This week Lululemon issued a recall of about 17% of its yoga pants because they were too sheer and you could see, erm, women's chakras through them. Not a very zen-like situation for anyone involved.
The workout wear retailer said in a press release that "certain shipments of product received from factories and available in stores from March 1, 2013 do not meet our technical specifications." So ostensibly they got pulled because of this one isolated quality control problem. But long-time Lululemon devotees are calling BS, and so is one Taiwanese manufacturer that's produced Lululemon's wares for the past 10 years.
Roger Lo, a spokesperson at Eclat Textiles Co. Ltd, the supplier in question, told Reuters yesterday (via CNBC), "We checked our orders this morning and indeed, we did follow their instructions to make the product. Lulu has some new ideas every year, such as taking different approaches for fashion-related purposes." Lo even told the Wall Street Journal that the shipment went through a "certification process" approved by Lululemon. "Lululemon introduced the product to the market and their customers are not comfortable with its opacity," Lo said.
That's kind of an understatement.
Cristina Chalmers, 33, runs the Lululemon fan blog Lulumum, which gets about 600,000 page views per month. She and her vocal readers have been meticulously documenting and lamenting over Lululemon's quality problems for at least a year or more.
"[Lululemon]'s had major problems with sheerness in the last year," Chalmers told us. "Initially they did refund but then after a while they started putting disclaimers on their website [for some of the colored pants]." Indeed, if you shop for the brand's cult favorite Wunder Under tights online (see pic at right) you get the conflicting message that "Whoever said leggings weren't pants was just plain wrong," followed by a note that you really should do a downward dog or two before buying them because you might be showing off more than just how enviably bendy you are.
So what kind of sheerness are we talking about here?
"It’s so embarrassing. I can see the white riptag through people’s pants, and even see their thong underwear. It’s really gross that you can see people’s crotches through their pants," long-time Lulu devotee and Lulumum fan, Esther Choi, 39, told us. "It’s not as obvious in yoga class because the light is often dimmed, but in my weightlifting class where the lights are [on], when people do squats, I can see so many butts through Lulu pants. I now get a spot in the back row because I don't want anyone to see MY butt crack!"
A quick read through comments on Lulumum and even Lululemon's own website reveals that the opacity problem--as well as other quality issues like bleeding color, poorly sewn seams, and the dreaded camel toe--existed well before the March 1, 2013 date that Lulu is focusing its recall on. Here are just a few comments that were posted on Lululemon's site before March 1 and even back into 2012:
The quality of the fabric is horrible compared to what it used to be. These are TOTALLY see through. I have been wearing the same size since I started with the brand, so it is not a sizing issue. Imagine my embarrassment while coaching a [CrossFit] class and having a friend come up to me to tell me my $85 pants are transparent. ... i can't believe they're calling this luon. it feels like cheap drugstore pantyhose. and it looks just about as sheer. this is nothing like the luon of the past. (why does online help absolutely insist that the luon hasn't changed?) ... I am very aware of how thin they are, and indeed, not only are my knees exposed while sitting, but when bending over in proper light, the color of my underwear is evident. I truly have no desire to expose myself in uttanasana...
Fans of the brand are confused about why Lululemon chose this particular time to suddenly issue a recall when the complaints have been consistent over the past year, but they have a few theories about it.
"Personally I think it’s a deflection and their numbers are going to be awful on Thursday [when the brand has a scheduled earnings call]," Carolyn Beauchesne, 48, who runs another popular Lulu fan blog, Lululemon Addict, told us. "It’s weird they’re owning up to it now."
Lulumum's Chalmers agrees. "Now that sales have dropped they’re using it as an excuse to investors," she said. "It’s a ‘solveable’ problem. If they didn't have an explanation as to why the numbers are lower, then what can they solve?"
Other Lululemon Addict commenters expressed similar thoughts:
I think Lulu blaming the manufacturers rather than outright apologizing for their lack of oversight makes them look really bad. It's one thing to blame the manufacturer, but Lulu has to bear some responsibility for not implementing good quality control measures. I, too, find it fishy that they chose to announce this a few days before the earnings so investors lower their expectations for this week's meeting.
So what's a disgruntled Lulu lover to do? Lululemon has always had a strong secondary resale market, and Facebook groups like Lululemon Exchange do a brisk business. "These days I have been going to the Lululemon Exchange and buying older style items with the original luon thickness," Choi told us. Beauchesne thinks the Lulu vintage market will continue to do well, especially until the company gets the perceived quality issues fixed.
"I don’t know if [loyal customers] are leaving the brand, but they’re definitely buying less. And I think for the most part [long time fans] have a lot of stuff in their closet," she told us. "I know people have been searching eBay for the vintage pieces from like three years ago."
Lululemon hasn't responded to our requests for comment to this story, but we'll update if they do.