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Adidas, Nike, Under Armour Heavyweights Behind Lululemon’s Footwear Patent

Lululemon is one step closer to making its long-awaited footwear debut, marshaling some of the industry’s top design talent along the way.

The growing athleisure retailer first teased its footwear ambitions in April of 2019. Speaking during the company’s analyst day presentations, CEO Calvin McDonald didn’t offer many details at the time, but said Lululemon had “identified an opportunity unique to us and in the marketplace, [and was] looking to do it ourselves.” In December last year, the executive told investors that the Vancouver company expected to introduce its first shoe line in the “back half of 2021,” with product hitting shelves in early 2022.

Though the yoga-centric company has seen supply chain difficulties in recent months—in September, chief financial officer Meghan Frank said pandemic-related Vietnam factory closures had impacted 20 percent of the brand’s second-half inventory—Lululemon confirmed to Sourcing Journal that its footwear is on track to roll out as previously described, with more details to arrive “in the coming months.”

Lululemon's footwear design patent, granted by the USPTO Tuesday, does not include the grayed-out portions.
Lululemon’s footwear design patent, granted by the USPTO Tuesday, does not include the grayed-out portions. Lululemon

Until then, a recently issued design patent offers a preview of what Lululemon’s passionate fans might see when the company’s footwear finally arrives.

Granted Tuesday, the patent offers 12 images of what appear to be two unique colorways. A design on the shoe’s outsole depicts half of Lululemon’s Omega logo—presumably to be completed by the accompanying shoe. A company representative warned that the images included in the patent are “not indicative” of the final design Lululemon will be bringing to market.

Lululemon warned that images included in the patent are "not indicative" of the final design it will bring to market
Lululemon warned that images included in the patent are “not indicative” of the final design it will bring to market. Lululemon

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Listed as inventors on the patent are several veterans of footwear’s largest companies. Mark Oleson, a Lululemon employee since 2017 and the retailer’s current vice president, product creation, spent six years at Under Armour and 11 years with Adidas, according to his LinkedIn profile. Another Under Armour alum, Lululemon’s senior manager, product creation footwear, Michael Notrica, is also listed. Two employees of I.D. Workshop appear on the list, including the Portland, Ore. firm’s owner and former Nike and Adidas employee Damon Clegg.

Many of these names also appear on the several utility patents Lululemon has filed in recent years.  The United States Patent and Trademark Office has published at least two of these patents this year—one for a “footwear upper comprising stretch zones” and another for a “dual-layered midsole.” Both patents have been in the works since 2019.

Lululemon has also filed patents for "footwear having a suspended elastic membrane" with the World Intellectual Property Organization and the Canadian Intellectual Property Office.
Lululemon has also filed patents for “footwear having a suspended elastic membrane” with the World Intellectual Property Organization and the Canadian Intellectual Property Office. Canadian Intellectual Property Office

Lululemon’s apparel business, meanwhile, is continuing to see sales soar, with net revenue climbing 61 percent in its most recent reported quarter. On a two-year, compound annual growth rate basis, women’s product revenue jumped 26 percent, while men’s grew 31 percent. In the U.S., the retailer is on track to surpass Nike as the country’s largest women’s activewear brand, according to the NPD Group’s Consumer Tracking Service.

Matt Powell, vice president and senior industry adviser, sports at NPD, noted that footwear is “much more complicated than apparel,” with longer lead times, higher development costs and greater inventory commitment. Still, given Lululemon’s “cult-like following,” he said the company’s customers “will likely try any new initiative.”

“With a women’s-first strategy and great execution, LULU footwear can make a mark on the U.S. market,” Powell told Sourcing Journal.

Women’s athletic footwear sales have surged in the U.S. recently, with revenue during the first half of the back-to-school season up 21 percent against 2019, according to NPD. At the same time, major players like Nike and Adidas have “continued to cede share,” Powell wrote in an August blog post.