With all the unflattering Lululemon headlines this past year, and CEO Chip Wilson’s recent resignation, it was only matter of time before one of the overly friendly, insanely in shape employees opened their gluten-free yappers about what was going on behind the scenes at the yoga retail empire. Mary Mann did us that favor. In her Salon expose, the former retail employee (known in Lulu lingo as “educators”) at New York City’s Union Square location told all about the cult-like company which offered free exercise classes in lieu of health insurance, forced employees to make 10-year-goal lists to hang in their stores, encouraged them to attend self-help seminars on the company’s dime and created a fake,”ideal” customer named Ocean. Gulp. Oh yeah, and there was an “educator” murder/suicide while she worked there that sounds like it was ripped from an Investigation Discovery special. After the jump, a few of Mann’s most bizarre revelations that made me frightened enough to want to buy yoga pants elsewhere.
“’The best thing is, we’ll pay for your yoga, spinning, kickboxing — whatever! You’ll save so much money!’ said the Lululemon manager during my interview. ‘Plus, you’ll be so healthy you won’t even need to worry about health insurance!’”
“Ten of us, new hires from Lululemons across Manhattan, gathered every day for about a week before any actual work began. After group yoga, the mornings were for lectures on willpower and videos on the importance of goal setting starring company founder Chip Wilson…Evenings were spent poring over the required reading: Jim Collins’ corporate self-help book ‘Good to Great,’ which Chip was obsessed with. The message: ‘Good is the enemy of great,’ don’t settle for a mediocre life.”
“On the eve of our first day on the job, all of us trainees got together for a last hurrah in the basement of the SoHo store. We drank kombucha and ate gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free cookies from Whole Foods while we crafted goal sheets: lists of our life goals for the next 10 years, to be framed and hung on the walls of our respective stores.”
“Spin class [was] at 6 a.m., vinyasa flow at 8 p.m.; Saturday morning run clubs in the park and Sunday morning yoga classes in the store. Exercise — what sort, how often, the afterglow — was the main topic of in-store conversation, so if you skipped a day it was obvious and people asked if you were feeling OK. We were encouraged to choose our favorite method of exercise, but it was best if it was something other people liked too, since ‘The team that sweats together stays together!’”
“At one mandatory meeting, during which we discussed the merits of the paleo diet over chia seed pudding, Catherine was asked to talk about her experience with Landmark, a sort of group therapy-cum-self-help seminar that any Lululemon employee was invited to attend, gratis, after six months of work. A $600 life change, courtesy of Chip.”
“‘Do you think Ocean would wear this?’ she asked one day, modeling a purple hoodie and a pair of purple-and-white stretch pants in the break room. ‘Who’s Ocean?’ I asked, and she sighed. ‘Who trained you? Ocean is our ideal customer. She does yoga every day, makes $100,000 a year, and dates a triathlete named Mountain.’ I stared at her, nonplussed. Pityingly, she added: ‘Mary, we all want to be Ocean. That’s why we work here.’”
“Our manager took a deep yogic breath and told us the news: a Lululemon educator had been killed by burglars in a Maryland store. She’d been closing up with another educator, and they’d both been attacked, brutalized, tied up. Only one of them had survived … I googled Lululemon … [That Lululemon girl who was murdered … was killed by that other Lululemon girl.] The educator did kill her co-worker, cutting herself and tying them both up afterward to make it look like a robbery.”