Rajiv Suri, CEO fashion Majid Al Futtaim Ventures, and Laurent Potdevin, Chief Executive Officer of Lululemon Athletics, deliberates on the growth and goals for the fashion brand. Image Credit: Zarina Fernandes/ Gulf News

Dubai: This brand doesn’t believe in opening a flagship store and then wait on shoppers to stumble upon it. Over at Lululemon Athletics — the cult brand which made yoga pants into a style statement and with sales of $1.8 billion — they do things differently.

“We reach out into the community, create brand ambassadors and then build up the momentum before we actually launch the store,” said Laurent Potdevin, CEO of the Vancouver-headquartered label which has been a determined push into overseas territories in recent times.

“For a premium brand that launched in 1998 and created a global market out of nothing, that’s been the best approach to take.”

The first Lululemon outlet in Dubai opened on Monday at the Mall of the Emirates expansion and follows on from those in Hong Kong and Australia and ahead of a planned one for Japan.

In Dubai, this meant tying up with boutique yoga/fitness clubs and then nominating six ‘ambassadors’ from among them to spread the good word. (Out in the celebrity space, Jennifer Aniston has done her fair bit in popularising the brand.)

“It helped that we had a set date for the MoE opening to activate our community outreach programme,” said Rajiv Suri, CEO — Fashion at Majid Al Futtaim Ventures, which is the franchise holder for the brand in the UAE and which will be launching it in Qatar and Kuwait in the near-term.

“We wanted to get as far away from the practice of announcing the store and then making splashy ads or put it up on billboards.”

Having the first regional store in Dubai serves other purposes too.

“It becomes the trendsetter for other consumers in the region and India — and even [those] in parts of Europe,” said Potdevin.

“In much the same way that [trends in] Seoul provide the inspiration for shoppers in mainland China.”

On whether creating a 300-plus store global presence wouldn’t in some way impact on Lululemon’s niche status, the CEO said: “I think our current presence makes for a very light global footprint. Out of these 310 [stores], there’s not one bad location. And that amounts to something. In fact, in some of the overseas markets we entered recently, we’ve been asked ‘What took you so long?’”

Starting off with the yoga pants line and then padding up the inventory with those meant for other fitness pursuits has been paying off well for Lululemon. So has the men’s line, “which is growing at 30 per cent quarter on quarter and has been a very bright spot,” said Potdevin.

“I don’t think creating a men’s line is a dilution of our core user base, which is the 20-30 years old woman. The way I see it why can’t a woman who uses our brand connect with a man who does the same? That’s certainly not a brand dilution and an integral part of the brand’s evolution.

“But Lululemon will never move in the direction of being a stand-alone lifestyle apparel brand. Anything we do is built around a function, be it yoga, running or any fitness pursuit. And the other thing I will never allow is do anything that will affect the customer experience.

“Outside of these two factors, Lululemon wants to be wherever people sweat it out.”