Lululemon's Too-Sheer Yoga Pants Reveal Problems In Company's Supply Chain

Lululemon has staked its reputation and justified its high prices on quality yoga gear. But now it's committed a "transparent" mistake. One of its core products, yoga pants, are too sheer. Shoppers aren't happy, and the company has recalled the yoga pants. But the mistake reveals how the company's rapid grown has laid bare a supply chain stretched too thin.

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The retailer Lululemon has turned pricey yoga clothes into fashion. But now, some of its yoga pants have revealed problems for the company. As NPR's Wendy Kaufman explains, the pants are, well, see-through.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Inhale all the way over to your left wrist.

WENDY KAUFMAN, BYLINE: The students here at Ashram Yoga in Kirkland, Washington, have quietly spread their mats and are beginning their evening practice.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: ...bringing some fluid into the wrist joints. Let's go the other direction. Inhale over to the right wrist.

KAUFMAN: They move on to the mountain pose and downward facing dog. A fair number of students in this class and in the studio next door are wearing $100 pants and $50 tops with Lululemon's signature logo. Student Ashley Smith's gear isn't new, but the brand is unmistakable.

ASHLEY SMITH: The pair I'm wearing right now, they're reversible, so on the other side they're actually a bright blue color. It's really two pants in one. I really enjoy Lululemon.

KAUFMAN: They are expensive, though.

SMITH: They are expensive, but I've had these pants for about two years now, and they've outlived most of my other yoga clothing.

KAUFMAN: But this week, we learned that the quality of some of those clothes is too thin, literally. Pants made with the company's exclusive nylon and spandex fabric were too transparent, as in see-through.

JANIS HAUSER: Right. I have seen it in the yoga room with ladies warming up, and you'd see the little cheeks.

KAUFMAN: Janis Hauser is the manager of this yoga studio.

HAUSER: I almost wondered for a moment if there was a new trend going on. And then I realized, no, I think somebody kind of messed up the fabric. So I thought it was interesting that it came out that they're recalling some pants.

KAUFMAN: Not just some pants, but their signature pants, 17 percent of the company's entire inventory of women's pants. Lululemon, which generally has a strict return policy, says those who bought those who bought the offending garments can get a full refund. If women just wore these pants in class, it might not matter that much that too much was being revealed. It's a yoga class after all. But Lululemon, which now has about 200 stores, has an almost cult-like following, and its workout clothes have also become street fashion.

SMITH: If I had bought a pair of pants and this happened, I would be frustrated.

KAUFMAN: Again, student Ashley Smith.

SMITH: I'd probably be embarrassed that I've been wearing them around not knowing that they were see-through. But I think they're taking responsibility and owning up for it, so I respect that. And, you know, these things happen.

KAUFMAN: But this is not the first time this thing has happened. At one point, the Wall Street darling's bathing suits were too sheer. Indeed, analyst Christian Buss of Credit Suisse says this is the fourth fabric snafu in the past year.

CHRISTIAN BUSS: Their supply chain hasn't kept up with the demand that they have for their product, and their quality control processes have been proven inadequate.

KAUFMAN: Lululemon did not make anyone available for an interview. But on its website, the Canadian company said that some products did not meet their technical specifications. The supplier, which is based in Taiwan and has been making gear for Lululemon for several years, shot back, saying its pants met the production requirements. Lululemon says it's now working closely with its manufacturing partner to understand what happened.

In the meantime, there will be a shortage of some of the company's most popular products. Tomorrow, Lululemon releases its financial results, and it will likely have lots of explaining to do. Wendy Kaufman, NPR News.

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