01/02/2014 12:37 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 08:17 EST

Mary Mann, Ex-Lululemon Staffer, Describes Cult-Like Atmosphere At Retailer

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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