In the world of athleisure, there are plenty of options. Whether you’re looking for something high performance for workouts, comfy for lounging at home, or trendy for weekend brunch, it can be hard to know which brand will give you the most for your money.
Lululemon is, of course, one of the best-known names in the leggings game, but more recently, Zella has been gaining a dedicated following as well. The two brands have notable similarities, but which one is going to be right for you?
For some, Lululemon is the top of the line when it comes to leggings and athletic wear, but if you associate Lululemon with body-shaming and quality that’s not on par with its price tag, you’re not alone. Up until 2013, the brand was headed up by a CEO who responded to customer complaints about fabric pilling by blaming them for not having a thigh gap, along with many other bizarre and controversial statements. Since he was (understandably) ousted, the brand has made strides to improve its products and become more inclusive.
You can now buy many of their signature items in sizes up to US 20. They have also created a men’s line and, recently, have been developing shoe and streetwear imprints. Lululemon is on the move. Still, if you claim to be the “holy grail of leggings” that’s a lot to live up to. So is Lululemon worth all the hype?
Leggings have been Lululemon’s cult product from day one. The brand has created several proprietary fabric blends that give them a signature feel. Many fans like the flattering support the leggings give to their butt, making it look more lifted, and the fabric does not sag even after a full day of wear. It’s also nice that there are many different styles of leggings available for different types of activities, different climates, various levels of compression, and different fit preferences.
Many of their leggings have pockets, which really should be a requirement, but can be severely lacking in leggings, as in many items of women’s clothing. Colors and patterns are also available in a wide range, giving you a chance for some personal flair. And the buttery, barely-there feeling of their material wins over many shoppers.
The brand also has a community interface to help customers find classes, including even online classes like yoga and running. You can also read inspirational stories of other everyday athletes, and find training plans to give you inspiration for your next workout.
This all creates an environment that makes you feel like part of an exclusive club, just for buying Lululemon, and this emotional tug is very effective at creating repeat customers. The company has a specific idea about who its customers are (which has thankfully become much more inclusive in recent years) and many people identify with that persona.
All of Lululemon’s leggings and many of their other items are made from their proprietary fabric blends. Instead of the online profile saying what percentage of spandex and polyester something contains, you’ll see it labeled as “Luxtreme” or “Luon.”
Nulu is one of their unique fabric blends, an ultra-light-weight lycra blend that’s popular for hot and humid climates. Unfortunately, it’s one of the chief offenders when it comes to turning sheer during exercises like squats and poses like downward-facing dog. Nulu is one of the thinner fabrics in their collection that is more prone to pilling with extended wear, particularly if you are doing higher-intensity exercise in it.
Lululemon’s sizing does still tend to run a little small as well. It may be better to try things on in person, especially if you have a curvier butt or thighs. Otherwise, you may experience the embarrassment of the lighter weight fabric becoming sheer while you wear it.
Zella is the house athletic brand of Nordstrom. Many Lululemon fans were surprised when, around 2009, Nordstrom started rolling out athletic wear that had a lot of similarities to their beloved brand. As it turns out, the similarity makes sense. A former product manager from Lululemon was actually behind the development of the Zella line. Zella’s product range is much smaller, without all the streetwear items and sports accessories of Lululemon.
Nordstrom is known for being a higher-end department store carrying a wide variety of brands, including their own well-respected labels. Quietly, Zella has started making waves with some people claiming that their leggings are the same as Lululemon, but half the price. Is that true or is it a lower quality rip-off?
Zella has a very comprehensive size chart with standard sizes going up to women’s 20 and plus sizes cut for curves ranging from 16 to 26. They also offer petite and maternity sizes in some items, plus a men’s and kid’s line, so the whole family can hit that trail run together.
Zella leggings tend to be thicker, with a sturdier feel that doesn’t get too thin and sheer during activity or with continued wear. Plenty of fans have worn their leggings for years without them pilling, tearing, or losing shape. In fact, these leggings do a good job at keeping their shape and still offering compression even after a full day of wear and multiple washes. They keep your midsection very smooth with their thick waistband, which can help you feel less self-conscious about wearing leggings.
