Lululemon is a global activewear brand that sells clothing in a variety of categories aimed at both men and women.
The company, which is headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia, was founded in 1998 by Denis “Chip” Wilson.
Its eccentric founder started the business after discovering yoga and falling in love with the practice. He quickly realized that the cotton clothing worn for power yoga at the time was both impractical and inappropriate.
After talking to dozens of yoga instructors, he came up with a few designs that he began selling in November 2000 after opening up the first Lululemon store in Vancouver. Quick and odd fact: Wilson came up with the name for Lululemon because he thought that it would be easier for Japanese customers to pronounce.
Throughout the years, Lululemon expanded into other clothing categories. Its consistent growth enabled the company to go public in 2007, raising $327.6 million in the process. In 2008, Wilson stepped down from his role as CEO and completely departed from the business and his chairman role four years later.
Growth luckily remained undeterred. In June 2020, Lululemon made its first acquisition by purchasing the hardware company MIRROR for $500 million.
Lululemon, which has more than four million Instagram followers, now generates $6.3 billion in annual revenue (2021) while being valued at an eye-popping $48 billion. It, furthermore, operates 500 stores and employs 25,000 people.
The methodology with which competitors of Lululemon are ranked is based on a variety of data points. Information such as the revenue generated, the number of employees, valuation, Instagram followers (one of the main sales channels for DTC brands), and any other factor that is relevant is being taken into account.
This analysis should, however, not be seen as an endorsement of any given brand. It is merely a summary of all the competition that Lululemon faces as of today as well as listings its competitive advantage within the industry.
To ensure comparability, we mostly take brands into account that offer both female and male athleisure clothing. Some of those brands, especially the larger ones, may furthermore offer other types of clothing and equipment. However, in some instances, single-category brands that are dominating their niche will also be included. Competitors in its hardware line are thus excluded.
So, without further ado, let’s take a closer look at the top 15 competitors of Lululemon.
Headquarters: El Segundo, California, United States Founder(s): Adam Goldenberg, Don Ressler, Kate Hudson Year Founded: 2013
Fabletics is probably the biggest rival to Lululemon when it comes to pure-play athleisure products. Actress Kate Hudson is the driving force behind the company and has used her celebrity status to establish an athleisure brand as an alternative to pricier high-end clothing brands like Lululemon.
While Hudson stepped back from an active role in the company in late 2021, it continues to be led by its other co-founder Adam Goldenberg. Fabletics frequently partners with other celebrities such as actors Demi Lovato, Liza Koshy, or Vanessa Hudgens.
The company is owned and operated by TechStyle Fashion Group, which was founded back in 2010 by Goldenberg and Ressler. TechStyle itself operates a variety of other brands, often in cooperation with other celebrities. Examples include Savage X Fenty (by Rihanna) and ShoeDazzle (by Kim Kardashian).
Fabletics, which operates more than 50 retail stores and employs over 800 people, generates around $500 million in annual revenue per year. An impressive 1.9 million people follow the brand on Instagram.
Source: Fabletics, Instagram, Retail Drive
Headquarters: Beaverton, Oregon, United States Founder(s): Philip Hampson Knight, Bill Bowerman Year Founded: 1964
Nike, which began life as Blue Ribbon Sports (BRS), is the world’s undisputed leader in sportswear. Apart from its own brand, it also owns a variety of other companies such as Jordan, Converse, Starter, and Umbro.
Phil Knight, a former track athlete at the University of Oregon, as well as his coach Bill Bowerman began by selling running shoes on behalf of Onitsuka Tiger (which is now owned by ASICS) across the United States.
In the early 1970s, they launched the first Nike brand shoe that entailed the Swoosh logo. They officially rebranded the company to Nike Inc. in 1978 while going public two years later.
