IN THE LAB

Lu­l­ule­mon’s in­no­va­tive Van­cou­ver workspace of­fers run­ners gear that can’t be found any­where else

Canadian Running - - PLACES - Sinead Mul­h­ern is the web ed­i­tor at Cana­dian Run­ning

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.

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