Brand Transparency: Lululemon Recalls Yoga Pants for Sheer Fabric (UPDATED)

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Is this a sign of things to come for Canada’s retail darling? Lululemon, the Vancouver-based lifestyle brand and highly successful global retailer, over the weekend pulled its Luon black yoga pants from store shelves after discovering the sheer material was just too sheer, a result, some say, of poor quality control on the company’s part. On Monday, the retailer announced it would be pulling various—but unnamed—styles of its popular (and pricey) yoga pants, explaining, “Some of our bottoms were made with a batch of black luon that doesn’t meet our standards so we’ve pulled them from our floors and our website.”

“At lululemon, our most important relationship is with our communities and our guests. We recently learned some information about some product that arrived in our stores and we wanted you to know right away,” according to the retailer’s blog post. “We are working with our supplier to replace this fabric and other manufacturers to replenish the affected core items as fast as we can. What that means is there will be a shortage of these styles in our stores and online until our new stock arrives. We are also in conversation with our manufacturing partner to understand what happened during the period this fabric was made.”

The brand said it will offer refunds or exchanges to customers who bought the affected item in March, either online or in stores. Lululemon—which was just named Canada’s top retail brand by Interbrand’s 2013 Best Retail Brands report—is known for turning around products on short order. “Our guest knows that there’s a limited supply, and it creates these fanatical shoppers,” CEO Christine Day, a former Starbucks executive, told the Wall Street Journal. But the reported pants issue isn’t a calculated sales strategy to boost demand and drive sales.[more]

Anticipating lower sales of its iconic yoga pants as a result of the fabric issue, the company late Monday announced it was lowering its “expected first-quarter sales to $333 million to $343 million, down from the $350 million to $355 million it had previously expected,” WSJ reports. The manufacturing glitch, which reportedly affects 17 percent of the yoga pants in its inventory at the time the issue was identified in a weekly call with store managers, could hit the top-tier company hard, with shares falling 4.8% in afterhours trading following the disclosure.

For customers, what’s at issue is the company’s responsiveness and outreach stategy. While Lulu addressed the “shortage” of black yoga pants after pulled them from stores and the website (they’re not calling it a “recall”) in a blog post to customers and an FAQ and press release intended for investors, there have been no posts on the company’s social media touchpoints—an odd move for a brand that touts its “community” and calls its fans “guests.”

Instead, irate consumers are speaking out on the brand’s Facebook and Twitter pages, complaining about the lack of information and the vague instructions that the company has provided so far. One Facebook user wrote, “I called my store because things usually vary and they said they would take a look at them to evaluate sheerness. I don’t care for ones opinion, a recall is a recall.” Another commented, “It’s ironic that you refuse to be transparent about telling us which styles are TRANSPARENT?! Why not redeem yourselves for selling us transparent pants by being transparent about which specific styles are affected?”

Update: A PR spokesperson for the brand emphasized that “it’s not a recall, we pulled product that didn’t meet our standards” and provided the following statement from Laura Klauberg, SVP, Community and Brand, for Lululemon:

“We value the authentic relationships we have built with our guests. Their passion is amazing and we will always put them first. We’re doing everything we can to fix the problem and replace these key items as quickly as possible. We apologize to our guests that may have been affected by the temporary removal of black luon pants and crops. We will continue to update you as we learn more. Guests who have questions about their products are welcome to come to our stores or contact our Guest Education Center.”

The Guest Education Center (GEC) is Lululemon-speak for Customer Service and can be found under its Contact Us tab on its homepage at lululemon.com. And while still not directly addressing the issue on Facebook or Twitter, it has started to respond to individual comments, such as this thread:

…and this Twitter exchange:

The situation, while serious for Lulu, its reputation and its stock price, is comedy gold for wags: