On Nov. 30, Lululemon will be honored with the Launch of the Year at the 36th annual FN Achievement Awards. Below is an article from the magazine’s Nov. 28 print issue about how the athletic wear brand launched its first-ever footwear line.
Lululemon conquered the athleisure market with its laser focus on women consumers. Now it wants to dominate footwear with the same approach.
When the Vancouver, British Columbia-based brand debuted its first sneaker line this year, it created the shoes from a last specifically designed from a woman’s foot. And the collection — which consists of four different silhouettes that dropped throughout 2022 — underwent a rigorous process of creation that included multiple rounds of wear-testing and analyzing footwear scans from more than a million feet.
According to Lululemon CEO Calvin McDonald, Lululemon’s entry into footwear was “in response to a long-standing unmet need and a clear appetite” from consumers of the athleisure brand. For a company that had already made a name for itself in the activewear space, footwear was the natural next step for the growing brand.
“There was an opportunity to offer a new footwear experience, made for women first, by combining our 20-plus years of innovating and leading with how our guests want to feel,” McDonald said.
And in a crowded and noisy sneaker market, the brand is already challenging the big players right out of the gate.
Lululemon officially kicked off its footwear collection in March with the launch of the Blissfeel running shoe. That was followed by the Chargefeel versatile training shoe, the Strongfeel training shoe and the Restfeel slide for recovery.
The reaction to Lululemon’s footwear line was almost immediate. According to McDonald, demand for the new products in Q1 were in excess of supply and “far exceeded” the company’s expectations.
“We definitely had a lot more demand than we anticipated,” McDonald said on an earnings call in June. Initially, he explained, the shoes sold out more quickly than would have been desired in “an ideal scenario,” though he described the success at that early stage as encouraging.
Though it might’ve looked easy, the footwear launch was not without challenges. Lululemon manufactures its shoes in Vietnam and China, two central footwear production regions that were hit with lockdowns and factory closures throughout the pandemic. Still, the company managed to deliver its footwear pretty much on schedule, explained George Robusti, Lululemon’s VP of footwear design.
“We were very diligent in our planning,” he said. “We’ve planned for things such as this, but we’re also agile with it as well.”
For consumers and industry insiders, the focus on women has been a major draw.
“It feels like a long time coming that women get a shoe that’s built for us,” said Colleen Quigley, a track-and-field athlete and Lululemon ambassador. “As a brand that has long been driving innovation, inclusivity and accessibility, it’s especially fitting, and personally very exciting for me that Lululemon is entering footwear with a women’s running shoe.”
Meanwhile, Jasmine Blocker, also a track-and-field athlete and Lululemon ambassador, said the fit of the shoes is what sets them apart.
“The first time I put on Blissfeel, it felt like an extension of every other piece of Lululemon apparel that I’ve worn,” said Blocker. “It was like putting on the Align leggings for the first time.”
To get the right fit, Lululemon partnered with Volumental, a technology firm that provides 3D foot scanners in stores, to analyze their data, which included the means of foot measurements across North America and Asia for all genders. The goal was to get an accurate representation of different female feet to curate a shoe meant for women.
Lululemon has said it eventually plans to launch men’s footwear as well, but no date has been announced.
For 36 years, the annual FN Achievement Awards — often called the “Shoe Oscars” — have celebrated the style stars, best brand stories, ardent philanthropists, emerging talents and industry veterans. The 2022 event is supported by presenting sponsor Nordstrom, as well as Caleres, FDRA, Merrell, Vibram and Volumental.