Greetings from Vancouver! We’re at IRDC 2013 this week, and this past Tuesday morning, I was lucky enough to take a tour of the one-of-a-kind Lululemon Lab.
The Lululemon Lab isn’t your typical Lululemon store. In fact, it doesn’t even sell your typical Lulu product. The Lab is part retail store, part design lab. Founded in 2009 by Lululemon’s founder Chip Wilson, the goal of the space is to bring the designer and customer closer together, to learn what customers truly want and for the retailer to pick up trends faster. It’s a space dedicated to ultimate brand transparency.
When we say “design lab,” we mean that literally. There are lead designers—one for womenswear, one for menswear—that create unique pieces specifically for this store. Designers are first immersed in the brand by working at a typical Lulu store, then move to the Lab. They split time between design and working the retail side. Designs are conceptualized in-house, patterns are developed in-house and samples are sewn and tailored in-house.
It typically takes three months for a garment to go from initial design to market, where they are sold on the retail floor of the Lab. Those pieces can only be purchased at the Lab, not in any other Lululemon stores or online (though you can check out the Lab’s website at lululemonlab.com).
Mimi, who runs the Lab, gave us a synopsis of the Lab’s 4 Pillars:
Pieces designed by the Lab are designed with innovation in mind. The pieces are more “street,” or they test new ways to use technical materials. For instance, what does it mean for a dress to have technical qualities? What does techwear mean to Lululemon? These pieces are not designed to feed the core Lululemon retail line—that’s not the goal; however, it’s a pretty cool bonus for the Lab team when it happens!
2. The Space:
It’s a hub for creativity. Guests and shoppers are welcomed into the process. Designers are always telling visitors to “come on over, see what we’re working on.”
Sometimes shoppers even help with fitting samples! The designers work the sales floor so they can develop relationships with the customers and get to know what they really want.
This comes as no surprise, as we’re all pretty familiar with how Lululemon hosts classes and events in their stores to build relationships with the local community. The Lab store is all about collaboration between the shoppers and the Lab team. They have running groups and hold parties in the space, sometimes to get customer feedback and sometimes simply to inspire the shopper.
Not only do they involve the customers, but they collaborate with local entrepreneurs as well. Brand-appropriate products like candles, jewelry and unique handmade goods are sold in this space.
4. The People:
Lululemon’s goal is to get the best out of everyone on the team; they want to support their employees’ hopes and dreams because the company believes this support will enable their team to perform to the best of their abilities.
The Lululemon Lab is brilliantly low risk. If designs don’t work, then the lab can quickly move on to something new. If pieces are exceedingly well received, then the Lab can keep producing them, test new colors, and potentially even launch them as part of the mainstream Lululemon line.
Most products created by the store are done so in black and white (which is unusual for Lulu); a decision made for logistical reasons. The space, which is about 3200 sq ft, has little room for inventory and fabric storage. Keeping limited color options in stock is just a smarter use of their space. It also allows the customers to buy products based on the design aesthetics and pay more attention to details.
The Vancouver Lab is the only store of its type, but they do hope to grow this concept to other cities in the future. The growth is in the beginning stages, and we’re excited to watch it happen!
Featured Image: Map Data © 2013 Google. Inset image property of Chute Gerdeman.