Their Live-In leggings are a particular fan favorite, not just for athletics, but for travel wear. They are comfortable enough to wear for a long flight or for lounging after a long day of sightseeing, but sturdy and supportive enough for hiking. The pocket version of the legging also has side pockets and a mini hidden key pocket in the waistband. All of their leggings are made from a breathable fabric blend and feature flat-locked seams to prevent chafing.
While the thicker material helps these leggings stay durable and keep their shape, it can also make things a little hotter in humid summer weather. Like most leggings, they are made of a pretty standard poly-spandex blend. The knit of the material helps them be a little more breathable, but can still trap some extra heat, which may not be desirable in the summer.
Some of their leggings (and other items) can also run a little large. If you’re looking for a secure fit that won’t droop or roll down and offers compression and support while you’re working out, this could be a problem. Instead of simply buying your usual size, you may want to visit a Nordstrom to try them on in person. You can also use Nordstrom’s True to Fit sizing tool online to ensure you get the best size for you.
Choosing Between Zella and Lululemon
As you can see, both brands have a lot to offer when it comes to athletic and casual wear, so there are a few things to consider when deciding which brand is right for you.
One of the most obvious deal-breakers could be the price difference. If you love the barely-there feel that many of Lululemon’s items give and you have room in your budget to spend $100 or more, you might want to go for it. If that’s a little steep for you, Zella has plenty of comfortable options at half the price.
While Lululemon has done a lot of work in recent years to open up its sizing, the brand does tend to run a little small in some of its items. And, their leggings made of thinner fabrics may not be as curve-friendly for exercising. Zella definitely has a more comprehensive and accessible size chart, but some of their leggings can run a little large. If you want more compression, that is something to be aware of.
What you plan to wear your leggings and other athleisure wear for can have a big impact on which brand you should choose. While both companies offer several different iterations of their clothing that are suited for different activity levels, a theme does emerge.
Many of Lululemon’s most popular leggings and tops are made from their super lightweight, extra soft fabrics. These feel great, especially in hot weather, but may not hold up well to activities that produce a lot of friction. If you want something that feels luxurious and looks cute for daily wear and low-impact exercise like yoga or walking, Lululemon has a lot of good options.
Most of Zella’s line is made from a thicker, more traditional sport legging material. This makes it a little harder wearing and more durable. While still comfortable, it’s not going to feel like you aren’t wearing anything like many wearers report about Lululemon’s Align leggings. For activities like travel, hiking, and biking, Zella might be the better choice.
Consciously or not, many of us make purchase decisions based on the emotional tug we experience toward a product: That’s good marketing. Lululemon puts a lot of effort into creating a vibe. They don’t justify their prices by making a product that’s completely unique, but by creating the idea that being a Lululemon wearer makes you a specific type of person. By wearing their clothes you feel like you become part of that exclusive club and you signal to others something about your social status.
Zella has much less marketing hype around it, but Nordstrom is still well-respected as a brand. Most of their growth has come organically from the line being introduced in Nordstrom department stores and from favorable online reviews from customers. While Zella does have a small symbol they mark their clothes with, it is less recognizable than Lululemon’s insignia. So while someone at your pilates class may compliment your cute leggings, they may not immediately associate them with a particular brand.
The Real Winner Is You
It’s hard to determine which brand is better overall because they both have advantages and particular use cases. Zella is the clear winner when it comes to budget and durability, while Lululemon offers comfort and prestige. In the end, you come out as the winner because you have plenty of options to choose from when it comes to leggings and other athletic wear.
Leggings are becoming more ubiquitous in our modern wardrobes, so having a few pairs for a few different occasions is the way to go. Lululemon and Zella both offer quality products that can fit into your life. In the end, it will depend on what yfou want out of your leggings and how much you’re willing to spend.