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Lululemon faces allegations concerning 'unwelcoming company culture'

By Vivian Hendriksz


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Lululemon store Credits: Unsplash

Lululemon is no stranger to controversy, as the athleisure wear and sportswear retailer has faced accusations ranging from copyright infringement by Nike to selling see-through yoga pants.

However, following a recent report by Sheena Butler-Young from the Business of Fashion (BoF), the Canadian retailer is facing another allegation centering on racial discrimination. In the report, Butler-Young details several accounts from current and former Lululemon employees working across the company, claiming "a company culture that is unwelcoming of Black people" and where "leaders regularly use stereotypes to define and ostracize minority employees, who face barriers to career advancement that don’t seem to apply to white colleagues."

Lululemon accused of company culture "unwelcoming of Black people"

The allegations come three years after Lululemon set up a department dedicated to enhancing its internal diversity and inclusion, aiming to provide equal opportunities for minorities. In November 2020, the sportswear retailer established the 'Inclusion Diversity, Equity and Action' (IDEA) department. This division was charged with the objectives of diversifying staff, broadening DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) training and development initiatives, and facilitating continuous communication between underrepresented staff and CEO Calvin McDonald.

However, while appearing as a sincere endeavor externally, the situation has deteriorated rather than improved, according to the 14 current and former employees BoF spoke to. In the report, the employees disclosed to BoF that the IDEA initiative prioritized safeguarding the retailer's reputation, placing the welfare and career progression of minority employees as a secondary concern. Overall the collective testimony described a corporate environment and culture at Lululemon that is not inclusive towards Black individuals.

Lululemon store Credits: Unsplash

Employees who raised concerns to the company concerning the lack of progress made concerning diversity and inclusion faced negative consequences, such as being overlooked for promotions, disciplinary actions, and in some instances, having their employment ended, according to the BoF report.

The report highlights Lululemon's now-shuttered Hyde Park store in Chicago's predominantly Black South Side, managed at the time by Michael "Muffy" Collins. Opened in 2021, the store was entirely staffed by black employees and labelled 'off-brand' by some white customers. In August 2023, this store was unexpectedly shut down despite its success, resulting in layoffs for most staff.

Despite the Hyde Park store's acclaim for customer service and sales during its two-year operation, its manager, Michael 'Muffy' Collins, faced initial pressure when opening the store to hire mainly white and Asian staff, aligning with the University of Chicago's student demographic, rather than reflecting the local Black business community. Now Collins, along with six of the store's 16 former employees, have lodged complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, accusing the company of racial discrimination.

Lululemon faces allegations concerning racial discrimination

Collins and his colleagues relayed to BoF multiple instances of corporate hostility towards their management of the store. Collins also accused the retailer of consistently deceiving Black employees, alleging false representations about role availability in his complaint. He also claims that Black employees at other Chicago-area Lululemon stores were often redirected to the Hyde Park store, suggesting they would 'fit better' there. According to Collins' statements to BoF, despite recommendations, he was not permitted to hire these staffers, a tactic he believes was designed to edge these employees out of the company.

BoF's months-long report is not the first time allegations of racial discrimination have been brought against Lululemon. Back in 2021, 12 current and former employees disclosed to Insider an environment of racial insensitivity within the company, with an employee describing the athleisure retailer's ethos to Insider as 'privileged white wellness.'