Photos: How Lululemon Athletica is bringing designers closer to customers

How far do your product designers and engineers have to travel to meet real, living, breathing customers?

At the new Lululemon Lab store in Manhattan’s Noho neighborhood, the answer is “just about 10 feet.”

Customers come in to peruse merchandise in the front of the store, and when they head to the fitting rooms to try it on, or to a counter to pay for it, they’re just a few steps away from the designers and sample sewers who work in the back half of the space.

It’s an effort on the part of $2 billion Lululemon, based in Vancouver, Canada, to understand and create products for an urbanite who may not be a regular visitor to the yoga studio — someone who wants comfortable clothes for a bike ride to work or a brisk walk home, but doesn’t want to bring a change of clothes. The Lab store also carries heavier outerwear for New York winters.

Most of the merchandise is designed in the store, manufactured elsewhere in small runs of 50, and sold only at this location. It creates a tight feedback loop between designers, customers, and the clerks who staff the store. It’s hard not to notice, for instance, when a batch of 50 items sells out in a few days, or isn’t moving after a few weeks.

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