My Tinfoil Hat Theory re: lululemon’s Sweat Collective Updates & How the Influential Marketing Landscape has Changed

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NOTE: AthletiKaty is a member of the lululemon creator network, and MAY RECEIVE A COMMISSION IF YOU MAKE A PURCHASE through the links below.

Welp, r/lululemon is up in arms in regards to changes to the T&C’s of lululemon’s Sweat Collective program. Here are the key updates:

  • Effective 4/24/23, the Sweat Collective discount will no longer apply to items listed on We Made Too Much.
  • Gift Cards are no longer an accepted form of payment for online orders wishing to use the Sweat Collective discount. They are still accepted in store.
  • The discount only applies to the first $5000 (calculated by adding up the original full price) of items purchased in a year.

Hearsay points to two reasons these changes could be happening, and then I’ve got my own tinfoil hat theory.

  1. In regards to rescinding the WMTM benefit: HQ wants industry professionals in NEW product, promoting that to their clientele as opposed to marked down items.
  2. As far as gift cards go: Resellers with the SC discount have been abusing it on WMTM items in the form of volume purchases, and turning the items around marking them up on the secondhand market. When these items are purchased with Gift Cards online, there is no way to trace the red flaggy purchases to a specific credit card, because the funds are coming from a prepaid GC. This is in direct violation of the Sweat Collective’s terms and conditions. The official language reads:


  • Approved Sweat Collective Program members are eligible to receive a 25% discount on regular-priced product purchases made in the country they are verified in from lululemon stores or lululemon e-commerce only, excluding packaging, shipping & handling charges, applicable taxes, purchases made prior to joining the Sweat Collective Program (the “Discount”). 
  • Discount is for guests who have been verified by SheerID for the Sweat Collective Program, and/or approved by lululemon, in our sole discretion.  Discount can only be used in the country that you were verified inDiscount cannot be used to purchase products for any other people including friends, students or family. You may not allow others to use your Discount, nor purchase products using Discount for any other person, including as gifts.
  • You may not resell any product purchased with Discount. lululemon reserves the right to suspend or cancel membership in the Sweat Collective Program, deny the Discount, or refuse orders to any person suspected of reselling or orders which have characteristics of reselling. 
– lululemon Sweat Collective Terms & Conditions

You’re only supposed to be buying things for yourself. If you buy an 8 usually, but sometimes a 6 or 10, that tracks. But if you’re consistently buying sizes all over the map… strike one. That ain’t for you. So if it’s not for you, who’s it for? Surely you’re not spending thousands of dollars to GIVE it away (which OBTW you can’t do either). You’re buying it to turn it around and sell it. Strike two.

That’s shady. I don’t like shady. I run this blog, so my opinion’s enough for strike three. FU you’re out. So many good people out there who responsibly take advantage of this perk can no longer use a GC they’re received for a birthday unless they live near a store. lululemon is pretty widespread, but stores aren’t necessarily ubiquitous. It’s 15m to my closest store, but a 45m-1h drive to the next.

I’m not even part of the Sweat Collective, but I will get ranty about full-time resellers at any chance I get. It’s why I hate going to outlets. I can pick these shady characters out of the crowd easily, and to know what they’re doing (and see it permitted to happen) ruins my mood 10/10 times. Fuck those guys.

I could rant for hours about those shady characters.

What’s with the $5000 cap?

It seems like an arbitrary number at first, but $5,000 seems like a reasonable estimate of what a semi-addicted person spends on themselves at lululemon in a year. Most of us have accounts our purchases are linked to, so they can see what the average person is spending, vs what’s abnormal.

For transparency and perspective: I, a total lululemon junkie, spend on average about $5K a year there. I purchase with intention to keep, and it’s admittedly a bit excessive for a single person. I’m surely on the high end of the spending spectrum. So… for the minority who is spending in excess of that, how much is it for personal use?

A common resale tactic is to buy WMTM items and turn them around on secondhand platforms at a jacked up price. When the SC discount is introduced into the equation, resellers clear out inventory even faster and profit even more, leaving the rest of us in the dust. But… if this population has to buy items at the same WMTM prices as the rest of us non-SC members do, they have to mark them up in order to profit.

Why would I buy something for $74 from you if lululemon will sell it to me for $54?

My Tinfoil Hat Theory: SC is Out, Creators are In

Alright, time to don my tinfoil hat. Let me make it clear that I do not have ANY insider info about the goings on at lululemon HQ. This is my two cents and my two cents only.

I started this blog post when the news of this began circulating earlier this week, but it wasn’t until this morning that a new light bulb went off over my head upon wading into the internet’s comments section: Reddit. The full email was published on r/lululemon for all to see, and the comments section is FULL of people commenting of how they’re done with the brand, how dare lululemon do this, they are totally raking over their biggest fans. Pitchforks on pitchforks on pitchforks.

