Yoga lovers stick by Lululemon despite report
The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, November 22, 2007 1:49PM EST
TORONTO - Yoga enthusiasts aren't quite ready to roll up the mat on Lululemon Athletica in wake of the controversy surrounding its seaweed-infused line of clothing.
The Vancouver-based yoga wear retailer was forced last week by the Competition Bureau to remove all assertions alleging healthful benefits from its VitaSea clothing line.
The company's stock has been under pressure since a recent article in the New York Times questioned the seaweed fabric after a tip from a short seller on the stock.
The newspaper commissioned a laboratory test of a Lululemon shirt made of VitaSea and found there was no "significant difference in mineral levels between the VitaSea fabric and cotton T-shirts.''
The seaweed saga has emerged as a topic of discussion online, with bloggers and yoga lovers weighing in.
In response to a blog posting on the Yoga Journal website, a Canadian identified as Tara wrote that she had suspicions of the shareholder's motives who "tipped off'' the media. She went on to write that it's time for eco-retailers' products to receive "the same strict scrutiny'' faced by other retail businesses.
"Many of the claims are quite wild -- herbal products are not regulated as of yet. The word `organic' is not strictly applied, etc., etc.,'' the post read.
"The more documented proof that Lululemon and other companies can provide, the more accepted they will become in the traditional/allopathic health model we have in the West.''
Lululemon CEO Bob Meers said the clothing's content is not in question.
"It is important to note that the bureau takes no issue with the material content as described on our care and content labels,'' he said in a statement last week. "Independent testing has confirmed the presence of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids in the VitaSea fabric.''
Lululemon had claimed the clothing releases marine amino acids, minerals and vitamins into the skin upon contact with moisture to provide anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, stress reducing, hydrating and detoxifying features. The company says the line accounts for one per cent of its overall sales.
The federal regulatory agency revealed Lululemon had agreed to remove the tags with the claims or cover them with a sticker until it could produce scientific evidence to back the assertions.
Meers said the company will also review its other products.
Eileen Delehanty Pearkes, a contributing writer for Montreal-based ascent magazine, an independent publication covering yoga and spirituality, wrote of studying and thinking about Hindu philosophy's definition of truth as she watched the story unfold.
"Truth is an important foundation for the practice of yoga. Speaking the truth, acting with integrity and living authentically -- these are guideposts not only for yoga, but for the successful manifestation of any spiritual ideal,'' Pearkes posted Monday on the magazine's weblog.
"Life often has a way of keeping us honest, of reminding us that we should mind what we say and mean what we say, too. Lululemon just got a crash course in satya (truth). Truth matters, in the end. Whether you practise yoga or not.''
She said in an interview the purpose of the posting was to illustrate that Lululemon's removal of health claims tied to the clothing line was its "lesson in truthfulness.''
"They responded ethically, I believe, by saying, `OK, we're going to pull those tags,'' said Pearkes, author of "The Glass Seed'' and a yoga practitioner for 10 years. "The problem is, of course, they had to pull the tags in the first place.''
Pearkes said she wears Lululemon clothing and doesn't plan to abandon the retailer.
"I'm going to give Lululemon more than one chance. They're learning,'' she said.
"There's a set of values that govern the business community that are pressuring at them, and there's another set of values, which is the ancient tradition of yoga, and they were caught in the middle of those values,'' she added.
"The outflow from that is what you're seeing right now, and their response was a response that, to me, suggested integrity.''
Eddison Noel, owner of British Columbia-based Westcoast Hot Yoga, recalled the reaction of students to news of the controversy.
"The general consensus from my students has been somewhat disappointed in Lululemon in regards to the apparent misleading of the public,'' said Noel, who also serves as an ambassador with the retailer, which includes teaching yoga at corporate networking events and participating in community and charitable events.
"But Lululemon is very prevalent on the West Coast here, and generally speaking, people have been really happy with the company.''
"The company is very active in the community and for the most part has had a history of providing exceptional clothing and quality of clothing as well.''
Noel said he feels the company will ultimately turn the recent experience into a positive and a learning curve.
"I think that there's pros and cons to every situation like this,'' he said.
"Hopefully in the end it turns out to be a good situation for the community and getting what they intended to get, and a good situation for the company where they learn to be a little more cautious in their implied benefits of the clothing they sell.''