Lululemon is an athleisure wear giant, with the brand becoming a household name across the globe. So how exactly did it reach this level of success?
The company was founded in 1998 by Chip Wilson. Originating in Vancouver, Canada, the brand was initially inspired by the practice of yoga, with the design studio operating as a yoga studio at night. The intention was to create athletic wear that was fashionable and comfortable for yoga, while also building a community where people could discuss health and fitness.
The premises, which initially served the dual purpose of being a site for both design and yoga, became Lululemon’s first store in 2000. As the company grew, so did the number of stores and online presence, leading to the hugely successful brand we know today.
How Lululemon Got Its Name
The iconic Lululemon name was derived from an unconventional, and somewhat insulting, background. Wilson had previously experienced success in the Japanese market with a skateboard brand, ‘Homeless’, something he partially credited to the fact that the name had an ‘L’ in it. The Japanese alphabet does not contain this sound, making the pronunciation of this letter foreign and therefore quite difficult. Wilson believes that the exotic nature of a brand name with an ‘L’ sound allowed Homeless to stand out from the crowd as no Japanese company would create a name with this letter.
When Wilson was looking for a brand name for his new activewear company, he had this theory in mind and sought to find a name with an ‘L’ in it. In 2004, he spoke to National Post Business Magazine about the name ‘Lululemon’, explaining that he wanted to create a name with “three Ls [to] see if [he could] get three times the money”. Wilson was playing around with the L sound when he came up with Lululemon, a name that does indeed contain three Ls. He further added that “it’s funny to watch [the Japanese] try to say it”, which is perhaps not the most moral reason to name a company.
Wilson is not backward in sharing his opinion and has become known for lacking political correctness, however, he was more careful with his wording when talking about the brand name in 2009 following some backlash to the 2004 interview. While Wilson acknowledged that the ‘L’ sound “does not exist in Japanese phonetics”, he stated the Lululemon was simply created for the 3 ‘Ls’ and means “nothing more and nothing less”.
Despite the arguably inappropriate theory that led to the name Lululemon, there’s no denying its success. It would appear that there may in fact be some truth to the idea that a name with an ‘L’ stands out in a Japanese market, and that this helped Lululemon get the attention required to catapult it to the level of success it experiences today.
The Power of a Brand Name
While some of the strength behind the Lululemon name might be linked to the three ‘L’ sounds, we can assume that there are also other factors at play. The name itself gives no indication that the brand is focused on athleisure, yet it has managed to establish this association regardless.
This is for a number of reasons. Firstly, the made-up name is unlikely to be confused with anything else. It is engaging and distinct, allowing a strong brand to be established. Secondly, it is easy to remember. It’s not boring, but it’s also not so obscure that people cannot understand it. Finally, it passes the ‘crowded bar test’. If you say it in a noisy room full of people, most people will be able to comprehend what you’ve said.
All of these components make a strong business name, and when paired with a strong strategic direction like Lululemon, can help a company to experience significant and sustained success.
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