Victoria’s Secret can teach Lululemon about the price of hubris

Victoria’s Secret can teach Lululemon about the price of hubris



Athleisure company LululemonVictoria’s Secret Co. stumbles through yet another turnaround plan to stay afloat. The decline of a brand that turned everyday panties and bras into chic undergarments should serve as a cautionary tale to one that has transformed gym clothes into fashion. As Lululemon embarks on a new chapter as a company in the S&P 500, it should be careful not to become too overconfident and lose touch with how athletic wear and the picture of health and fitness evolve. 


Formerly owned by L Brands Inc., Victoria’s Secret’s fall can be attributed to underestimating the influence of the internet on shopping behaviors and women’s body image — all of which has been well documented. At one point, the company sold one out of every four bras to women under 30 years old in the US. It overtook the market with rather restrictive bras designed with a freakishly unattainable and exclusionary feminine body ideal in mind.

That’s not so different from Lululemon’s story in athletic wear. It built its business around selling $100 leggings to middle and upper income women who can afford them. In practice, that led to allegations that some of its store employees shamed larger-bodied people shopping in its stores and its former Chief Executive Officer Chip Wilson outright saying that its clothes “don’t work” for bigger bodies. 

Over the last few years, Lululemon has come a long way from its fat-shaming days. It extended its sizing in 2020, partnered with a fat long distance running coach and influencer on a body inclusive campaign and has added mid-sized mannequins sporting its bralette and legging sets and a number of mid-size models advertising their clothes on the website.

But these efforts don’t go far enough to clear itself from the same pitfalls that sunk Victoria’s Secret. It’s facing a different retail landscape than the iconic lingerie brand back in its heyday. For one, the athleisure market is fractured across dozens of brands including NikeFableticsRihanna

Then there is the rise of “dupe” culture, where shoppers seek out cheaper alternatives for premium or luxury brands, has also fueled a shopping rush for knockoffs on marketplaces including Amazon


Last, but certainly not least, are the signs of the company creeping closer to saturation of the US athleisure market. Like Victoria’s Secret once did, Lululemon currently dominates sales in its industry making up 59% of transactions in the third quarter of this year, according to Bloomberg’s Second Measure. In the last three months of 2022, the country’s adult active apparel industry decreased revenue by 5% compared to the same period last year, Lululemon Chief Executive Officer Calvin Macdonald said in March earnings call, citing Circana market research. However, during that period, Lululemon gained 2.3 points of market share, he said. Taken together, this suggests the pot of money going toward athletic wear is shrinking while Lululemon’s slice is increasing. That’s great news for a growing company such as Lululemon. But at some point, it will hit a plateau.

To sustain its cultural influence, the business will have to keep up with body acceptance trends in a meaningful way. And they have choices of how to do that. For instance, it can follow AthletaSimone

All said, Lululemon is nowhere near a cool down. But that doesn’t mean it can afford any cheat days.  


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