Nike, fuelled by its “Just Do It” ad campaign (first introduced in 1988) and various athlete endorsements (most notably Michael Jordan and the subsequent creation of the Jordan brand), grew into the sportswear powerhouse that it is today. Throughout the years, the company has sponsored the world’s best athletes including Lebron James, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Tiger Woods.
A whopping 210 million people now follow the brand on Instagram. The company operates more than 1,000 retail stores across the globe and employs over 75,000 people.
In 2021, Nike, which doesn’t disclose athleisure sales, generated $44.5 billion (up 17 percent) in annual revenue. Its brand power is, furthermore, exemplified by the close to 45 percent margin it generates on every sale.
Headquarters: Herzogenaurach, Bayern, Germany Founder(s): Adolf “Adi” Dassler Year Founded: 1948
Adidas is the next company on this list that certainly doesn’t need any introduction. Adi Dassler and his brother Rudolf had previously operated a shoe factory together. In 1936, for example, they convinced legendary sprinter Jesse Owens to use their shoes during the Summer Olympics.
After the two had a falling out, Adi went on to launch Adidas, which is a combination of his first and last name. In 1952, Adi was able to acquire the now legendary 3-stripe logo from the Finnish athletic footwear brand Karhu Sports – allegedly for around €1,600 and two bottles of whiskey (different times, I know).
Throughout the decades, Adidas has not only been synonymous with sportswear but fashion as well. This is probably best exemplified by its Adidas Originals brand. More recent examples include its collaboration with rapper Kanye West to create the Yeezy brand.
Adidas Originals itself has more than 34 million followers on Instagram, signaling the reach that brand alone has. The Adidas brand, on the other hand, is being followed by more than 26 million.
For the fiscal year 2021, Adidas, which employs over 55,000 people worldwide, managed to cross €21.2 billion in revenue – an increase of 15 percent compared to the year prior.
Headquarters: Petaluma, California, United States Founder(s): Scott Kerslake Year Founded: 1998
Athleta has become a leading athletic fashion brand despite only selling women’s clothes. The company offers all types of clothing ranging from running to yoga.
Athleta, which was launched when most brands producing athleisure clothing were catering to men, has done the opposite of that. Brands would often take men’s apparel, shrink it, and sometimes change the color – a practice commonly referred to as “shrink it and pink it.”
Its founder Scott Kerslake, who was an avid cyclist, surfer, and worked in investment banking, saw this first hand when the women he cycled with had to put up with substandard gear. After raising $700,000 in seed funding, he aggressively grew the business, which he departed from in 2004 (due to disagreements with the board), to millions in annual sales.
Athleta was ultimately sold to retail giant Gap Inc. for $150 million in 2008. In 2018, the company became a certified B Corp, reinforcing its commitment to business as a force for good. Furthermore, it works together with celebrities such as Alicia Keys who release exclusive clothing lines in partnership with the brand.
Athleta now employs close to 3,000 people and operates 200 stores across Canada and the United States. Gap Inc. projects that Athleta will sell over $2 billion worth of clothing by the end of the fiscal year 2024.
Source: Athleta, Crunchbase, Gap Inc. Investor Relations
Headquarters: Herzogenaurach, Bayern, Germany Founder(s): Rudolf Dassler Year Founded: 1948
Puma was started by Rudolf Dassler, the brother of Adidas founder Adi Dassler, after the two had a personal falling out. Both were avid Nazi party members, with Rudolf widely being believed to be the more ‘passionate’ one. Today, both brothers (who died in the 1970s) are buried at opposite ends of Herzogenaurach’s cemetery.
Puma made a name for itself after sponsoring various football teams and becoming one of the leading brands in the sport for decades. And it certainly knew a thing or two about influencer marketing.
In 1970, during the World Cup, Brazilian football star Pelé prompted the referee to halt the game before the opening whistle to tie his shoes. All of the cameras would therefore point to Pelé’s Puma shoes and thus expose millions of viewers to the brand. And it certainly helped that Pelé and Brazil ended up winning that World Cup.
