Lululemon is stepping even deeper into athletic footwear, launching a new women’s trail running shoe along with the mother of all marathons.
Called Further, the new initiative includes a six-day road race, and an ambitious research project with Canadian Sports Institute Pacific, exploring existing sex and gender data gaps in endurance performance.
The research component explicitly focuses on endurance performance, an area where women are significantly underrepresented. Lululemon cites one recent audit of select sports science and medicine journals, which found only 4% to 13% of published studies were female-only.
Researchers say women have been setting new ultramarathon records and that the difference between male and female performance seems to lessen as runs get longer. An ultramarathon is any race longer than a standard marathon’s 26.2 miles. They range from 31 miles (50 kilometers) to 200 miles (320 km.) The research will focus on training and performance and include product analysis.
The launch is timed to Global Running Day (the first Wednesday in June), with Lululemon starting a three-week Strava challenge, asking community participants to run a collective 1 million kilometers. As part of that effort, Lululemon is donating $1 million to the Girls Opportunity Alliance, a program of the Obama Foundation.
While Lululemon has long been gaining in apparel, where it competes with male-designed rivals like Nike, Adidas and Under Armour, it’s a relatively new player in shoes.
It announced the Bliss line last year and didn’t just win accolades, but revealed a sneaky truth: Most “women’s” athletic footwear is designed for men.
Last month, sports industry analyst Matt Powell called out Nike and others for the common practice. “Over the last couple years, we’ve seen the big brands admit their dirty little secret,” he wrote. “Most of their performance shoes they had made and sold as 'women’s' were simply relabeled and recolored men’s shoes, and not appropriate for a women’s foot. Most are said to be 'designed' for women; here, designed meant “made in a different color.”
Calling Blissfeel 2, the shoe represents its “next chapter” in running, according to Lululemon. With a rugged traction outsole for better footing, the shoe is built to enable easier transitions from the road to trail.
While Lululemon has said it is pleased with the response to its shoes, it hasn’t reported specific sales figures, though it is scheduled to announce quarterly earnings this week.
The company has said it plans to begin introducing men’s performance shoes next year.
A spokesperson tells Marketing Daily that ads for the Blissfeel Trail will run on owned and paid channels, including retail, digital, social, and events.
The ultramarathon is scheduled to begin March 8 of next year, International Women’s Day.
Lululemon has named 10 brand ambassadors from around the world who plan to run the race, with each woman prepared to run the furthest distance of their careers. Lululemon hasn’t disclosed the location of the course yet, and the spokesperson says marketing support for the ultramarathon will be available closer to the event.
Despite the surge in running, which started during the pandemic and continues to gather steam, there have been stumbles as other brands try to cash in. Allbirds, for example, recently revealed that sales of its performance running shoes have been disappointing.