The Year of Athleisure, with Lululemon’s Chief Science Officer

By Kaitlin Milliken |  March 24, 2021

The Path to Chief Science Officer

Waller joined Lululemon over eight years ago, as the company’s Chief Product Officer. In this role, Waller says he looked across the different parts of the company for the most creative people who could “attack that future” of the brand. Waller later gathered these bring minds into a new department within Lululemon, specifically dedicated to exploring white-space opportunities.

“I don’t think that any one entity or any one person, [or] only one team should run innovation,” Waller explained. “So, we set out to say, … ‘We will be the scientific, technical, engineering arm of the company… What we will focus on are those white spaces…that we believe that our guest, our consumer, wanted us to go and sit in or create.”

With the greater emphasis on a scientific approach, Waller’s title shifted again to Chief Science Officer. With his rebranded title, he now reports to the CEO. His team of 30 works on “more advanced projects, the ones that [could] take the brand somewhere else.”

Testing Concepts in the Real World

Lululemon has lab locations in urban areas across the world. These concept stores enable the brand to test out new designs with consumers who are able to show their enthusiasm through real-world purchases.

“The lab itself is a design study, where we’re looking for how communities are behaving just at the edge of where we might go…[for example, in the] future of…dressing in a highly urban environment,” Waller says. “It’s actually a team of people dedicated to that aesthetic study of pushing where our aesthetic might go because we’re very, very aware that our guests cover a massive spectrum of people.”

The brand has also opened experience stores globally. While these locations also sell clothing, experience stories act as a hub for brand ambassadors. For example, Waller pointed to one 25,000-square-foot store in Chicago where guests can talk about their experience with the Lululemon teams. The space also includes a yoga studio, restaurant, working space, and meditation and mindfulness spaces.

The Limits of New Technology

When working with new technology — including Internet of Things products, augmented reality, and virtual reality — Waller says he is looking at experiences that engage all human senses.

“Often we get talked at as if this is the only thing that matters. This little bundle of senses at the top of our bodies,” he says, while gesturing to his head. “The reality is we need deep sensory immersion, and that immersion needs to be from multiple angles.”

The need to engage multiple senses can create challenges in e-commerce, Waller notes. Customers are not able to feel the product or see how the size of an item compares to their body. “We choose products for how they feel,” he says. “If we want to have things that are a little tighter, a little more supportive, then we have to be able to choose that.”

The future of online shopping may include ways to incorporate feel into the shopping experience, he says, “but a simple audio-visual display is not enough.”

Even with e-commerce options, customers are likely to continue to gather in stores — especially once pandemic restrictions are lifted. “We will come back together… I think what will come back is people getting into community, in close proximity with each other.”