Today, Puma sponsors world-class athletes such as Neymar or Lewis Hamilton and works together with stars like Selina Gomez or Dua Lipa. In recent years, it has shifted its strategy towards athleisure clothing, releasing hundreds of different designs with a heavy focus on fashionability.
The company, which has over 12 million Instagram followers, operates around 830 stores across the globe while employing over 15,000 people. Its current brand momentum led to a record-setting year. In 2021, Puma generated $7.7 billion in revenue (up from the $5.9 billion it made the prior year).
Headquarters: Solihull, United Kingdom Founder(s): Ben Francis, Lewis Morgan Year Founded: 2012
Sports-based fashion brands like Gymshark are the ones that have seen the most success in recent years, especially with the advent of social media.
The site was started by two British university students who began by selling protein powder online. They decided to pivot to clothing after experiencing firsthand that gym gear at the time was targeted towards bulkier people while completely disregarding novice and smaller-sized trainees.
Gymshark has since made a name for itself by working together with (Instagram) influencers who would promote its gear in return for joining its prestigious Gymshark Athletes program. Examples include Matt Ogus, David Laid, Nikki Blackketter, and dozens more.
The company, in order to remain nimble and quickly react to new trends, has refrained from opening any physical retail locations. However, this is set to change in 2022 as Gymshark will open retail outlets in selected and high-trafficked locations.
Its online-only strategy has certainly paid dividends thus far. In 2021, Gymshark generated £400 million (around $550 million) in revenue. The company, which has more than 5.6 million Instagram followers, employs over 1,000 people across its 55,000 square-foot campus in Solihull.
Source: CNBC, Instagram, LinkedIn
7. Beyond Yoga
Headquarters: Los Angeles, California, United States Founder(s): Jodi Guber Brufsky, Michelle Wahler Year Founded: 2005
Beyond Yoga, as the name suggests, is an apparel manufacturer that specializes in the manufacturing and distribution of yoga-related clothing for both females and men. Since yoga clothing is one of Lululemon’s best-performing categories, it only makes sense to look at one of its fiercest competitors.
The company was successfully sold to jeans maker Levi Strauss for $400 million in August 2021. Levi, at the time of the acquisition, said that Beyond Yoga’s 80 employees and the brand itself will add another $100 million to its annual revenue.
Beyond Yoga currently sells the clothing through its own online store as well as by working together with other retailers and, you guessed it, yoga studios. 370,000 people follow the brand just on Instagram alone.
Source: Beyond Yoga, CNBC, Instagram
8. Under Armour
Headquarters: Baltimore, Maryland, United States Founder(s): Kevin Plank Year Founded: 1996
Another global sports powerhouse that has entered the athleisure space is Under Armour. Kevin Plan, its founder, was a fullback at the University of Maryland and thus began selling football-related clothing.
Growth accelerated when Under Armour outfitted the actors of Any Given Sunday and The Replacement, which were released in the late 1990s. Some of its sponsorships, such as with basketball star Stephen Curry, helped to establish it as a global brand.
Under Armour, despite deriving most of its revenue from basketball-, football-, and golf-related clothing, has been releasing an increasing number of designs in the athleisure space. Its website now boasts hundreds of designs for both females and males.
For the fiscal year 2021, Under Armour generated $5.7 billion in revenue. $1.1 billion of that can be attributed to apparel, which includes athleisure and other types of clothing. Under Armour, furthermore, employs more than 16,000 people, runs over 350 stores, and has 8.4 million people following its brand on Instagram.
Source: Instagram, LinkedIn, Under Armour
9. Outdoor Voices
Headquarters: Austin, Texas, United States Founder(s): Matt McIntyre, Tyler Haney Year Founded: 2013
One rather new entrant in this list is Outdoor Voices, which sells clothing that is primarily aimed at runners. In spite of its running-inspired focus, it has also released a variety of designs that directly compete against Lululemon.
