IN THE LAB
Lululemon’s innovative Vancouver workspace offers runners gear that can’t be found anywhere else
The Lululemon Lab is tucked away in a charming nook of Vancouver’s Gas Town. Through its doors, racks host slinky tights for running and flashy jackets that a runner would throw on for workouts and dinner parties alike. Fashionsavvy shoppers and athletic women mingle inside sifting through hangers. Part workspace, part boutique, this shop that sits steps away from cobblestone streets is one of the more unique spots in the country to browse for active apparel. At the front of the shop, the space is a store, but as its name suggests, it’s a space for creation as well.
It’s not just trendy runners and yogis who have a strong presence here. Walk to the back to see where the magic happens – designers and tailors working together. Fabric gets fed through the dashing needles of sewing machines, while feet away designers work new patterns on their computer screens. These blueprints show the plan for fitness outfits before they come to life. Mannequins wear apparel that has yet to be finessed and fabric pieces lie on tables ready for their seams to be made. This is a spot where the ideas are dreamt up and first prototypes are made. Usually at a store location, customers don’t get to see where their apparel gets created, never mind how. The Lab is different. This working space is a spot where Lululemon’s brightest and most creative brainstorm the items that will grace its stores. Some of their creations live and die as they get rejected by head honchos, who review what’s created here for mass market release. Those one-of-a-kind castoffs never make it out of the backroom of the lab. Other items are approved for small-batch productions. These stay only in this downtown Vancouver store or at the other location in New York. In other words, if a runner is looking for a race day outfit that is literally unique, there’s a good chance that it can be found here. Whatever a runner purchases from The Lab will not be sold elsewhere. And when they’re gone, they’re gone. This creates an “in demand” feeling with this gear – something that’s obvious while watching customers work through the racks. Many of them are dressed like they’re about to go running and they scurry to change-rooms with arms full. Visitors will notice immediately that the gear in here is different than that of most sporting apparel shops. The Lab
is about creativity and innovation. Here, standard workout wear gets a rethink and an update. Designers who spend their time here push designs outside the box to get workout wear that’s unexpected and new. A classic pair of black split shorts, for example, is lengthened giving it skirt-like qualities while keeping traditional elements of your favourite pair for running. The result is a pair of shorts that could be worn to a group run or paired with a blouse and worn to morning meetings. If the gear drawer at home is tired, these designers will make it sing.
Sunita Linde is a head designer at The Lab and a great example of the type of person who puts effort into expanding the boundaries of the brand. She also happens to be the partner of the Canadian apparel company’s CEO, Laurent Potdevin, so anything related to the brand’s direction isn’t lost on her. Linde has been designing apparel for Lululemon for over four years and she says she should have made the move sooner. A runner, cyclist and yogi, Linde definitely knows what active types are looking for.
Professionally though, she was trained at the Parsons College of Art and Design in New York which she initially attended as a photography student before switching to design. Perhaps her experience in her first year, though difficult, gives her the authority to now be coming up with non-typical apparel ideas for Lululemon. Starting out in fashion, she fell into a rut creating patterns of what she felt fashion “should be.” It was a failure. Once she learned how to come up with original ideas though, she earned the highest GPA in her class.
Today, her creations end up in the athletic wear brand’s stores or are sold to Vancouverites and visitors inside The Lab. Working offsite and on, she bounces back and forth. Some of her items don’t get the green light, something which isn’t easy to predict. “Could you see this in a Lulu store?” she asks, nodding at an all-black outfit on her Instagram. “This got rejected.” For a piece to go from a drawing to a pattern to something you can pick up and try on is a process. What happens when it gets a “no” from the brand? “They’re gone,” she explains.
Overall, Linde thinks fashion-forward athletic wear belongs with Lululemon. Visually, the apparel that hangs off the racks is appealing – that’s undeniable. Linde herself only wears her designs for her workouts – which means function is a main consideration. Would one wear these trendy designs for a marathon? Maybe not. Would a runner be inclined to snap up a few pieces for training though? Definitely. Just don’t wait too long, they’re limited in number.