11/16/2011 01:48 EST | Updated 11/16/2011 01:53 EST

Lululemon's Tote Bags Evoke Fictional Hero Championed By Tea Party


Who is John Galt? An icon of yoga fashion, apparently.

Some fans of Lululemon are swearing never to shop at the yoga-oriented fashion chain again, after the company began selling tote bags evoking a fictional hero recently championed by the Tea Party movement.

Tote bags featuring the words “Who is John Galt?” began appearing on the shoulders of Lululemon shoppers earlier this month.

The catchphrase is a reference to Atlas Shrugged, the 1957 novel by Ayn Rand that champions individualism and eschews all forms of collectivism.

Though Rand’s works have long been must-reads among libertarians, the rise of the Tea Party movement brought the Russian-born author’s works to renewed prominence, with Tea Party activists and politicians quoting her works to argue against social programs such as Medicare and Social Security, and in favour of lowering taxes on businesses and the wealthy.

The Vancouver, British Columbia-based Lululemon appears acutely aware of the political implications of attaching its brand to Ayn Rand’s name.

“In Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand describes a society where people work and reside in government-controlled environments that are tightly regimented,” the company wrote on its blog. “Without realizing it, this control created a society of mediocrity; propagating a cycle of listless, uninspired existing as opposed to living. The character John Galt encouraged all of the world’s innovators and intelligent minds to go on strike from the increasingly controlling government in order to create a vacuum of brilliance, proving that independent creativity and free-will is critical for quality of life.”

The blog states Lulemon founder Chip Wilson read Atlas Shrugged when he was 18, and “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 [L]ululemon’s company vision).

Reaction to the blog post was mixed, with some commentators praising the company for its stance and others saying the company’s move is enough to turn them off from shopping there again.

“I’ll take my workout gear without naive freshman-year analysis next time,” commenter “Amanda” wrote.

“At least you deserve some credit for actually publishing this and taking ownership of it. Too bad it’s contemptible dreck that would be embarrassing in a college dorm bull session,” wrote “Eric R.”

Why would a company trumpet such a divisive political agenda on their shopping bags at a such a politically divided time?” asks Carmel Lobello at the Death and Taxes blog. “Won’t that be bad for business? And won’t that be the opposite of what Rand would have wanted? Maybe the assumption is that anyone who can afford $98 yoga pants must be a fan of Ayn Rand.”

The move will likely strengthen the perception among some that Lululemon operates in a “cult-like” fashion. The company has been previously described as “directly using the techniques of cults and applying them to their business."

Lululemon is no stranger to controversy. A recent and brutal murder in a Bethesda, Maryland, outlet hurt the company’s image, as did accusations that the company’s online catalog is guilty of racism.

Some commentators point out that, despite her pro-business, anti-government stance, Rand is an unlikely hero for today’s conservative movement. Her philosophical works had a noticeably feminist and atheist bent.