lululemon wants you to know: who is john galt?

Nov 16, 2011 by

(image via lululemon.com/community/blog)

If you’re the kind of person who shops at lululemon, you may have noticed a mysterious quote on the shopping bag when you made your latest purchase: Who is John Galt?

And just who is John Galt? He is a character in Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel, Atlas Shrugged. As an employee explains on the lululemon blog: “lululemon’s founder, Chip Wilson, first read this book when he was eighteen years old working away from home. Only later, looking back, did he realize the impact the book’s ideology had on his quest to elevate the world from mediocrity to greatness.”

Lululemon has taken the brave and kind of irrational step of declaring the influence that Ayn Rand’s writing has had on the company’s vision. Ayn Rand was a Russian-American novelist and philosopher known for rejecting all forms of faith and religion, advocating laissez-faire capitalism and individualism, and opposing government regulation of business. While her work has little credibility in philosophy and literary academic circles, it’s been wholeheartedly embraced by the business world and is often required reading in business schools.

These days, Ayn Rand’s following is made up of mainly libertarians and conservatives, and includes high-profile right-wingers such as Clarence Thomas, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Ron Paul.

An Ayn Rand expert pointed out the simplistic analysis in the original lululemon blog post to the Globe & Mail. “She wouldn’t put it as an issue of living life fully or mediocrity,” said Onkar Ghate, a senior fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, Calif. “It’s between pursuing your own happiness and self-interest and understanding why that pursuit is right, and to regard that pursuit as noble versus a society that regards it as wrong and ignoble.”

The original post on the lululemon blog and the Globe & Mail article have both received hundreds of comments, many pointing out the conflict between yogic values and Ayn Rand’s values. There is also a disparity between Ayn Rand’s philosophy and lululemon’s supposed founding values of community and social responsibility, exposing once again the company’s hypocrisy and thirst for controversy.

It seems that Chip Wilson and lululemon have grasped the simplest and most basic elements of Atlas Shrugged and Ayn Rand’s philosophical leanings. I’m not entirely sure how they reconcile this with their personal responsibility focus: “If only one person is responsible for the success of an effort in global change, how successful do you think that person will be? Consider the outcome if you take the passion and energy of over 2,600 people and direct their commitment to responsibility and integrity towards a singular focus. What a powerful way to create change and develop lasting legacies.” Sounds like collectivism to me!

 

 

 

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7 Comments

  1. Lulu’s all-too-savvy when it comes to marketing, I think. Remember, “no publicity is bad publicity.” I’m sure that they (correctly) figure that: 1) the minority of people that care enough about this obnoxious Ayn Rand tie-in to not buy their products probably aren’t buying them much anyway – so no big loss, 2) they’ve weathered plenty of worse controversy with no penalty – most shoppers won’t care as long as they still like their products, and 3) this will keep their name in the news.

    Of course, I fall into Category 1, but am by this time used to suffering my profound distaste for this company with only a small (but awesome!) set of like-minded practitioners to keep me company.

    The story about the “secret messages” hidden behind the first layer of pseudo-inspiration sayings on these “tote bags for greatness” was even weirder – did you catch it? http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/TopStories/20080416/Lululemon_controversy_080416/

    • yes, i remember that fiasco. and i agree with your assessment of their marketing savvy. i’m awaiting the lulu backlash!

  2. Fiona

    http://fionahanington.wordpress.com/2011/11/16/lululemon-says-zeitgeist-be-damned/

    My post about today’s article on this in the globe and mail

    • thanks for sharing your post. i especially liked:

      “What is surprising, however, is that Lululemon executives have chosen this as a slogan now. At a time when we have seen Occupy movements spring up around the world, when there is a growing awareness of the divide between the 99 percent and the 1 percent, when the public is fed up by massive bailouts for the banks that have contributed to the economic mess we are seeing all throughout the West, when we’ve had enough of the bonuses received by the very people that have driven the US and other economies into the ground, when the people are speaking out and rising up against the privatization of infrastructure and institutions, Lululemon has chosen to go against the Zeitgeist. Dramatically.”

      i had a similar question, but didn’t go into it in my post. many of the commenters on the lululemon blog also brought up that point. i feel that it’s calculated ~ that they’ve chosen to go against the grain to stir up controversy and get attention. they probably see this as being “innovative” and “authentic.” but really, it’s just out of touch and reactionary.

  3. yep. ‘authentic’ if you mean you want to own to the fact that lulu is a business and doesn’t give two craps about ‘yoga’, community beyond the dollar signs.

    @Fiona- love that quote, going over to read your post :)

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