One of the common complaints I noticed was how this was a middle finger to the instructors who have been out there building brand awareness from day one. It dawned on me that the original purpose of the Sweat Collective program was to encourage and reward those who were out there in their local communities increasing brand awareness and INFLUENCING their clients (or… FOLLOWERS) to try lululemon product.

See where I’m going with this? Here’s a quick TikTok I hauled off right quick with my hot take:

TL:DR – Content Creators are now far more influential than Sweat Collective members are.

It’s a numbers game. Yes, the original intent of the program to outfit influential leaders in the fitness space was absolutely the right thing to do… way back when. Way back when the concept of a career influencer was not a thing. Way back when TikTok didn’t exist, and Instagram was just a bunch of heavily filtered snapshots of whatever you had for a snack that day.

What even is this? A bowl of Goldfish crackers. This is what Instagram was in 2012.

I miss mundane Instagram. 0 likes on that post and 0 fucks given. Anyway. Algorithms and the concept of “influencers” weren’t a thing, therefore the best way to grow brand awareness was exactly how lululemon was doing it, by getting out in the community. I first heard of lululemon 10 years ago by seeing a few women at the gym wearing it. I didn’t have a For You page for it to show up on.

The Viral Belt Bag & the BBL Jacket

Think about it – the Everywhere Belt Bag was not an instant hit. I got weird looks with my Free Spirit Bag that I picked up for the sake of practicality in 2016. Lululemon released it in 2018, and I got one in 2021 because I thought it would be useful. Realizing it *was* useful and not wanting to dirty up my first one (neo mint), I picked up a black one no problem. The next summer, it became IMPOSSIBLE to find an EBB. They’d sell out instantly. I remember seeing random headlines like “lululemon’s viral belt bag” and thinking to myself ‘WTF it took y’all until now to figure it out? This isn’t exactly a new product.’ I was so confused.

The Define Jacket is having a renewed moment as the “BBL” jacket – it has been around for YEARS. But, all it takes is for one person to make one video, the algorithm pushes it in front of thousands, if not millions, of eyeballs and suddenly a very common core piece is an insanely hot commodity again.

How SC Members are Rewarded vs How Creators Are

I’ve been a member of lululemon’s Creator Network (fka the lululemon collective) since its inception in 2019. This means I’ve got tracking links and a dashboard so I can see what type of content is resonating with people and which products are popular. I can also see if I’ve earned a commission on a transaction or not. There are a few reasons why I might not make anything off of a purchase:

  1. The cookie window closed. (No you don’t get credit for someone’s buying an item they clicked on from your site 8 months ago. Odds are it wasn’t your influence if it took them until today. Thanks for playing.)
  2. The item was returned. (Makes sense.)
  3. A discount was used.

In the old admin platform we used, I was able to see transactional details down to items purchased and promo codes used. Fun Fact: Content Creators (CC’s) don’t make a cent of commission from purchases made by Sweat Collective members, even if they did indeed influence someone with the SC benefit to buy.

This leads me to believe that SC’s and CC’s fall into the same influential space in HQ’s world. Both are rewarded for having influence on the community. SC members get a front end perk in good faith that they actually are creating brand awareness. There’s no way to track if this happens outside of the internet. CC’s get rewarded with a commission thanks to a trackable data set that proves they are driving traffic to the brand and generating revenue.

My theory behind the fact that CC’s do not get credit for influencing SC’s (even if they actually did) because SC’s are also considered influential. To reward a creator for influencing an influencer would be double dipping in the same space.

“It’s Just Not the Same.” No shit, Sherlock.

The marketing landscape has changed. Taking out a full page ad in the newspaper was a BIG DEAL in 1946. Who reads newspaper these days? Magazines, remember them? (RIP Teen People!) All of that has gone digital. Influencer marketing makes it so easy to amplify the voices of everyday people to audiences far and wide. You have 16-year-olds dancing in their parents’ backyards flexing new lululemon weekly.

(I sure as shit couldn’t afford that in high school. I’d been out of college and in the workforce full-time for YEARS before I made enough to live my life and buy nice things. My choice was lululemon or car payment. I unsubscribed from lululemon emails and chose car payment.)

The girl next door doesn’t need a personal training certification to tell 100K followers that the Court Rival skirt is *the* item to wear to school. Creator platforms reach far more eyeballs than a packed yoga studio.

If creators are driving the traffic, they’re rightfully getting rewarded with commissions. These younger creators on TikTok are surely earning more $$$ than I ever did at that age. The income covers the cost of buying more new lululemon, and then some, and it perpetuates the cycle. Good on them. I was clearing dirty tables in a restaurant at 16. I’d much rather have been raking in thousands to prance around in cute new outfits every week.

