Business

$68 for mittens? Team Canada fans cry foul over Lululemon prices for official Olympic gear

Lululemon may be famous for selling pricy, form-fitting yoga pants, but the price point of the Vancouver company's official Olympic gear isn't sitting right with many customers.

Company says higher quality justifies higher price, but not all consumers are on board

The mittens on the right were a viral hit for HBC in 2010, selling like hotcakes for $10 a pair. Lululemon is facing some criticism for its Olympic gear pricing this year, which includes the pair on the left with a price tag of $68. (Lululemon.com/Larry MacDougal/The Canadian Press)

Lululemon may be famous for selling pricy, form-fitting yoga pants, but the price point of the Vancouver company's official Olympic gear isn't sitting right with many customers.

The athleisure brand made a splash when it signed an exclusive deal to outfit Canada's Olympic team at the 2022 Beijing Olympics. For decades, Team Canada was outfitted by iconic Canadian brands Roots, then HBC at various Games, before the yoga chain stepped up to buy the rights to make and sell the official swag last fall.

While the look and feel of the clothes themselves have earned glowing reviews, some consumers are having a hard time getting past their pricing.

A pair of red mittens emblazoned with the letters CAN over the fingers sell for $68. That's drawing unfavourable comparisons with the iconic red and white maple leaf mittens that were a runaway hit for previous sponsor HBC, which sold for $10 a pair during the 2010 Games in Vancouver. 

HBC's then-CEO Bonnie Brooks holds up a pair of the company's iconic Olympic mittens in 2014. They were a runaway hit. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

This year, for $8, you can buy a Team Canada hair scrunchie. For $14, you can get some branded hair ties. The price point for larger garments goes up quickly from there, topping out at almost $500 for a parka.

Makes sense for aspirational brand, says expert

Many Canadians have taken their griping online this week, with complaints that the price point for the Olympic collection is well above what average Canadians can afford. 

But Cheri Bradish, who teaches sports marketing at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University in Toronto, says the strategy makes perfect sense for an aspirational brand such as Lululemon.

"The Lululemon approach is a bit more upscale, a bit more higher end," Bradish told CBC News in an interview.

While she was not party to the negotiations, she suspects the company paid in the tens of millions of dollars for the rights to be the Olympic supplier, so they would want a return on investment.

"I think Lululemon very much knows who they are and what they want to position on the brand," Bradish said.

For its part, the company says the higher prices reflect the quality of its Olympic products.

"We are committed to making the highest-quality products — not only for Team Canada but for all our guests," a spokesperson for the company told CBC News in an emailed statement. 

"As such, our products are developed with cutting-edge fabrics and innovative design techniques that deliver unparalleled feel, fit and performance. We price our products based on our commitment to the value of innovation, technology, premium materials, functionality and detail."

WATCH | Here's what shoppers had to say about Lululemon's Olympic prices: 

Shoppers react to high prices for Team Canada gear

8 months ago
Duration 1:26
Canadians shopping at a Lululemon store in Toronto shared differing viewpoints with the CBC about the company's decision to charge a lot more than previous sponsors did for official Olympic gear.

'It lasts'

Outside a Lululemon store in Toronto, shopper Michael Bertorelli says while he likes that Lululemon is a Canadian company and generally offers high-quality products, he does wish Canadians had access to a few more inexpensive options.

"I think it's good to have options so that everyone can get involved, and everyone can participate," he told CBC. "But if it's just one item that's really high, it's going to push a lot of people away."

He's among the many who bought the iconic HBC mitten from previous Games: "I have two pairs, and I still use them."

Another shopper, Victoria Day, said that while she had no plans to buy any of the Olympic gear, the prices make sense since the store has such a premium product.

"The quality at Lululemon is unbelievable," she said. "Everybody knows that you purchase something from Lululemon and it lasts you … years. You go somewhere else, you purchase something from the Olympics, it's not as good quality."

Canada isn't the main target

Regardless of what shoppers in Canada think, they're probably not the company's primary concern, said analyst David Swartz with investment research firm Morningstar.

While the company was founded in Vancouver and is still headquartered there, Canada is not a major growth market for the company. The company currently has around 60 stores across Canada and isn't projected to add or subtract very many from that total in the near future.

WATCH | Steep prices for Olympic wear don't sit well with many customers:

Sticker shock over the price of Lululemon’s Team Canada gear

8 months ago
Duration 2:00
Some Team Canada fans were faced with sticker shock over the price tag on its Olympic gear, especially compared to The Bay’s $10 mittens, but experts say outfitting athletes is also about raising the company’s international profile.

That means that the Canadian market may soon become a tiny focus for a Canadian company with global ambitions, one that's on track to have about 900 stores around the world in less than a decade, according to Swartz.

"The fact, that they're expensive is not surprising," he said. "Lululemon charges premium prices across the board so it's not going to cheapen its brand by selling discount stuff."

He notes that the price tag for official Team Canada socks, at $28, isn't too far off the $24 Lululemon charges for a regular pair of performance socks. That is what makes the collection more like a marketing expense than a product, he said.

"It's not a profit centre."

Far more important for Lululemon than whatever sales it generates in Canada is the impression the clothes will have on the market it is really targeting: China.

"A lot of the future growth of the company is going to come from Asia," he said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Pete Evans

Senior Business Writer

Pete Evans is the senior business writer for CBCNews.ca. Prior to coming to the CBC, his work has appeared in the Globe & Mail, the Financial Post, the Toronto Star, and Canadian Business Magazine. Twitter: @p_evans Email: pete.evans@cbc.ca

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