A former Lululemon sales associate has written a tell-all article for Salon about the corporate culture inside the famous yoga fashion retailer, describing a cult-like atmosphere where healthy living and self-improvement bordered on the obsessive — and linking that culture to a gruesome 2011 killing.

Mary Mann, who worked as a sales associate at the Union Square Lululemon location in New York, also found out what Lululemon’s “ideal customer” is.

Her name is “Ocean,” Lululemon associates (known as “educators”) told Mann, and “she does yoga every day, makes $100,000 a year, and dates a triathlete named Mountain.”

That Lululemon targets specific women as its ideal customers is hardly a surprise at this point. Reports earlier this year suggested the retail chain hides its largest sizes — 10 to 12 — in heaps at the back of its stores, evidently to discourage overweight women from patronizing the retailer.

Company founder Chip Wilson resigned late last year after making comments that seemingly blamed the company’s problems with too-sheer yoga pants on women’s rubbing thighs. It strengthened critics’ arguments that Lululemon is engaged in fat-shaming.

In her article for Salon, Mann describes a work atmosphere that is focused as much on exercise and goal-setting as it is on folding and selling pants.

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 (“Oh, just call him Chip,” giggled one of the managers).

Mann describes a work atmosphere bordering on the oppressive; she stopped reading Russian novels like "Anna Karenina" after a co-worker described it as “such a downer.”

Mann suggests the pressure to set high goals and live a high-energy life may have had something to do with a high-profile murder at a Maryland Lululemon in 2011, where one Lululemon “educator” killed another and tried to make it look like a robbery.

In that moment, it seemed inevitable. As educators, we were pressed to be our best selves, treat life like a party, and never give up on greatness. If you were unhappy, angry, paranoid, just tell a different story. The idea that you could shape reality to look however you wanted suddenly seemed dangerous, easily abused, especially among my Type A co-workers, who exercised and worked and exercised and worked and ate so little that it was not really a surprise that someone, eventually, snapped.

Mann wrote that, when Lululemon offered her access to a group self-help program called Landmark after six months on the job, her response was to weep. She quit her job shortly afterwards.

Read Mann's full account at Salon.

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  • The Name Explained

    What’s behind Lululemon’s name? Company founder Chip Wilson has <a href="http://business.financialpost.com/2013/12/10/lululemon-athletica-chip-wilson-controversy/" target="_blank">offered an odd explanation</a>. “The reason the Japanese liked (my former skateboard brand, ‘Homeless’) was because it had an L in it and a Japanese marketing firm wouldn’t come up with a brand name with an L in it," he explained to National Post Business Magazine. "L is not in their vocabulary. It’s a tough pronunciation for them. So I thought, next time I have a company, I’ll make a name with three Ls and see if I can get three times the money. It’s kind of exotic for them. I was playing with Ls and I came up with Lululemon. It’s funny to watch them try to say it,” he said. However, The Globe and Mail notes <a href="http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/five-infamous-gaffes-from-lululemons-past/article15847989/" target="_blank">the company’s site says the name was the result of a survey</a>.

  • Child Labour Comments

    Back in 2005, Wilson’s <a href="http://thetyee.ca/News/2005/02/17/LuluCritics/" target="_blank">comments about child labour “went over like a lead balloon”</a> at a Vancouver conference, according to The Tyee. The site reported: “Wilson told the delegates third-world children should be allowed to work in factories because it provides them with much-needed wages. They also say he argued that even in Canada there is a place for 12- and 13-year-old street youths to find work in local factories as an alternative to collecting handouts.”

  • Ayn Rand Totes

    Lululemon’s <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/11/16/lululemon-ayn-rand-john-galt-tote-bags_n_1097615.html" target="_blank">‘Who Is John Galt?’ tote bags</a> were a nod to Ayn Rand’s <em>Atlas Shrugged</em>, which promotes individualism and capitalism over collectivism. But some customers didn’t appreciate the political message. The company <a href="http://lululemon.com/community/blog/who-is-john-galt/" target="_blank">defended the product on its blog</a>: “Chip Wilson, first read this book when he was eighteen years old working away from home. Only later, looking back, did he realize the impact the book’s ideology had on his quest to elevate the world from mediocrity to greatness (it is not coincidental that this is Lululemon’s company vision).”

  • Seaweed Slip

    In 2007, Lululemon came under scrutiny for its VitaSea clothing, which the company said was made with seaweed that provided health benefits. A New York Times article challenged the company’s claim and said it found the material showed “<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/14/business/14seaweed.html?pagewanted=all" target="_blank">no significant difference in mineral levels between the VitaSea fabric and cotton T-shirts</a>.” Independent testing “confirmed the presence of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids in the VitaSea fabric,” a company statement said, but the retailer <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/lululemon-to-remove-claims-from-seaweed-clothing-line-1.655660" target="_blank">agreed to remove references to therapeutic benefits of the product</a>.

  • Sheer Insanity

    Lululemon’s too-sheer yoga pants were perhaps the company’s most infamous headache. The company<a href="http://www.businessinsider.com/lululemon-see-through-yoga-pants-2013-3" target="_blank"> pulled its defective Luon pants from shelves in March 2013</a>, following customer complaints that the pants were see-through. Lululemon <a href="http://www.businessinsider.com/lululemon-restocks-black-luon-yoga-pants-2013-6" target="_blank">said it expected to lose as much as $67 million from the blunder</a>. To make matters worse for the retailer, it was<a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/lululemon-hit-with-3rd-class-action-lawsuit-from-investors-1.1385376" target="_blank"> hit with three class-action lawsuits related to the recall</a>.

  • Bend Over?!

    Adding insult to injury? Some customers seeking refunds said Lululemon salespeople asked them to demonstrate the sheerness of their pants by bending over. “I went into my local store to return my Astro pants and Invert crops, both purchased this month.<a href="http://jezebel.com/5992004/lululemon-is-asking-customers-to-bend-over-to-prove-their-yoga-pants-are-really-that-sheer" target="_blank"> I was asked to BEND OVER in order to determine sheerness</a>. The sales associate then perused my butt in the dim lighting of the change room and deemed them "not sheer." I felt degraded that this is how the recall is being handled,” according to one customer. The company responded, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/03/26/lululemon-recall-customer_n_2955731.html?utm_hp_ref=lululemon" target="_blank">saying it would offer returns</a> “no questions asked.”

  • Pilling Pants

    Even more quality complaints plagued the company following the sheer pants recall. Shoppers <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/11/01/lululemon-pilling-pants_n_4194168.html" target="_blank">weren’t impressed with yoga pants pilling and seams coming apart</a>. And yes, some still complained that the pants were still too sheer.

  • Chip Wilson On Women’s Bodies

    Wilson put his foot in his mouth when he <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/11/07/chip-wilson-lululemon-pants_n_4236637.html?utm_hp_ref=lululemon" target="_blank">told Bloomberg TV that "some women’s bodies just actually don’t work" with their products</a>, which have been known to pill or look too sheer. “It’s really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there over a period of time and how much they use it,” he said.

  • Again With The Thighs

    Not long after Wilson’s comment about thighs rubbing together sparked outrage, a Bethesda, Md. shop raised eyebrows when it featured a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/12/03/lululemon-rubbing-thighs-window_n_4379280.html?utm_hp_ref=lululemon" target="_blank">sign in its window that read: “Cups of chai, apple pies, rubbing thighs?”</a> The brand apologized for the controversial display, saying “We celebrate that thighs rub together -- ours do too.”

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