lululemon Athletica has responded to allegations that a page in its online catalog may be promoting racist thinking.
As IBTimes reported earlier Monday, a redditor -- a contributor to the social news site reddit -- started a thread questioning the model casting choice in a lululemon.com catalog entry. The reddit thread -- Try selecting the colour black for this shirt -- links to a page on lululemon's online catalog featuring the Pacific Run Long Sleeve men's shirt in five colors. The same white male models four colors -- gray, purple, blue and striped. A black male models only one color, which is labeled as black in the color selection, but which appears to be more gray than black in the catalog image. (The black model is also wearing a different style of pants -- much more form-fitting -- than the white model.)
A representative for lululemon responded to an email sent on Monday morning requesting a comment on the allegations made in the reddit thread. (As previously reported, IBTimes also attempted to contact lululemon by phone, but was told email was the only available avenue of communication).
We have a variety of models from a range of cultural and racial backgrounds that we use on our website, wrote Aleica Pulman, Senior Director of Public Relations at ICR. We use multiple models for each style and do not select the model based on the garment color; product is chosen strictly based on what is available during each individual photo shoot.
[Editor's Note: ICR is a corporate communications agency; lululemon is a client.]
That's precisely the scenario one redditor offered as a hypothetical explanation.
...it's only racist if you force racism on it, the redditor* wrote in the thread, and scripted an imagined dialogue at lululemon. 'Alright that's it for the photo shoot thank you for your time Mr. Whitemodel' -Next day 'Jim you got the pictures on my desk like I asked, but I see no pictures for this shirt in black.'
And then Jim had to find the only model they had in that day and photograph him in the black shirt. That model happened to be a black guy. 'PHEW dodged a bullet there' says Jim unaware that morons on Reddit would scream racism [sic].
Other redditors felt the so-called black shirt was actually gray:
I'm outraged - Clicked black shirt... got dark grey patterned shirt... WTF?
Ms. Pulman acknowledged the color confusion in her statement to IBTimes.
It is appearing grey to some of our guests, but it is in fact a heathered black, and the name of this heathered black color for this specific style is 'black'.
And yet other redditors felt the cost of the shirt and the black model's revealing pants were bigger issues.
If you pay that much for a shirt like that, I want to puch [sic] you in the face, wrote one redditor. (The shirt costs $88).
I think more concerning than the color of the models skin, is the fact that I can see his package, another wrote.
While IBTimes did not discuss the question of visible sex organs with the lululemon representative, one redditor did, and posted a link to her online chat with a lululemon Educator.
I just wanted to let you beautiful people know about the page for the Pacifica Run Long Sleeve shirt for men. While it's not outwardly racist in terms of slurs, a truth in our society is that 95% of racism comes from what is implied the user said in the chat. By using a white model to represent all other colours of this shirt and reserving a black model for your black colour, this can be seen as racist. Just letting you know.
I see, the lululemon representative said. This is the first time I have encountered a feedback such as this, I'll be honest!
Also, why are his pants so tight as to outline his 'package' while the white man has loose jogging pants on? the user asked.
I'm looking at the pictures now, and our two models are both wearing black-coloured shirts...I actually have not noticed the difference in their pants - but I will pass on your feedback to our team, the lululemon staffer replied.
lululemon is no stranger to controversy.
Earlier this month, a lululemon Athletica retail employee was convicted of murdering a co-worker in a Bethesda, Md., store. Brittany Norwood was found guilty of first-degree murder in the death of co-worker Jayna Murray, who earlier in their shift had discovered a pair of lululemon pants in Norwood's bag that Norwood had not purchased. According to court testimony, Murray's murder was particularly brutal and merciless; Norwood used a variety of objects to inflict 322 wounds on her victim, who remained alive throughout most of the attack.
In 2008, lululemon came under scrutiny after some controversial messages were found printed on their shopping bags. The discovery was made accidentally, when a teenager's bag was damaged in the laundry cycle. The curious 17-year old peeled off the cracked outside layer of the bag to find some odd messages.
Some brief or quick-fix incidences when our minds are clear to be creative are....when drunk or stoned...just after an orgasm, one of them read.
lululemon athletica is a company known for speaking our mind and inspiring creativity and freedom of thought in everything we do, a company representative said to CTV in 2008. When we learned that a phrase printed on the side of our small shoppers was troublesome to some of our guests, we took the responsible step of stitching a covering over this language on the remaining bags, rather than destroying them.
More recently, lululemon got customers and pedestrians scratching their heads when the retailer unveiled shopping bags bearing the message, Who is John Galt?
John Galt is the protagonist of Ayn Rand's objectivist novel Atlas Shrugged, which promoted unregulated capitalism and radically reduced government.
You might be wondering why a company that makes yoga clothing has chosen a legendary literary character's name to adorn the side of our bags, a lululemon employee wrote on the company blog. lululemon's founder, 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).
lululemon Athletica is a publicly traded company.
*redditors have been kept anonymous to protect their identity. If anyone would prefer their names or handles be published, please contact IBTimes and we will edit accordingly.
Ellen Killoran is the Media & Culture Editor at IBTimes. She previously contributed to The L Magazine, Brooklyn Magazine, and The Daily, and co-produced the HBO...