COVID & the Rise of Virtual “Gyms”

I was a group exercise girlie for YEARS. Going to my local Gold’s Gym and doing all the Les Mills & spin classes were how I made friends as an adult after college. I returned to my hometown after graduation, but several close friends moved away. I did group X at my corporate wellness center and made a bunch of friends at the company in other departments because of it. I moved on to CrossFit and made lifelong friends there. Now I’m dating one of them. Big fan of the social benefits of working out with a bunch of like-minded individuals.

But… the pandemic closed down gyms for MONTHS, and a ton of people turned to home workout options. The home fitness space exploded in popularity. Home gyms became far more common, Rogue Fitness couldn’t keep up with the demand for bumper plates. I now own a Peloton bike… AND a lululemon Studio mirror. Those plus running… that’s what I do. I no longer belong to CrossFit. I accepted a full-time travel position for work and couldn’t justify the expense vs my ability to get there. Anyhow, point is… it’s far more common for fitness-minded individuals to stay home and tailor a workout schedule to their individual needs. Organized fitness is more accessible than it ever was before.

I was a hardcore Group X advocate for years… and even I abandoned it.

So, where are people getting their inspiration if they’re no longer coming to class?

2008 Katy: I’d see someone at the gym wearing a specific brand or style, and think to myself “oooh I want that”

2023 Katy: I see someone on social media wearing a specific brand or style, and think to myself “oooh I want that”

I think it would be a very bad look for lululemon to pull the program entirely. However, Creator-focused marketing efforts can produce the data to back up if they’re effective or not. There’s no real way to track if someone with a SC discount is truly out there leading and influencing within their community through their work, or they’re just enjoying a discount without increasing brand awareness, and possibly using it for other things… like personal financial gain in the form of reselling.

Oh look, we’re at the bottom of the ferris wheel, ready to take us up to the top of this post – where I already touched on the reseller thing.

In Conclusion…

I do believe some of these changes were made in a good faith effort to protect the consumer. However, I fully acknowledge that some Sweat Collective members who relied on the combination of WMTM markdowns and the Sweat Collective discount will be priced out of purchasing lululemon with the same frequency (or at all) moving forward. However, that collateral damage is likely a small price lululemon is willing to pay, given that the majority of their exposure now comes from creator-driven marketing efforts, instead of at the grassroots level.

All stock images property of lululemon athletica

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  1. I replied to your TikTok too. You’re right that community instructors are less critical, but I think they’re still an incredibly important piece of the mix. For example, on social yes things can catch and take off, but it’s so hard to command meaningful attention in this fragmented and busy landscape, and attention the most valuable commodity. In contrast, if you’re in a class you are captive and focusing on your instructor, and maybe how cute her tank is or how you love the color of her aligns. You are singularly focused and for much longer. So- I think you do want both levers to pull. JMHO!

  2. Just an FYI that EBBs have been around since at least 2018, so definitely not an overnight sensation. Also, silly comment but — I really appreciate your correct spelling and grammar. 😀

    1. I remember getting my first belt bag (pre-EBB) and everyone thought I was such a weirdo. Goes to prove that all it takes is one viral video and suddenly something’s a hit overnight. Can’t discredit the influencers (even some content is ‘annoying’ or doesn’t fit our own personal tastes) – if it gets dollars in their pockets, investors are happy.

  3. Thanks for your thoughtful summary of Lululemon’s new strategy. I’ve been following the drama on Reddit and had to opt out, but you’ve outlined perfectly what the issues are. Really enjoy your blog.

    1. Appreciate it – Reddit indeed can get intense at times. No matter what changes, someone will always loudly declare they are “soooo done” with the brand. I think it’s pretty lazy to make a blanket change (especially if they’re able to trace irregular purchasing pattern to specific SC profiles), but it was probably the only way HQ could eliminate the possibility of people doing the same thing at a smaller scale & flying under the radar as well. It sucks that innocent SC members get the shaft because of it.

  4. Given the cut that aftermarket sites take from sales, and the lower demand for lululemon, I really don’t think that anyone was (successfully) using sweat collective to make money. I do think it was abused by people using it for friends, and when they expanded it during Covid to health care workers, I think it went out of control. Shopping at lululemon has been a nightmare this year. I used to order or buy in store every week. The educators are rude, the product is boring, and there are sooooo many other athletic brands I honestly don’t know why lululemon continues to shoot itself in the foot. The $5k limit to their most loyal customers I hope WILL hurt them. That is just illogical IMO. (Also I’ve been trying to apply online for a week with just ERROR! Something went wrong! on the first page). Emailed GEC, got a return email with the wrong name. Emailed back, was asked for the same information I provided in the first email. They are just SO BAD at everything. Meanwhile, ordering from Skims, LSKD, literally anyone else is easy breezy.

What Do You Think?