for you, and she said that we have to do it – it was a very traumatic experience, ”the employee told Insider.

Ultimately, an Instagram post posted by Lululemon on June 1, 2020 would include the caption:

Thank you for all of your thoughts as we continue this important conversation about the systemic inequity, racism and oppression facing the black community. Black lives matter.

Our words have power. And we know they are not enough. We need to act. You will find our first three commitments above. And you’ll see more of us in the weeks and months to come.

We also know that our community cares about justice, fairness, safety and that it upholds the highest standards. We ask you to join us on this journey.

We have included some actions you can take. Please add to these lists. This is just the start of what we need to do.

#black lives matter

Additionally, after several members of this team reported it, the aforementioned executive was forced to issue a “tearful apology” via conference call to around 200 employees, many of whom were not at all involved and unaffected. by the incident. She left the company shortly thereafter.

This is an example of a problematic framework, but as described in Insider, the issues run much deeper. Take, for example, Lululemon’s innovation division, known as “White Space”. The name itself is meant to evoke “this ‘white space’, the white space of ideas,” as one executive put it. But when employees expressed unease with both the name and the demographics of the team and asked management to consider a name change, even adopting the more racially neutral “Lululemon Labs” , as one of the sub-sections of the team is named, they encountered opposition.

“We have a team called White Space, and there are no blacks on the team,” said a former White Space employee.

Another former White Space employee said that after the issue was first raised, a senior team leader encouraged employees to reach out for a one-on-one discussion. But the employee said his request to meet with the executive went unanswered.

“We raised the question, like, ‘Hey, that’s a little offensive. We get what you meant by that, but man, there’s literally white in the name and you’re all white so maybe you reconsider, you know? “” the employee told Insider.

Instead of face-to-face, that executive hosted a forum and asked staff members to voice their concerns publicly – a format, according to one employee, that highlighted “very sensitive racial issues.” By putting staff members on the spot, many hesitated to speak up, despite their unease. As such, the name remains unchanged.

Insider cited other incidents, but perhaps most telling is his recollection of “the inspiration for Lululemon’s ideal client” when the company was launched 23 years ago.

When Lululemon founder Wilson started the company in 1998, he created two muses, “Duke” and “Ocean,” which were meant to inspire the company’s branding and merchandise strategy, he said. he declares. The New York Times Magazine in 2015.

Wilson described Ocean as a fashionable, single 32-year-old woman who earns $ 100,000 a year, owns her own condo, and exercises for an hour and a half every day. Lululemon’s menswear muse Duke is a 35-year-old man who earns more money than Ocean and loves surfing in the summer and snowboarding in the winter … But before Lululemon stops playing them use, Duke and Ocean made themselves known as Lululemon’s ideal clients –And some employees also felt they were his ideal employees, the former Lululemon executive told Insider.

“Duke and Ocean” are said to have retired in 2017 “and play no role in the hiring process,” said Stacia Jones, global head of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Advocacy at Lululemon, since last October. Nonetheless, at least one former employee told BI that Lululemon was a bastion of the “privileged white welfare” that characterized the entire industry. In fact, the company wouldn’t even have a budget for diversity and inclusion until 2020 (It now has a budget of $ 5 million with a team of 20 international employees.)

“We are proud of the progress we are making in becoming more diverse, inclusive and equitable in all aspects of the employee experience, from recruiting and hiring to leadership and development,” Jones told BI. “While we are still at the beginning of our journey, we are fully committed to the concrete steps we are taking that will help create systemic change so that we truly reflect the communities we serve. “

But employees who spoke to Insider aren’t buying it, saying the efforts are “performing” and constrained by external pressure rather than an internal response.

“I would like to see a better management team, made up of people of color,” a former employee told Inside. “You can tell that you are doing this work and that it will take time for it to take hold. I still don’t think they are. It sounds like performance activism.