Lululemon is known for lots of things. Stretchy pants, controversial CEO's, an Innovative Retail Approach, and influencers and ambassadors. But, did you know they also have a mandate to elevate communities with authentic relationships and inspired leadership?
lululemon actually hires and trains community mavens to connect their local relationships and stores to the brand, creating the stories that define the brand, in a relevant and hyper-local voice. The Maven is “a people and industry leader who collaborates with area partners to create and implement a community strategy, grounded in innovation.” This leader is accountable for supporting a key/influential market and elevating the level of health and mindfulness.
This idea is fascinating and so few brands take that approach. We wanted to find out more and sat down with Montreal Maven, Amanda Weil to find out more.
Origin: Part of the brand's success has been this philosophy of a decentralized model and having the power of decision making given to the local community and store managers vs. HQ. How has this proven to work for the brand?
Amanda: We grew into the company we are today almost accidentally, as we started as a grassroots company that put community first. Even the first store was about connecting with the local community and getting their help in developing the store and the product. Now, our store employees are the ones who know best what their community needs. Decentralized makes sense because those on the ground interact with guests every day and know what’s relevant in each community. What’s relevant in Toronto might not be the same as in London or LA.
Origin: So, how do you know it’s working?
Amanda: Through relationships and partnerships. We’re a brand that focuses on collaboration and relationship so when we see those thriving, we know our work is meeting its goals.
Origin: Tell us more about this maven role and what you do?
Amanda: The word “maven” came from the book The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. Back when we started, the founder Chip Wilson coached and trained his staff by giving each employee a book to help them develop themselves personally and professionally. All those books are now part of the lululemon “core library”. The Tipping Point talks about the maven - an expert in a field. They are connectors by nature, they are able to see into the future and see what’s relevant and be able to influence other people in their circles. Every small conversation leads up to a tipping point - a mainstream idea known across a greater community.
This role has existed for 4 to 5 years, it’s a new role to the company. Right now, there are 4 mavens in Canada and 5 in the USA in select cities. Our organization is constantly re-evaluating how we work, not just what we do. We know that in order to serve our bigger purpose, we need to stay relevant and not get stuck in the past. The original intent of these maven roles was to disrupt the status quo, serve our local communities, and guide the organization into the future. The maven role is changing and moving away from being community managers and allow the mavens to go back to the original purpose - to be on a community disruption team for North America. So, now all mavens sit together in one team and report to one manager to learn from each other. The role is about disrupting the community.
Origin: What does that mean?
As mavens on the Community Disruption team, we are the community scientists of our cities. We observe and gather information like a researcher would - to assess the needs of our local market. The way I like to think about the role is that we, as Mavens, are responsible for serving our city first, rather than the brand. The results will come if we are staying true to our greater purpose and how that can positively impact our local market.
Simply put, disruption means “not status quo”. How are we partaking in the important conversations? And, how are we staying on top of trends, globally but also locally so we know how to bring the brand into the future? Lots of departments are asking for our input. This community disruption will affect all levels of the business – product, R+D, marketing, etc. We’re in the beginning phases to influence decisions at all levels.
Origin: Specifically, what types of things do you do that impact the communities in which you operate?
Amanda: Specifically, developing relationships with key people in the cities. For Montreal, the maven develops relationships within the art and music community. I know those are areas that people are looking to creatives for inspiration so it’s a great fit for lululemon. At a time where there’s a ton of shit going on in the world, working with those creatives allows us to share what we stand for in the world. It’s the message of being true to yourself, having an impact on your community, creating experiences.
Origin: Give me an example of creating experiences with local communities for the locals.
Amanda: One example is Montreal’s Mural Festival. Through that, people get to know our brand, we get to meet people where they’re at, in their scene. This is both a guest acquisition strategy and a giving back strategy. But, the relationship piece is the most important. We need to be true and authentic which is at the core of our decisions. It really is about relationships on the ground vs. fake social media relationships and human beings connecting.
Origin: What does the future hold? What can you tell us about innovations coming from lululemon?
Amanda: You can expect lulu to stay true to the brand. We’re in a unique place to help human connections and mindfulness and yoga. I think this is more than ever right now, lulu is looking to be ourselves and find ways to reach new communities that could benefit from being in a relationship with us and that we can learn from. We are not the brand that knows it all, we like to partner with those who are best at what they do so we can learn from them and help them spread the message they want to share if it aligns with our values and mission
Innovation is important to us.