Environmental activists are protesting Lululemon’s first-ever running shoe over concerns that the yogawear purveyor isn’t adequately addressing its role in the growing climate emergency.
Stand.earth, which, like Lululemon, hails from the British Columbia city of Vancouver, plans to hold court on Saturday outside a store in the Kitsilano neighborhood, where campaigners will do group stretching exercises, trace human footprints and scatter fake coal on the sidewalk while chanting “break up with coal.” Banners in the background will spell out “Feel Bliss?” with a picture of coal spilling out of the shoes, while one Lululemon’s Blissfeel sneakers, brimming with “coal” atop a white pedestal, will further hammer the point home.
Available on-site for interviews will be local activist Barbara Shuman, a retired English professor from the University of British Columbia, and Stand.earth spokesperson Erdene Batzorig. Lululemon did not respond to emails requesting comment.
“Lululemon’s new line of women’s running shoes might be dubbed the ‘Blissfeel’ for how they feel on your feet, but the coal-powered manufacturing of these shoes is anything but blissful for people and the climate,” Batzorig, who has firsthand experience growing up with coal pollution in Mongolia, said in a statement obtained ahead of the protest by Sourcing Journal. “This is especially the case for women who often bear the brunt of Lululemon’s climate and air pollution, especially in countries like China, Vietnam and Bangladesh where its products are made.”
The demonstration, which comes just weeks after the downward-dog darling made its long-hyped foray into footwear, is part of Stand.earth’s ongoing crusade to convince Lululemon to “do better” on climate change, the organization said. (More styles are on their way, including Chargefeel, a cross-trainer, and Restfeel, a post-workout slide.)
A Stand.earth analysis traced production of the Blissfeel shoe to factories in China, where 66 percent of the power used for manufacturing stems from coal and only 9 percent originates from renewable energy. Despite recent investments by Lululemon into mushroom leather, plant-based nylon and yarns derived from carbon emissions as part of its so-called Impact Agenda to “change the world for the better,” descriptions of the Blissfeel sneaker make no mention of sustainable attributes.
Muhannad Malas, senior climate campaigner with the Fossil-Free Fashion campaign at Stand.earth, criticized Lululemon CEO Calvin McDonald for averring, at the launch of the retailer’s second annual global wellbeing report in February, that “everyone has the right to be well,” yet apparently failing to extend that belief to the people who work in or live near its carbon-belching factories.
“Instead of making a state-of-the-art running shoe that stands out among its competition by using renewable energy, Lululemon’s new Blissfeel running shoes are increasing the demand for coal, increasing the company’s pollution and climate impacts, and undermining its stated commitment to ‘wellbeing,” Malas said. “If Lululemon is serious about advancing the wellbeing of both people and planet, it can start by shifting its factories off coal, investing in renewable energy, and advocating for the rapid transition from coal to renewables in countries where its factories are located.”
Lululemon, Stand.earth said, has yet to commit to eliminate coal from its supply chains. Unlike competitors such as Nike, which warned the Cambodian government in 2020 that its plan to triple the amount of coal-fired power would put future orders in jeopardy, the athleisure giant has done “very little” to advocate for the transition to green energy in China, Vietnam and other countries where its production happens, it added.
The environmental nonprofit previously slammed Lululemon, which won an Olympics bid to outfit Team Canada with opening and closing ceremony outfits, podium wear and Athlete’s Village looks for the next six years, for “threatening the future of Winter Games” because of its lack of “meaningful action to get rid of coal and deploy renewable energy in its manufacturing.”
In its most recent Fossil-Free Fashion Scorecard, published in August, Stand.earth gave Lululemon a grade of D-, lower than the C average that its rivals received. Asics, the organization pointed out, has managed to eliminate all on-site coal burning at its Tier 1 facilities, while Puma has made “significant progress” to source renewables and increase energy efficiency in its manufacturing. Nike, too, is working with suppliers to eliminate heavily polluting thermal coal boilers as part of efforts to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels in its supply chain, it said.
“Becoming the official outfitter for Team Canada at one of the most beloved sports competitions in the world is an incredible moment for Lululemon,” Malas said in January. “But it is ironic and reckless that Lululemon is using coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, to make the clothing for Canada’s athletes, whose performance and participation in the Winter Olympics in the coming years will increasingly hinge on our success in tackling the climate crisis.”
Because Lululemon has set a supply-chain intensity-based climate target, it will also fall “far short” of maintaining its climate pollution below the 1.5℃ warming threshold as laid out by the Paris Agreement, he added.
“As the Winter Olympics begin, Canadians everywhere must call on Lululemon to do more to ensure its clothes are not made with coal,” Malas said. “As the climate crisis worsens, the health of our planet, and the future of winter sports, depends on the swift actions of companies like Lululemon and the entire polluting fashion industry to clean up its supply chains.”
Meanwhile, the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on the planet’s climate breakdown continues to cast a long shadow as scientists warn that human-induced global warming is already wreaking “dangerous and widespread” disruptions in nature and affecting billions of lives all over the world.
“This report is a dire warning about the consequences of inaction,” Hoesung Lee, the body’s chair, said in February. “It shows that climate change is a grave and mounting threat to our wellbeing and a healthy planet. Our actions today will shape how people adapt and nature responds to increasing climate risks. Half measures are no longer an option.”