Lululemon launched its own footwear products – the Blissfeel
Difference between men’s and ladies’ feet have been highlighted by many studies over the decades. Often ladies’ version of the running shoes has been a scaled down version of the men’s version. This resulted in sub-optimal design and features in supporting the ladies’ feet as they are missing in the design equation. Brands like ASICS and Nike have highlighted in the past, the difference in their line-up, for example Pegasus 38, catering for the ladies. But these are just minor tweaks.
However, in 2022, things have started to change drastically with Lululemon launching their Blissfeel. On March 8, Lululemon debuted its first women’s running shoe, the Blissfeel. Priced at US$148, it went on sale on March 22 in North America, China, and the U.K. Aside from Blissfeel, three more designs -the Chargefeel, Restfeel, and Strongfeel – are planned for 2022 with men’s version in 2023. Another notable brand, Puma, will be launching their Run XX Nitro a pair of woman-specific running shoes in 2022.
While this is Lululemon’s first venture with their own product line-up, they are not without experience. In 2017, the company partnered with Los Angeles based Athletic Propulsion Labs (APL). Moving into 2019, Lululemon announced their plan to make their own footwear during a meeting call after obtaining positive feedbacks from their customers.
A Natural Step but A Difficult Step
The Natural Step
For Lululemon, this is a natural step as they have been doing apparel, but they do not have footwear. This represents a missed opportunity to capitalize fully on a singe consumer. The brand’s collaboration with APL was the testbed and market sensing which has further crystalize an untapped market for the brand. In the same light as the major brands, such as Nike and Adidas, have done the same in the past when they ventured out from footwear into apparel and to all objects which their consumers will have. Lululemon is on the same journey to equip their athletics and customers fully.
“Footwear is the natural next step for us to expand and apply our long history of innovation in fit, feel, and performance, and it represents an exciting moment for our brand,”.Quote from CEO Calvin McDonald
But a Difficult Step
However, this is not an easy step to venture into the highly dominated running shoes and footwear market. Nike and Adidas started from footwear and ventured into the apparel while Lululemon is doing the opposite. While apparel is no easy feat, footwear is much more challenging than a single piece of garment. Footwears are technological advance in terms of midsole technology and design and require many parts to make one pair. In the past, brands such as Under Armour and North Face have long struggled to develop their footwear offerings. Under Armour till date only sees their footwear making up about 22% of their total annual revenue in 2021. Comparing to Nike’s Footwear category’s annual revenue which represents about 65% (inclusive of other sports).
It is not all gloomy for Lululemon as there are 3 key factors which differentiate them from Under Armour and North Face.
- The primary factor is Lululemon has a fundamentally different design approach. The brand adopts a lady-first approach in designing their products which specifically caters to the demands of an underserve market.
- Lululemon also has a very strong brand and following from their customers and new customers. Lululemon ranked the fourth most valuable apparel brand in Kantar BrandZ Most valuable Global Brands 2021. In addition, the brand has seen about 23.8% in CAGR for revenue over from 2017. Lululemon has almost seen their revenue jumped significantly in 2021, a year-on-year increase of 42.2%.
- The last factor is pricing. The only other lady-specified running shoes is the Puma Run XX Nitro retails for about the same price (about US$140-150) as Lululemon’s Blissfeel. This puts Blissfeel squarely in the same ballpark for competition.
Aside from catering to the ladies, there is a compelling reason for brands changing their design approach. Based on World Bank data, in 2020 there are close to 3.8 billion female population globally. Regions such as Asia Pacific, North America, and Europe represents about 70% of the global female population or 2.7 billion. This represents a huge market for Lululemon to win over customers from major brands with their lady-first design approach.
What are the Reviewers Saying?
I am not able to review the shoes or test it out as it is a lady’s specific running shoes. As such, let’s have a look at what other reviewers are saying about the Blissfeel. Credits belong to the respective reviewers of the sites.
“To be realistic though – no one gets it perfect first time and, as Lululemon’s first foray into the running shoe market, we’re genuinely impressed. Their superb fit, cushy upper and supportive heel counter make these a very comfortable shoe, which are spot-on for beginners looking for an everyday shoe to cover distances from 5K right up to half marathon.”
“When we first tested the Blissfeel over a four-mile tempo run, we were quite surprised by the amount of ground feel you get from the shoe. With a stack of height of 32.5mm, the shoe is very much in the cushioned/maximal running shoe silo, but Lululemon’s compound foam in the midsole achieves a balance of being plush enough to absorb impact without being marshmallowy soft.”Runner’s World
“Well, I underestimated it — because the Lululemon Blissfeel is a solid everyday running shoe.”
“I’ve tested the Lululemon Blissfeel on a number of different runs — from a 5K race to an easy 10-miler, and I’d definitely say these are suited for gentle, everyday miles.”Tom’s Guide
“Overall, I found the Blissfeel to be comfortable and easy to wear, without any glaring fit or function issues. It won’t give you that poppy, fast feel that many of the performance shoes on the market have today, and it may not have the cushion you want for a really long run, but it’s a great option for an easy, five or 10K recovery run.”Canadian Running
It does seem that the Blissfeel has checked the boxes for a daily trainer which is able to meet the mark. This is because the brand has gotten Heather Pieraldi, a seasoned footwear development executive to join them about 2 years ago. Heather Pieraldi has a history of footwear development in major brands such as Salomon, Brooks, and Under Armour.
A New Trend is in Development
For Lululemon what are the things they should take note of to make success?
- Further improvement in the performance and quality of the Blissfeel, don’t stop at just a product in a line-up. There is no need to compete with major brand’s race day shoes, but their daily trainers are the competitors.
- While venturing into men’s shoes make a case for the scale and scope of productions, it will be an even tougher fight to make a dent in the market. Not only are there major brands out there but also smaller players with a strong following.
For the major brands what are the things they should take note of?
- Major brands should re-examine their product line-up and product innovation to validate and address potential market encroachment. Lululemon’s entry, and to an extent Puma’s Run XX Nitro, into the footwear catering for ladies will further develop the topic of catering runners.
- Not all ladies’ feet and men’s feet are separated neatly in different categories. There are overlap in requirements in terms of fit, aesthetic and brand preferences of each customer.
Lululemon’s venture into the running shoes is a natural next step for the brand after establishing itself as a go-to apparel brand for different sports. While it will not be an easy step to win big over the major brands such as Nike, Adidas, among others, Lululemon has advantages over the formers with a lady first approach differentiates Lululemon.
Lululemon is tapping into an underserved market with needs not catered for previously. Additionally, the brand power and its customer’s brand loyalty will likely help the brand pick up traction in this market. Lululemon is not the only one in the market acknowledging the trend. Puma, ASICS and Nike have also jumped onto this bandwagon in varying degrees. The trend of catering to the needs of the other gender will only grow over time.