VANCOUVER, Canada — Lululemon is known for thinking out of the box.
Last year, the company embraced diversity by releasing a workout hijab for women. It has introduced plant-based nylon for clothing and more than 50 percent of its board of directors are women.
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So, it should come as no surprise that the $8.1 billion company is taking that out-of-the-box approach to another level. Next year, it is planning a six-day ultramarathon on March 8 at a yet-to-be named location, to push 10 female runners to the max while testing out new prototypes of running shoes, activewear and accessories to improve their performance.
The marathon is part of the company’s new initiative called Further, announced at its company headquarters on Tuesday. Lululemon will spend the next nine months studying the way women run, burn energy, manage their oxygen levels and mentally cope with near exhaustion. It will have a scientific research component addressing the sex and gender data gap seen between men and women on endurance performance. One of the goals is to develop new women-first products as well as community activations and a giveback component to support young women.
“As many of you are aware, women in sports have been historically underserved. There is a lack of opportunities for women to compete. There is a lack of research and science around what goes on with women. And there’s a lack of performance product that is specifically designed to meet their needs,” said Lululemon chief brand officer Nikki Neuburger. “All of these are examples of resources and access that are typically made available to male athletes. Despite these challenges, women are still pushing the boundary and doing phenomenal things.”
An audit of select sport science and sports medicine journals found only 4 percent to 13 percent of published studies were female only. “This is building upon the work that we did with our footwear launch,” said Lululemon chief executive officer Calvin McDonald. “There is this recognition of the lack of women-focused innovation that exists, and it was something that I was surprised about when I heard it many years ago.”
To develop more women-focused research, Lululemon is partnering with Canadian Sport Institute Pacific and its scientific network. They plan several research studies to better understand female endurance performance and human endurance performance in general. This is intended to address the limited knowledge around female athletes while bringing awareness to the need for additional research.
Simon Atkins, Lululemon’s senior vice president of footwear, said he will be working with each ultrarunner to develop a better running shoe. “We have this wonderful opportunity to introduce a brand-new platform and running architecture to meet the needs of the ultrarunners and our [customers],” he said. “We’re investing significantly in foam chemistry and innovation. So, you will see upgrades in our foam as we move into 2024 that can meet the increased needs of shock absorption and energy return.”
Each runner will also have access to leading sport science and medicine support to develop personalized training programs spanning physical, mental and emotional support. Research will be done during their months-long training and during the ultramarathon event with findings published next March.
“Our purpose is to elevate human potential by helping people feel their best,” McDonald said. “That’s our Northstar.”
While announcing the new initiative, Lululemon revealed the global launch of its Blissfeel Trail shoe, its first road-to-trail footwear. It is part of its women’s focused collection, which includes Blissfeel, Chargefeel, Strongfeel and Restfeel. The Blissfeel Trail offers durability with an upper featuring a protective film and a rugged outsole for enhanced traction and grip.
Shoes for all kinds of terrain will be important to the 10 women selected to participate in the Further initiative. Those athletes are: Camille Herron, an ultrarunner and world record holder; Devon Yanko, an ultrarunner and podcast host; Kayla Jeter, runner, strength and wellness coach and mindfulness strategist; Leah Yingling, ultrarunner and biomedical engineer; Mirna Valerio, ultrarunner and author; Montana Farrah-Seaton, ultrarunner, strength and fitness coach and model; Stefanie Flippin, ultrarunner, coach and doctor; Vriko Kwok, runner, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu athlete and entrepreneur; Xiaomeng Jia, marathon runner, and Yoon Young Kang, ultrarunner and judo black belt.
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