The value of the global activewear market was estimated at $353.5 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow at a 3.7% CAGR over the next six years, reaching $439.17 billion by 2026, according to investment firm Comprar Acciones. The activewear industry has always been very competitive; staying innovative is key to differentiation.
Lululemon Athletica, one of the most popular activewear brands among Yoga enthusiasts, has announced several initiatives to minimize environmental impact with sustainable materials. Gulshan Kumar, GM of Lululemon Taiwan, shared with DIGITIMES how the company innovates and his views on the post-pandemic lifestyle.
Kumar will be joining alongside Rachel Lau, managing partner at RHL Ventures, and Marcel Yang, special assistant to the CEO of Giant Bicycles at the next Asia Venturing roundtable, to talk about innovating the traditional industries – Golden opportunities in Asia, hosted by Anchor Taiwan and DIGITIMES, at 8:00-9:30 AM, September 14th, Taipei/HK/SG time.
Q: Lululemon has been lauded as one of the most innovative companies. And its innovations were mostly with materials. Any reason for that? Where did the inspiration come from?
A: When it comes to our gear, we're kind of obsessed with technical performance and innovation, be it raw materials or be it product. As the raw material is always at the core of a product, a lot of focus goes on creating and developing the next big innovative material. A lot of inspiration comes from a constant pursuit of making products that exceed our guests expectations. For example, our solution to hotter, tougher studio classes led to cool-feeling, super-fast-drying Everlux fabric. Our team of scientists and researchers from our in-house innovation lab, set to create a fabric to master the extreme conditions, so our guests can stay comfortable for every sweaty minute.
Q: Could you introduce your background and share with us some insights on the latest trends in material innovation in the textile industry?
A: I am a textile technocrat by education and profession. I did my majors in textile engineering and have always worked in textile and apparel supply chain, covering a wide variety of roles & functions such as manufacturing, trading, retail, and brand side of the business. I also worked in multiple locations such as India, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Mainland China, and Taiwan. Talking about the latest trends in material innovation, I would say it's all about movement, performance, and feel. Any innovations that can help elevate the overall performance of a product keeping movement and feel at the forefront would click immediately.
Q: What is the secret sauce for Lululemon's innovations? Do you have R&D Labs to do the innovation or seek external sources?
A: As I mentioned above, we believe very strongly about innovation and would always look at ways to innovate our products. We have our own internal teams and lab to always keep an eye on the next big idea, understand those objectives with a lot of scientific study and data behind. We also connect with lots of external sources and believe strongly in co-creating. For example, a lot of our raw material vendors who are completely aligned with our brand vision continue to present and share innovative ideas with us, which acts as a seed to grow something big for our future business growth.
Q: During the COVID-19 pandemic period, indoor sports became so important for people during the lockdown period. Do you think that is going to change post-pandemic? What is the new opportunity for innovation that Lululemon is looking forward to?
A: It's true that COVID has accelerated the need to have more indoor activities, especially the at-home workouts. We strongly believe that the trend to stay physically active will remain high even in the post-COVID. We look forward to continuing to bring sustainable innovations in the future. We have recently announced some of them through our press releases. Our commitment to creating a healthier environment comes with investing in sustainable materials and developing unique alliances for collective impact.
Q: Smart clothing (with IoT sensors attached to get insights) has attracted some attention lately. What are your thoughts on that?
A: Personally, I believe it's an interesting mix of traditional technology and modern technology. It will definitely find its adoption in several industries such as healthcare, activewear, spacesuits, etc., with a strong potential to be the next big revolution. A lot of research & development is going into smart clothing so as to make them more commercially viable.
Bio of Gulshan Kumar
Gulshan Kumar is a strategic thinker and an exceptional people leader with over 24 years of extensive experience in material management, manufacturing & costing excellence, strategic sourcing, material innovations, sustainability, colors & chemicals management. As general manager at Lululemon Taiwan, he is responsible for supply chain management for all the global raw material vendors except the Americas. An out-and-out champion for diversity and empowerment, Gulshan is also passionate about co-creating innovative possibilities in partnership with vendors. Throughout Gulshan's career, he has worked with hundreds of key industry vendors globally with the last 15 years residing in HK, Shanghai, and Taipei.
Prior to Lululemon, Gulshan had been group head (materials) at Puma, director of raw materials at Calvin Klein (PVH), to name a few.
(Editor's note: Asia Venturing is a series of monthly roundtables with roadmaps to the future focusing on the hype v.s. the reality of Asia's supply chain-boosted innovation ecosystem, jointly powered by DIGITIMES and Anchor Taiwan. We bring together leading industry luminaries, corporate strategists, experienced investors, and entrepreneurs to expand your network and redefine the possibilities of cross-border opportunities. The replay of the latest session can be seen on DIGITIMES or Anchor Taiwan)