Let’s get physical
Located on New York’s Bond Street, the latest store from Canadian yoga wear company Lululemon, is markedly different to its Vancouver Lab store. What’s interesting is the dedication for the brand to provide for a shopper profile depending on its location. Where the brand’s Vancouver based store offers ranges suitable to the outdoor enthusiast, the New York based Lab stocks designs that blend both function and sophistication, accurately aimed at the fast paced New Yorker lifestyle that requires a seamless transition between work and play. Think trousers that can be turned up to reveal reflective detail for runners and commuting cyclists. Lead designer Marcus LeBlanc, ex-designer of menswear at Theory, is the brains behind the operation in designing, not necessarily multi-purpose, but multi-functional clothing ranges, a new path for Lululemon.
The stores exterior features its conventional window displays that are once again replaced by live models that bend, stretch and pose yoga positions to tell the brand story in living motion. But here it features a very precise, well-articulated design concept and bespoke fit out that’s in contrast to its sister-store’s more ‘made up along the way’ design. Distinctly minimalist with its use of urban metro design along with Scandinavian, Japanese and metropolitan influences, its sleek, pared down aesthetic uses unfinished concrete, light wood finishes and monochromatic black and white – but it’s never ‘too much’. Overall, the store blends the minimalist style with a recognisable character that brings the retail part of the store to life. I say the retail part of the store, as the shop itself is 50% store and 50% workroom, where garments are researched, designed and manufactured. Sleek sewing and finishing machines sit side-by-side Macs on ‘Apple style’ store tables. It’s an atmosphere that avoids ‘sweat shop’ and instead speaks of precise craft and traditional skills, creating a deliberate and cultivated perception for Lululemon Lab being ‘Couture’ inspired.
Fluttering paper pattern blocks line the walls while precision cutting tables, tools and steam presses fill the background – all with a modern edge. It’s partly there for show, but it also fulfills a totally practical role in product production and allows the brand to offer product freedom such as made to fit alterations and bespoke products available for order. It’s reminiscent of a micro scale American Apparel. However, whereas that brand became associated for ‘cheap and disposable’ (and with its cheeky, if not semi-sleezy youth marketing), Lululemon Lab has a distinctly premium edge.
The retail area is less impressive. Yes it’s a cool retail environment design – but nothing that hasn’t been done countless times before. For me, it’s an area in which the brand could have done much more with an attempt to innovate store methods and formats rather than remain conventional. Where the brand does reach its sweet spot is with its customer service. Store staff actively engage: in genuine discussion – about the product (function, fit and form). What’s more, they’re courteous and attentive. Whilst this would be an expectation in stores with a premium proposition, here it’s done with an every day attitude and approachable everyday vibe.
In many ways, Lululemon Lab is a bit of an urban myth – an apparel brand that has built a massive retail empire out from yoga. It’s strength lies in its brand proposition, one that is based on connecting to the local consumer in each city and serving local needs. It is this that could be the brand’s very powerful USP or the very thing that holds it back from wider growth. The brand team state that they are in no hurry to expand, but you can be sure that the senior management will want at least 30-50 stores within 5 years. What needs to be considered now is that supporting the same high ideals of ‘individual production and consumer connection’ on a city-by-city basis may prove difficult to execute beyond only a handful of hand-picked, national stores.
To see more images from Lululemon Lab, NYC, click here.