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Shopwatch: Lululemon Athletica

It’s all about healthy living at Canadian yoga brand Lululemon’s first UK store.

As Canadian exports go, premium yoga brand Lululemon Athletica is way up the health scale. In fact, the new store on Long Acre, Covent Garden, feels far more ‘Los Angeles fitness obsessive’ than its origins in Vancouver might suggest.

In the Lululemon world, customers are ‘guests’, store assistants ‘educators’, the design team ‘evangelical athletes’ and the whole shop is set on moveable stands that are pushed to one side for yoga classes.

The 3,100 sq ft store has a North American feel - the educators working on its official launch day (April 3) seemed to hail from across the pond and their greetings were of an enthusiastic nature that you would associate with that part of the globe.

But both chief executive Laurent Potdevin and chief product officer Tara Poseley are keen to emphasise the importance of understanding the local market.

This includes hiring a local team, headed by a UK buyer and country manager. The aim is that about 20% of product sold in the UK will be particular to this territory. “As the brand steps out of North America and becomes global, we need to build a deep local management team that understands the intricacies of the local market,” Potdevin says.

As well as sales analysis, the retailer has a chalk board for guests to write feedback on and has local ambassadors - fitness instructors - who can identify new sports trends. “That will really fuel what we do - it’s an amazing mechanism,” says Poseley.

Having been in the UK for two years in four showrooms with limited product, the 250-store business, which has stores in the US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Asia, is at a “tipping point” Potdevin says, noting a recent yoga class he attended where “25% to 30% of people were wearing our product”.

Menswear is also a growing part of the business, making up 20%, but Poseley believes it could become a 50/50 split, especially in newer territories where Lululemon is less associated with womenswear.

A couple more locations are being weighed up in London, with the first understood to be the unit vacated on April 27 by Chelsea fitness store King’s Road Sporting Club, although nothing is confirmed.

The day after the Covent Garden launch, Lululemon stepped closer to defeating a class action over a recall of its Luon yoga pants, with a US judge rejecting claims it made misleading statements about quality, saying this was “simple puffery”.

Although welcome news, it could mean Lululemon will have to work a little harder to convince customers that its range - with retail prices starting at £68 for a pair of cropped leggings and £38 for a racerback top - is worth sweating for.

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