BUSINESS
06/17/2013 05:52 pm ET | Updated Jun 17, 2013

Lululemon's 'Education' Plan To Get Customers To Trust Revamped Black Yoga Pants

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Lululemon’s notorious sheer pants are back with “more fabric across the bum,” but convincing customers still skeptical of its black yoga pants hasn't been simple.

The sheer pants debacle forced the performance-wear retailer to recall a batch of the garments that it deemed too see-through in March. Earlier this month, the company announced that problems with the pants had been fixed with the revamped luon fabric line. The popular $98 pants are an important part of Lululemon’s business, and the recall involved 17 percent of all the yoga pants the retailer had in stock.

Lululemon has been careful to consider how its revamped black luon pants will affect public perception of the brand. On a conference call with analysts last week, Lululemon Chief Executive Officer Christine Day outlined the “Back in Black” marketing campaign that will accompany the “soft launch” of the black pants as they’re sent out to Lululemon stores everywhere.

Lululemon’s launch will focus on “education” for customers who may worry about the pants following the recall. The company will escalate messages to consumers, starting with emails and “cute online things,” said Day.

There will also be “complete guest education,” which includes new style and fit guides, online videos, a guest feedback forum and a blog called Ask Britt, where customers can question Lululemon’s lead product educator.

Day promised to begin a “unique Lululemon outreach” in July, although she didn’t mention any specifics. Lululemon didn’t respond to a request for comment about the campaign.

Dorothy Crenshaw, the CEO and creative director of public relations agency Crenshaw Communications, said that Lululemon is likely going overboard with the aggressive education of its customers, though it may be necessary under the circumstances. Lululemon has a famously devoted customer base that has been likened to a “cult,” so the thorough response may be warranted, she said.

“I thought it was overcomplicating a problem,” said Crenshaw. “But when you have a brand this big with a following this loyal, you probably have to bend over backwards to solve the problem and then overcommunicate your solutions to the problem.”

“It’s far better to overdo it than underdo it,” Crenshaw added.

Education has been a key part of Lululemon’s ability to foster intense devotion to its brand. For instance, Lululemon store employees are called “educators,” and the company’s website features a plethora of ways to learn about its products and the Lululemon lifestyle -- from Q&A blogs and gobs of information on each item listing.

The launch of the black pants seems to have garnered a lot of attention from the public as well, as Lululemon tries to prove to the world that it fixed the issues that caused the recall. Customers flocked to the brand’s website to comment -- both positively and negatively -- on the return of the pants, and Lululemon’s fans are fully aware of the pants’ status. “Everybody seems to have gotten the message,” said Crenshaw.

Lululemon has suffered a turbulent few months since the recall. Chief product officer Sheree Waterson left the company in April, and Day announced her own departure in June. The company and Day deny that the CEO's decision had anything to do with the costly fabric problems.

Internally, the retailer has improved the inspection systems for its products, utilizing a normalized grading system for its products and taking greater control of technical specifications previously managed by factory partners. Lululemon also added more quality control tests throughout its system, including additional tests to the raw material stage.

Lululemon initially blamed its Taiwanese manufacturer for the problems, but later said the pants may have met the low end of its standards. The manufacturer, Eclat Textile Co., said at the time that the pants it shipped had been made to Lululemon's specifications.

Margaret Bogenrief, a partner at management advisory firm ACM Partners, said Day has done everything she can to mitigate the crisis. She said the ordeal was overblown because the media had three months to “talk about women’s butts and sheer fabric.”

Initially, the recall appeared to the a public relations nightmare that could scar the Lululemon brand. But now, Bogenrief said, it looks like the company will come out with little more than a scratch.

Bogenrief said she isn’t worried about long-term fallout, since most Lululemon customers won’t abandon their beloved brand because of a single recall of pants. Most customers have already proven their loyalty by repeatedly buying hundred-dollar yoga pants, so they’re not going to switch their go-to place for yoga gear because of a negative incident which may not have even affected them, she said.

“They have an extremely loyal customer base, and frankly, I don’t think their customers will be going to [Gap’s] Athleta or anywhere else anytime soon,” said Bogenrief.

“In six months no one will be thinking about this.”

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