In the episode of the SLN Podcast, a friend of the network, Kim Blair from Cooper Perkins interviews his close friend, Tom Waller, who is now the Chief Science Officer at Lululemon. Kim covers a variety of topics, including Tom’s early career dating all the way back to Tom’s Ph.D. in sports technology.

Tom shares how that led him down a path at the intersection of design engineering and human performance. Tom went on to consult for many of the sports industry’s largest brands before joining Lululemon and ultimately founding the famed Whitespace, Lululemon’s R & D and innovation group. Tom also touched on why Lululemon is a community first brand, the meaning of Sweatlife, and how Mirror integrates into their plans.

Podcast Highlights

4:00 – Ph.D.’s are for people who don’t want jobs: “One day he (Professor Mike Cain) said, hey, do you want to do a Ph.D.? Or would you ever consider a Ph.D.? And I sort of said, well, not really. Aren’t PhDs for the people that don’t want to get jobs. I really want to get a job. He said, but  what if we create something so unique and useful that the industry like falls over itself to work with us.”

15:12 – Clothing was the slowest moving category: “Clothing or apparel felt like it just hadn’t had very much attention. It felt like it was the slowest moving, furthest behind category. Full of sorts of myths and legends and rainbows without pots of gold. And I thought surely apparel can have a more meaningful existence or importance in terms of how it’s driving human performance.”

28:43 – Designing a suit for Speedo that was illegal: “Other companies were introducing more wetsuit based materials. So they would trap a lot more air. They were inherently buoyant in themselves and that more and more records were falling from our competitive garments as well, not just our products.”

36:24 – The Whitespace team: “One of those jargon statements is that the white spaces, these places adjacent to our company that maybe we should occupy. And I thought that was a much more meaningful way of representing what I thought we could do. Which is in the business they didn’t have people like me. So I was like, I’ll hire what we don’t have and our partnership with you so that we together can go and work on building capabilities in these white spaces.”

39:44 – Accessing new levels of performance: “I could see that every person on the planet was starting to get more concerned about their performance, whatever performance meant to them. And so that mixing of emotional and physical was something that we could do.”

41:20 – The most important technology to understand and develop is the human: “Without any doubt in my mind, the most important technology to understand and develop is the human. And I really wish more companies would recognize that because I think that there’s a lot of technologies that are just not necessary. And I have a fairly healthy distaste for people that post solutions in front of problems.”

44:45 – Clothes are an enabler to performance: “If you put them in the right way onto the body in the right way and if you understand the individual physically and emotionally and socially then that’s how you help them get the best out of their performance. I just think that it would be a shame to only take that philosophy and apply it to elite athletes because every person probably has a goal that they’d like to achieve and the same rules apply.”

47:07 – Lululemon is the Sweatlife company: “So first and foremost, we’re a community company. Our stores are a reflection of the community that they occupy. And the store manager is somewhat the CEO of the community, and they have to reflect and partner with their community because every community is different. Some are, you know, studio, heavy, yoga, heavy run, heavy, you know, entrepreneur, heavy, urban, rural, you know, they’re all different.

So they all need to be met where they are at. In that, what we always bring is this culture. And we call this culture, the Sweatlife. And the Sweatllife to us is how we as individuals at the company and in our communities, encourage people to sweat. So for them to develop their physical fitness, grow, develop their emotional fitness, and connect, develop their social fitness.”

49:25 – Lululemon and Mirror: “Mirror came along as just a best-case scenario of a portal that was an enabler of the Sweatlife that could be in everyone’s home. It’s so versatile. It didn’t really pick and choose between any one activity, just like we don’t as a company. So there was this marriage that I think quickly became real to us.”