One year ago, lululemon bought a minority stake in a tiny premium cycling apparel maker, 7mesh. And now this pairing is coming to stores across North America.
Lululemon is known for high-end yoga pants. So its 7mesh-designed cycling line partnership presented a major gear shift.
While cycling enthusiasts may view the move as a step away from core gear, both brands claim the partnership will only boost innovation in the cycling apparel space.
As Stuart Haselden, chief operating officer at lululemon, noted, “Lululemon and 7mesh are like-minded companies who share a passion for solving problems for athletes.”
We talked to both brands to find out what the future holds for this unique business partnership, as the first line of gear begins to hit shelves.
lululemon, 7mesh: Companies in Common
And most importantly, each team can leverage the other’s expertise in product innovation and technology — and maybe even marketing and retail.
7mesh Deal: What lululemon Gets
Haselden told us he liked 7mesh’s brand vision and its team. And it’s easy to see why: Five of the Squamish brand’s leadership team hail from another Canadian outdoor brand — Arc’teryx.
7mesh CEO Tyler Jordan previously spent 18 years at Arc’teryx. During his tenure, the brand’s tactical and outdoor apparel business grew from $1 million to $180 million.
And the company’s Vice President of R&D, Ian Martin, came from Arc’teryx. The child of a textile artist and an engineer, Martin built his first climbing harness at 15, then launched an outdoor accessories sewing business while still in high school.
Fast forward to Arc’teryx. Martin stayed there for 12 years, winning numerous innovation awards with his hardgoods team, before leaving for 7mesh.
lululemon Deal: What 7mesh Gets
7mesh, a small brand with just eight employees, also has a lot to gain. The cycling apparel maker currently sells online and in 125 retail shops. Lululemon nets $2.6 billion annually, so it will instantly launch 7mesh into a massive new retail market.
That exposure is an obvious win — and the seed money to invest in additional employees helps too.
According to Jordan, so does the access to lululemon’s “hugely talented and experienced group of people.”
“Each business brings its own product expertise and technical prowess to the table, which gives us a huge knowledge pool of different designs, materials, and construction approaches,” he said.
Is 7mesh Selling Out?
From the outside, accepting a deal with activewear giant lululemon may seem like a cash grab. But that’s not how Jordan frames it.
“If ‘selling out’ means quitting our comfy jobs and pouring our life savings into a crazy dream, then we’re guilty as charged,” he said.
“The simple truth is that financing inventory in the seasonal apparel business is really tough. For that reason, we always planned on bringing a minority investor on board in our third year, because otherwise, we couldn’t afford to grow (or maintain) our business.”
“We’re still independent,” he added. “We still have full control of our business.”
For now, the first consumer-facing collection is all 7mesh. Online and in lululemon stores now, it’s an essentials kit for discerning cyclists. The men’s windproof jacket is a hefty $225. But that price point should come as no surprise to existing lululemon customers.
7mesh Downplays Cycling Lycra at All Costs
But don’t expect any flashy patterns or — ahem — Lycra in the 7mesh collection at lululemon stores this summer. Jordan told us that the stretchy, one-size-fits-many benefits of Lycra come at a cost.
“Lycra absorbs and holds a ton of water, which makes those garments much heavier, less comfortable, and much colder,” he said.
So 7mesh designs avoid the popular cycling material. That requires patterning differently, like cutting jerseys on the bias, or diagonal direction of the fabric, and engineering cycling shorts and jerseys to better fit bodies.
More on the current collection:
Mk2 bib short: Technical high-rise, long-length shorts with a breathable chamois and covered or eliminated seams. Men’s $200, women’s $150.
Resistance jacket: An ultra-lightweight windshell jacket is water resistant. Men’s $225, women’s $200.
Quantum jersey: Full-zip, short-sleeve, one-color riding shirt with a five-pocket storage system. Men’s and women’s $140.
Word socks: Anti-stink 6-inch mid-calf socks with airflow zoning on the cuff and 7mesh logo. Four unisex colors match the whole line. Men’s and women’s $20.
The First of Many Collaborations
Today’s 7mesh-lululemon collaboration centers mostly around cycling-specific products, but the R&D could expand to be much broader. Jordan said 7mesh’s technologies could “potentially be applied to a wide range of categories.”
Fall/winter product, for example, is something the 7mesh team has strong experience in from its members’ time at Arc’teryx. Technical outerwear is a hold for lululemon. It remains to be seen what future joint ventures will bring.
As for giving up his company’s goods to a yoga wear behemoth, Jordan’s not too worried about the message that sends.
“Our original mission was, ‘surround ourselves with great people, do great things, and have as much fun as possible along the way.’ We’re staying true to that.”