Lululemon Athletica has in-depth standards on their ethical labor practices, but their environmental efforts fall short. Made from Nylon and Lycra elastane, which is produced from petrochemicals, a byproduct of fossil fuel production, makes these leggings environmentally unsustainable. With prices ranging from $128 to $138, I was hoping Lululemon would source the raw materials from recycled or a less harmful source. While Lululemon aims to source 75% of its materials for its products from sustainable sources by 2025, this is a modest goal that at the moment seems far fetched, given its current materials. Lululemon also lacks transparency on its impact agendas, which brings down its overall rating.
The body of these popular leggings are made of 84% Nylon and 16% Lycra elastane, and 89% Nylon and 11% Lycra elastane compose the waistband lining, both of which are environmentally unsustainable. Lycra, a brand and type of synthetic fiber, adds elasticity to clothing. Lycra elastane is a material made from a complex chemical reaction, and is composed of the polymer polyurethane. But, polyurethane is not just a lab-made material; natural gases are used to create Lycra elastane. Extracting the petroleum generates toxic substances, which often leaches into waterways and generates microplastics.
Nylon, a soft and moisture-wicking synthetic fabric, does not fair any better than Lycra elastane. Because nylon, like Lycra, is produced from fossil fuels, this intertwines the fossil fuel industry with the athleisure and athletic clothing industry. Lululemon does not report where it sources its nylon from, but it states that it will transition to sourcing renewable or recycled nylon by 2030, declaring that it will “commit to launching alternative platforms by 2025” (“Product Sustainability”). Lululemon’s lack of details and benchmarks on this goal make me skeptical of its drive to make these popular leggings more sustainable. Additionally, the “Fast and Free” leggings contain Nulux, a Lululemon fabric that is soft and light. I could not find any information on how or where Nulux is made, which I found questionable, considering Lululemon has an informational page on the bulk of the fabrics it uses in its products. While switching its raw materials to a more sustainable alternative is undoubtedly difficult for a corporation like Lululemon, their progress toward this goal seems slow and not a priority. It also states that it will “achieve at least 75 percent sustainable materials for our product” by 2025, but the steps the corporation will take to achieve 75% sustainable sourcing are vague, with no progress reports (“Product Sustainability”). Why is Lululemon waiting until 2030 to begin sourcing its nylon, the bulk of the leggings, from recycled and renewable sources, and why is it not launching its sustainability initiatives until 2025?
Lycra elastane and nylon are both produced from petrochemicals, the byproducts from drilling for petroleum, which require high heat and pressure. This process forms a sheet of nylon, which factories then cut and weave into strands of fabric. In addition to petrochemicals, factories add polyurethane polymers to create the elastic Lycra elastane. Lululemon shares that it sources fabrics from 26 countries around the world, so it is difficult to assess the environmental and human rights practices of each resource and product manufacturing facility. Although Lululemon’s Vendor Code of Ethics requires resource suppliers to follow local waste disposal legislation and collect data on their factory’s consumption and byproducts, the corporation does not state whether facilities have to adjust their practices based on their findings. Since producers are not forced to adapt their waste and consumption practices to their findings, this data seems unproductive in Lululemon’s process of becoming more environmentally sustainable.
Lululemon’s Vendor Code of Ethics states that the company upholds “human rights and elevate[s] working conditions of all individuals...” and that it follows local laws and customs (“Responsible Supply Chain”). This document supposedly ensures that the corporation creates an ethical supply chain based on “industry-recognized principles and international standards” (“Responsible Supply Chain”). Under California’s Supply Chain Transparency Acts, Lululemon writes that it is committed to ethically sourcing its materials, upholding human rights, and rooting out forced labor, but since it does not own its manufacturing facilities, it is hard to assess whether each of its 55 partner cut-and-sew facilities or fabric production sites, upholds Lululemon’s ethical labor condition standards. In addition to its modest labor goals, the corporation outlines a few vague environmental initiatives. The clothing company says that it wants to implement a circular design into all of its products’ life cycles to cut back on waste, but it does not specify how it will achieve this, a timeframe, or how it has taken action. Similarly, while Lululemon shares that it wants to “make waste obsolete” and use renewable energy in its facilities, it does not provide timelines or updates on these goals. Because of the vague language and minimal details on Lululemon's environmental and social justice goals, I gave this category a low rating. Lululemon's Fast and Free High-Rise Tight use materials that rely on fossil fuels and pollute surrounding ecosystems, and I am disappointed to see that the corporation's most concrete initiative to cut back on waste is a reselling, repairing, and recycling program for its clothing, which Lululemon says it will introduce by 2025, too far away.