Tyler Haney founded the company after completing a business program at the Parsons School of Design in New York. The first product that Outdoor Voices released was a five-piece set of simple workout clothes aimed at both men and women
Outdoor Voices, which has racked up half a million followers on Instagram, went through a heavy restructuring process in 2020, which led to the departure of founder and CEO Haney (as well as the closure of a few stores). She was replaced by Gabrielle Conforti who had spent the last six years as both chief merchandising officer and president at Urban Outfitters.
Despite those issues, the company seems to be in a healthy state. It employs over 200 people, has raised $64.4 million in funding, and continues to operate 12 retail stores across the United States. Outdoor Voices, furthermore, generates around $100 million in annual revenue
Source: Crunchbase, Instagram, LinkedIn, Outdoor Voices
Headquarters: Ube, Yamaguchi, Japan Founder(s): Tadashi Yanai Year Founded: 1949
Uniqlo, which many know for its focus on essential clothing, started out as a textile manufacturer in WWII-riddled Japan. In May 1984, it opened its first unisex casual wear store dubbed the Uniqlo Clothing Warehouse.
Over the coming years, Uniqlo rose to become one of the world’s leading apparel manufacturers, operating more than 1,000 stores across the globe while employing around 30,000 workers.
Uniqlo, which is certainly not a pure-play athleisure brand, has embraced and expanded into athletic clothing over the past few years. Its shops now boast items such as Heattech t-shirts or Airism leggings. The firm’s comparatively low prices certainly make it a viable player in the athleisure space.
To that extent, it made news when, in August 2018, it signed a $300 million endorsement deal (lasting 10 years) with tennis star Roger Federer.
Uniqlo generated ¥2.1329 trillion (~ $17 billion) in annual revenue for the fiscal year 2021. While Fast Retailing, its parent company, does not break down Uniqlo’s revenue by clothing segment, it can be assumed that a significant portion of it is still derived from its athleisure clothing line.
Source: Fast Retailing
Headquarters: Boston, Massachusetts, United States Founder(s): Joseph William Foster Year Founded: 1895
Reebok is by far the oldest company on this list and, as a result, went through a lot of change over its illustrious history. Its founder began by selling spiked running shoes and, over time, Rebook expanded into all kinds of sports-related categories.
In 1958, Foster’s sons renamed the company to Reebok, which was inspired by a type of antelope called rhebok. By the 1980s, it became the leading sports brand across North America after introducing clothing and sports accessories to its roster.
Meanwhile, it went through various ownerships throughout that time as well. Adidas purchased Rebook for $3.8 billion in 2005 but sold it to Authentic Brands Group for $2.5 billion in 2021.
Its new owner expects to grow Reebok’s revenue from $4 billion a year to over $10 billion by 2025. In recent years, the company, which employs over 4,000 people, had a resurgence that was boasted by greater sales of its athleisure clothing lines.
Source: Front Office Sports, LinkedIn
Headquarters: Encinitas, California, United States Founder(s): Joseph Kudla Year Founded: 2013
Vuori is another DTC highflyer that sells athleisure as well as other types of clothing, which is mainly inspired by the active coastal California lifestyle (where its founder is from).
The company lives and breathes sports. This is best exemplified by the free online classes that it offers on its Instagram every morning. Vuori, furthermore, sells clothing not only aimed at trainees but also casual wear such as pants.
Investors, such as SoftBank, also love what they’re seeing. They’ve poured a combined $445 million into Vuori, which is now set to expand into a handful of new markets and open over 100 new retail stores in the next few years.
On top of that, more than 400,000 people follow the brand on Instagram. Vuori employs over 300 people.
Source: Crunchbase, Instagram, LinkedIn
13. Alo Yoga
Headquarters: Los Angeles, California, United States Founder(s): Danny Harris Year Founded: 2007
Alo Yoga is one of the fastest-growing activewear brands in North America. As the name suggests, it primarily sells clothing in the yoga category.
