High-end yoga shop stretches way beyond sweatpants

By Rita Wu

Chip Wilson opened his first lululemon athletica store nine years ago in Vancouver, British Columbia. One hundred outlets later, lululemon athletica has come to Union Square to sell its high-end athletic wear to men and women. The store’s concept is fit and function, but not at bargain-basement prices. Tops average around $60 and pants $100.

However, to lululemon athletica — usually called just lululemon, for short — the price of a $100 pair of pants includes “the research, the functionality, the versatility that creates great value.”

Most of the brand’s clothes are made with some lycra and nylon, so they’re form-fitting, yet have a stretch to them. The garments include features like emergency hair ties, compasses on zippers, removable tags and flat seams to prevent chafing. Some are made of silverescent, a fabric that uses silver’s antibacterial qualities to prevent odor; seaweed, which adds moisture to the wearer’s skin; and lululemon’s staple, luon, which wicks away moisture. The yoga-inspired apparel is so specific and detailed, the store has salespersons called “educators” to school customers on their products.

If lululemon seems to have thought of everything it’s because of how receptive the company is to input from its customers and its own research and design team — “really active people that can really test our product, and what they do is give their feedback,” a representative explained. The R&D group is comprised of instructors and teachers, who in exchange for their reports three to four times a year, are given a 15 percent discount on products. Designs are constantly changing and developing, but there are core styles that are staples every season.

Each lululemon store is different. The company tries to cater to the community and tailor each store to the neighborhood, or as lululemon puts it, “Try to basically be the hub of fitness and health.” Lululemon “ambassadors” are local yoga instructors who the company feels live the lululemon way of life and reflect its culture. There is also a community board with information on all the local yoga studios and event listings. The store offers complimentary classes from local yoga studios. Everything is built on rollers so floors can be cleared to fit 30 to 40 people and their mats. To further this sense of community, there are personal goals posted by “educators” on the staff wall, such as “Do one thing a day that scares you” and “Friends are more important than money.”

lululemon athletica is selling more than clothes — it’s selling a lifestyle.

Last summer lululemon got involved in “SITS,” or Summer in the Square, the series of free events held in Union Square, including live music, kids’ programs and yoga classes. Lululemon also provides free yoga classes throughout the summer in Bryant Park with the other three local lululemons.

If you want more reasons to justify buying those $100 workout pants, they are, in most cases, reversible and stores offer free hemming, plus customers swear how “great they make your butt look.”

lululemon clothes and merchandise can also be purchased online or by phone.

lululemon athletica, 15 Union Square West, open Mon. to Sat. 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sun. 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. 212-675-5286, Unionsquarenyc-store@lululemon.com