Who knew a sports bra and a pair of leggings would replace the old shirt and jeans combo? Athleisure has taken the fashion world by storm, and unlike other fads, it seems like this trend is here to stay. From high-end designers to fast-fashion retailers, hundreds of companies are spewing their own take on combining loungewear and workout clothes. But when it comes to athleisure, Athleta and Lululemon are ahead of the pack.
For these two popular athleisure companies, it’s not just about who sells the most black leggings. They both have created dynamic communities and backed the emerging fitness lifestyle. Find out who comes out on top in this battle of the brands that is Athleta vs. Lululemon.
About the Brands
On the surface, Athleta and Lululemon may seem similar. They’re both North American brands that offer workout and fitness clothing. However, their approach to athleisure is quite different.
Athleta was initially a running and cycling brand founded in California in 1998. It was acquired in 2008 by Gap Inc., which also owns clothing chains Banana Republic and Old Navy. Meanwhile, Lululemon had its humble beginnings, also in 1998, as a yoga wear retail shop. It was the brainchild of Canadian Chip Wilson, who is said to be the godfather of athleisure.
Although both companies were established in the same year, Lululemon had the upper hand in the athleisure market during the early 2010s. It was mainly thanks to its cult-like following plus its fast-selling yoga pants deemed as the Holy Grail of leggings. The Vancouver company immensely prides itself on the quality, durability, and performance of its products.
It was only during the latter part of the decade when Athleta became a serious contender in the athleisure market. In 2016, the Gap-owned brand launched the successful Power of She campaign, aiming its attention to female empowerment, inclusivity, and community.
Reach and Popularity
When it comes to overall reach and popularity between Athleta vs. Lululemon, the latter is the dominant brand. It has more than 500 stores all over the world, reaching even European and Asian countries. Athleta has less than half that—it has a little over 190 stores, all located in the United States.
You may think the two brands are similar since they offer a lot of the same products, but once you visit both stores or take a look at their online stores, you’ll quickly notice how they differ.
Athleta, staying true to the Power of She, only offers women’s outfits. It also has a special line for young girls and tweens—Athleta Girl. Lululemon, on the other hand, caters to both female and male customers, especially athletes.
Both brands offer typical athleisure clothing, like pants and leggings, shorts, hoodies, tanks and tees, and bras.
While Lululemon now offers swimwear, much of the designs offered are still very much influenced by sets you would wear to spin class, a yoga studio, or the gym. Athleta is able to offer more variety by producing clothes intended for different types of activities, like paddle suits for standup paddling (SUP), dresses for tennis, and skorts for golf. It even has a sleepwear line.
Athleta and Lululemon offer clothing with desirable features, like quick or fast-drying, extremely stretchable, and even stink-free. But between the two, Lululemon’s apparel offers better quality and performance as it has a deep focus on developing workout fabrics. Customers have been raving about the wellness retailer’s yoga pants which are extremely soft, can be worn from day to night, and can last for years.
Colors and Patterns
Since Athleta prioritizes inclusivity, you might notice that its clothes have neutral colors and designs to make sure they will look good on you, no matter your shape or size. At Lululemon, you’ll still find neutral-colored tops and bottoms, but you are more likely to spot trendy patterns and vibrant color schemes (think neon pinks, stoplight red, or even a combination of colors).
In the past years, athleisure has blurred the lines between everyday clothes and gym wear. It’s even sometimes worn front row to fashion shows. To keep up with the trends, both Athleta and Lululemon have expanded their offerings to include streetwear. However, the very core of athleisure still lies in fitness and sports apparel.
Going the Extra Mile
For personalized service, between Athleta and Lululemon, the former has the advantage. Taking a cue from the emerging online personal styling services, Athleta provides curated looks. You can now use the complimentary virtual stylist tool on its website. Lululemon has a somewhat similar service, but it’s more focused on virtual shopping. You can get product recommendations and help with your fit and sizing, but it doesn’t feel as personalized as having a stylist.
Sizing and Fit
One of the drawbacks of Lululemon is that it has very limited sizing. Customers can only purchase clothes in sizes 0 to 14. Meanwhile, Athleta sticks to its core values and boasts an inclusive range that has petite, plus, and tall sizes plus everything in between.
Apart from the sizes, another criterion to judge the Athleta vs. Lululemon battle is the fit of their clothes. With a focus on female empowerment, Athleta is all for flattering fits—it’s about looking good and feeling good. Competitor Lululemon offers tactical clothing that has relaxed fits—it’s about being comfortable so you can move easily and boost your performance.
Lululemon has an extensive range of bra fits to suit women for high-impact to low-impact activities. You can choose from a wide variety of coverages, supports, and comfort levels for your bras. As for Athleta, although its support fits aren’t as diverse as Lululemon’s, the American company has bras that are specifically for girls and teenagers and even women who’ve had mastectomies.
Price and Value for Money
Between Athleta and Lululemon, the latter is known to be the more expensive one. But its prices aren’t at all that far from Athleta’s. Lululemon’s regularly-priced leggings cost anywhere from $79 to $138. At Athleta, full-length leggings start at $89, the priciest of which is $98. High support bras at Lululemon can cost up to $108 while Athleta’s most expensive sports bras are $89. The cheapest bras are $48-$49 at both stores.
You can of course get items from either brand at a cheaper price during sales. But Athleta has more frequent sales and Lululemon’s final sale items are usually in uncommon sizes.
Aside from amazing quality and designs, the prices of these athleisure brands are justified with their exchange policies, guarantees, and warranties. At Athleta, you can even enjoy a give-it-a-workout guarantee where you can wear the clothes to the gym and then return them for up to 60 days free of charge if they don’t perform the way you expect them to.
Lululemon also offers an excellent return policy—it’s free, and returns can be done by mail or in person. What’s more, it offers free hemming for its tops and pants.
Even though both brands are from North America, neither one produces its products in the region. Instead, most of the manufacturers of Lululemon are from Asia, including its textile supplier that produces its trademark fabrics.
Typical among North American brands whose manufacturers are from Asia, Lululemon made the news in 2019 when young female workers making Lululemon clothes at a Bangladesh factory claim to have been abused and paid meager wages. Lululemon’s labor conditions also got a “not good enough” rating from Good on You for several reasons.
Athleta came under fire in 2018 for similar reasons.
Despite being a member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, Lululemon only uses a low percentage of eco-friendly materials. This is a stark contrast to Athleta, a B Corporation that adheres to fair trade environment policies. The company follows strict manufacturing processes, such as using sustainable materials like recycled polyester, Tencel tree fibers, and organic cotton. At the same time, it uses water-saving techniques and works to prevent shipping waste from entering landfills.
And the Winner Is…
The winner of this Athleta vs. Lululemon contest depends highly on your criteria. If you care more about high-performance products and global popularity, then you’ll be leaning towards Lululemon. However, if you are all about sustainability, inclusivity, and lower prices, then Athleta is your top athleisure brand.
Both of these companies bring something to the table to meet the demands of the current athleisure market. If you want to be objective and examine the pros and cons of each, Lululemon is ahead of the curve. But right at its heels is Athleta, a worthy contender.