Lululemon Athletica has multiple resources on their website, sharing its initiatives for improving the world in both their sustainable and social efforts. They claim that at least 75% of their product material will be sustainable by the year 2025, and include details regarding the materials they use and how they will improve these usages by 2025. Their webpages that provide information on working towards sustainability, choosing ethical vendors, and promoting civil and human rights all demonstrate a visible effort to better the world in both environmental and social ways. Unfortunately, Lululemon’s Align High-Rise Pant 28” opposes their goals to be sustainable, as they choose to use some of the most harmful materials in the garment industry. Lululemon also lacks transparency, and fails to provide concrete information on the effectiveness of their impact agenda. The brand’s website looks detailed at first glance, but in reality is very vague in terms of the information they provide.
All in all, Lululemon’s leggings are disappointing and do not reflect the brand’s sustainability objectives. More recycled materials could be used in the Align High-Rise leggings, especially in relation to its price of $98. Instead of Lululemon’s leggings, some alternative brands include Girlfriend Collective and PACT, which are far more wallet-friendly!
One of Lululemon’s most popular legging, the Align High-Rise Pant 28”, is made with 81% Nylon and 19% Lycra elastane. Both of these materials are unsustainable, and contribute to negative environmental impacts. Nylon is a type of plastic and synthetic material derived from harmful substances such as coal and petroleum oil, and contributes to the effects of greenhouse gas emissions and microfiber pollution--among other negative impacts. Lycra elastane is a specific brand of what the public recognizes as “spandex”, which allows for clothing and fabrics to achieve elasticity. Elastane is made using fossil fuels and also contributes to microfiber pollution. Lycra claims that their fabrics are combined with others--such as recycled elastane--in order to create less waste and be more sustainable.
Microfiber pollution is caused by the release of tiny plastic particles from synthetic materials. Both nylon and elastane release microfibers into the air and into water when manufactured, worn, and washed. These plastic particles contribute to 35% of micro plastics polluting our oceans. Microfibers are so small that they are undetected by wastewater treatment plants, which leads them to the ocean. Because of this, we consume tens of thousands of microfibers every year produced through textiles.
Neither of these materials are biodegradable. Lululemon’s efforts to become more eco-friendly by using Lycra’s products are simply not enough and do not align with their broad claims of morality and working to achieve sustainability.
Nylon is produced from chemicals in coal petroleum, which affect global warming, ocean pollution, and rising sea levels. It is made through condensation polymerization, which combines chemicals under heat and high pressure. This reaction forms a sheet of nylon, which is then cut and woven into fabric. Elastane is made similarly, but is combined with polyurethane polymers to create a fabric with elasticity. Instead of nylon, an alternative could be bio-nylon which is made from renewable resources (i.e. sugarcane) and is biodegradable! And instead of Lycra’s elastane, Dupont Sorona’s 37% plant-based fiber—which is recyclable--could be used as a more sustainable alternative.
Lululemon does not own manufacturing facilities, so they claim to use vendors that share the same values as the brand. They have their own standards for assessing suppliers and use their Vendor Code of Ethics, which requires suppliers to follow local legislation in relation to environmental impact. Lululemon’s website states that suppliers are required to submit data regarding different methods of waste (i.e. greenhouse gas emissions, water use). However, there is no information on whether or not vendors must adjust their practices based on the data collected. Lululemon’s vague policies make it difficult to give their leggings a positive rating, as there is no evidence that these practices are actually creating visible changes within their company.
The Vendor Code of Ethics is used again when it comes to the manufacturers Lululemon chooses to partner with and their working conditions. Lululemon has an extensive page focused on humane standards of production with guidelines based on factors such as child labor, unions, and wages. Additionally, they have specific pages on the cut and sew facilities they work with in Bangladesh in regards to employee safety. Lululemon did not sign onto two agreements--the Accord on Fire and Building Safety and the Alliance of Bangladesh Worker Safety--because these principles are supposedly included in their Vendor Code of Ethics. This is suspicious because they have chosen not to sign agreements that would assist factory workers in Bangladesh, but it is notable that they decided to be transparent about the fact. A remediation was also conducted to improve working conditions for employees at Youngone KSI facility in Bangladesh, but there is no evidence that their actions produced lasting positive effects.
Lululemon does not seem concerned about paying workers a living wage and only chooses to include in their Vendor Code of Ethics that workers must be paid at least minimum wage or an industry-average wage. Overall, it seems that Lululemon is trying to make efforts to ensure proper working conditions for factory workers. However, it is unclear whether things are getting accomplished because they seem to lack control over their manufacturers.