The company, much like Gymshark, has grown tremendously by working together with some major influencers. In Alo Yoga’s case, though, those influencers include celebrities such as Kendall Jenner, Gigi Hadid, Taylor Swift, and others. However, those celebrities don’t always officially work together with the brand but instead are simply photographed wearing its clothing.
Alo Yoga certainly lives and breathes yoga. Many of the world’s most influential yogis teach yoga at the Alo headquarters. On international yoga day (June 21st, btw), the company hosted a twelve-hour live stream all about the practice.
Its meticulous focus on yoga has certainly paid dividends. Alo Yoga generates close to $200 million in annual revenue while employing more than 500 people. A whopping three million people follow the brand on Instagram.
Source: Fitt Insider, Instagram, LinkedIn
Headquarters: Carlsbad, California, United States Founder(s): Beaver Theodosakis Year Founded: 1992
prAna started out designing clothing for outdoor enthusiasts but soon pivoted into other sports such as yoga. These days, it offers almost any type of fashion product imaginable.
Its outdoor focus, as well as continuous growth, led the company to be acquired by Columbia Sportswear for $190 million in 2014.
For the fiscal year 2021, prAna, which employs over 300 people, generated $142 million in revenue (slightly up from the $132 million it made in 2020).
Source: Columbia Sportswear, LinkedIn
15. Sweaty Betty
Headquarters: London, United Kingdom Founder(s): Simon Norton, Tamara Norton Year Founded: 1998
Sweaty Betty is an activewear brand coming out of the United Kingdom. It was founded by husband-and-wife duo Simon and Tamara Norton after the latter became frustrated with the lack of activewear options available to females. As a result, the company still only sells female activewear (much like Athleta).
Over the next few years, Tamara and her husband Simon, who quit his job and joined her, opened multiple more stores across London. In 2001, Sweaty Betty was awarded Retailer of the Year while Tamara was named Entrepreneur of the Year by Harper’s Bazaar and Chanel two years later.
The founders, after raising some private equity money in 2015, ultimately decided to sell the business in August 2021. US-based Wolverine Worldwide paid £300 million to acquire the company.
Today, Sweaty Betty operates 60 stores across the world and employs over 700 people. Revenue-wise, the company generated £126.5 million in 2020, up from the £72.9 million it made the year prior.
Source: Crunchbase, Sweaty Betty
Lululemon Competitive Advantage
Lululemon’s competitive advantage comes from the scale as well as brand and pricing power it has managed to accrue over the past few years.
One of the biggest indicators of that is its ability to charge anywhere between $118 up to $128 for a piece of leggings alone. For reference, competing brands such as Fabletics price their leggings at about $85 – despite using, more or less, the same material and manufacturing sources.
Its pricing power originates from the brand love that Lululemon has built over the years. One of the supporting factors is Piper Sandler’s biannual “Taking Stock With Teens” report.. Teenagers voted Lululemon as the third most popular brand behind Nike and American Eagle while being ranked as the number one brand for upper-income females and as the “top trend” for women.
Another sign of its brand power is its ability to seamlessly expand into new categories. To that extent, Lululemon has already established a decent foothold in the male athleisure section. It now contemplates expanding into even more categories, including footwear, golf, tennis, and more.
Additionally, it launched a resale program dubbed Like New in April 2022. This allows exisiting customers to trade in their clothes for a gift card while other customers can purchase those used clothes at a discount. Its ability to even sell used clothes to customers is another supporting factor for the brand power it has been able to amass.
With all of these inititives and new categories certainly comes the benefit of scale. This, in theory, means that Lululemon would be able to decrease its cost base by virtue of heightened production output. In turn, its margins increase even further.
This is especially advantageous when comparing Lululemon to newer (or smaller) entrants on the list such as Alo Yoga or Vuori who still need to build out those production capacities.