Lululemon shorts have been called out in an environmentalist campaign over coal.
Lululemon (LULU) – Get lululemon athletica inc. Report has, in the past, had to navigate criticism of making clothing that are too “skimpy.” Back in 2013, the athleticwear company had to recall a new black leggings amid repeated customer complaints that they were too sheer and showed off too much of the wearer’s body.
What could have been a simple recall devolved into what retail history still remembers as the “sheer pants scandal” when company founder Chip Wilson told a Bloomberg reporter that “some women’s bodies just actually don’t work” for the pants.
After the company lost a third of its market value in the fallout, Wilson eventually resigned as chairman and, by 2015, stepped away from the board altogether.
Coal And The Hotty Hot Short
While the latest scandal has to do with something called the “Hotty Hot Short,” the length or tightness of the garment is not what’s actually at issue.
Started by climate advocacy groups Stand.earth and Actions Speaks Louder, the campaign claims Lululemon’s manufacturing is damaging the environment.
“As yoga teachers, we ask lululemon to commit to phase out coal and source 100% renewable energy across its supply chain,” reads a letter to Board Chairman Glenn K. Murphy signed by over 2,000 yoga instructors, students and other people in the industry from 30 countries. “[…] Lululemon’s reliance on coal as a source of energy is extremely harmful to people and the environment, particularly in countries like Vietnam, Cambodia, China, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh, where its products are made.”
Along with the letter, the activists organized a protest outside Lululemon’s headquarters in the Canadian city of Vancouver. While the campaign focuses on the broad issue of coal, the “Hottie Hot” shorts were singled out by at least one yoga instructors.
“Burning coal to make hoodies and ‘Hotty Hot’ high-rise pants is unacceptable,” Prajna Yoga co-founder Tias Little writes in the letter.
Brands And Environmentalism
Since its launch in 1998, Lululemon built a brand image of a sustainable, environmentally-forward and “connected to nature” company. In its latest sustainability report released last week, the brand said that it has managed to reduce greenhouse gases at its facilities by 82% instead of the former 60% target.
It has launched its “Lululemon Like New” clothes reselling program at stores in California and Texas and frequently stresses its use of ethical suppliers.
“We are deeply connected to ourselves, each other and our planet; each part elevating one another,” the company says on its website.
While Lululemon’s stock is down over 20% year-over-year, the company is currently in a period of rapid expansion — it opened over 30 stores across the world in 2021 and reported 20% annual growth and $1.9 billion in revenue in its latest results.
While the company has been drastically reducing the CO2 emissions at its own facilities, numbers reported earlier by The Guardian found that Lululemon still released over 381,797 tons of CO2e indirectly through the supply chain.
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This is the issue taken up by the environmentalist campaigners who say that Lululemon’s image as an “environmentally-forward” brand does not live up to the reality of what it takes to produce clothes at a reasonable price point.
“Given Lululemon’s influence in the market, it’s important for people buying their clothes to understand these two faces,” Laura Kelly, the head of campaigns at Action Speaks Louder, told The Guardian. “The business has been built by taking a grassroots approach to their marketing and that was founded in the yoga community.”