Dec 04, 2011 6:30 PM GMT
Lululemon Athletica, the retailer of yoga pants and hoodies, has long decorated shopping bags with slogans that appear to have been lifted from self-help books. But this month its bags have asked a question that some may find more provocative: “Who is John Galt?”
The question is the opening line of “Atlas Shrugged,” the novel by Ayn Rand that was published in 1957. Followers of Rand’s free market philosophy, which promotes the idea of individuals living for their self-interest and dismisses altruism, sometimes use the question to signal their allegiance.
Galt would not likely have proclaimed, as Lululemon’s bags once did, that “what we do to the earth, we do to ourselves.” Nor does the online reaction to the campaign suggest that many Lululemon shoppers are fans of Rand’s philosophy, known as Objectivism.
“I was so shocked by being handed this bag today at your Portland, Ore., store that I literally WALKED BACK to return this horrific bag,” one customer wrote on Lululemon’s blog. “In this political and economic climate, I find it baffling that your company would choose such an inflammatory and offensive statement.”
The blog also contains posts from people, many of whom indicate they are Lululemon shoppers, praising the company for promoting Rand’s ideas.
The company, which is based in Vancouver, British Columbia, has declined all media requests for comment about the campaign. But in its blog, the company said that Dennis J. Wilson, the company’s founder and chairman, first read “Atlas Shrugged” when he was 18 years old.
“Only later, looking back, did he realize the impact the book’s ideology had on his quest to elevate the world from mediocrity to greatness (it is not coincidental that this is Lululemon’s company vision),” the blog post stated, adding: “Our bags are visual reminders for ourselves to live a life we love and conquer the epidemic of mediocrity. We all have a John Galt inside of us, cheering us on. How are we going to live lives we love?”
Mr. Wilson, who goes by the name Chip, has plenty of company in the world of business and finance. Many chief executives have cited the book’s influence on their lives, though, unlike Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, they tend to keep their enthusiasm largely to themselves.
Niraj Dawar, a professor of marketing at Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario, speculated that Mr. Wilson might view the bags as an act of “corporate social responsibility.” But Professor Dawar, who also wrote about the issue on his blog, wondered if the shareholders of Lululemon agreed with Mr. Wilson’s fondness for “Atlas Shrugged” and asked if Mr. Wilson could demonstrate that the campaign would improve the company’s financial performance.
“Chip Wilson’s philosophy may not be shared by customers, and there’s little room for these customers to engage in debate, so some of them will express their opinions by walking away,” Professor Dawar said.