Lululemon is striking a stronger pose with men

September 12, 2014, 6:16 PM UTC
lululemon athletica Hosts Complimentary Yoga Citywide
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 20: lululemon athletica host complimentary yoga classes all over London on March 20, 2014 in London, England in celebration of it's first store opening in the United Kingdom. lululemon athlectica opens in Covent Garden on March 28, 2014. (Photo by Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images for lululemon athletica)
Photograph by Tim P. Whitby — Getty Images

More men appear to be striking a pose in Lululemon Athletica’s gear.

The high-priced yoga-maker is reporting strong sales for its menswear business, which isn’t as large as the women’s side but is growing quickly. Comparable sales of men’s gear increased 5% at Lululemon’s (LULU) stores in the latest quarter, following a 9% increase in the first quarter. That growth contrasts with single-digit declines in same-store sales for the total business in the first half of the year.

The retailer is so encouraged by the men’s business that it is opening its first male-focused standalone store this fall in the chic SoHo neighborhood in New York City.

But is Lululemon benefiting from more men striking a warrior pose? The jury is still out on that question. More Americans are practicing yoga (20.4 million in 2012, up from 15.8 million in 2008) but only 18% of them are men, according to a survey conducted on behalf of Yoga Journal. More timely data isn’t available, so it is hard to say if yoga is courting more male interest.

But it is an undeniable fact that athletic-gear purveyors are benefiting from stronger sales than the overall apparel category, driven partly by greater interest in athletic fashion. Lululemon also sells running gear, a category that appeals more evenly to men and women.

Lululemon hasn’t disclosed if running or yoga gear is appealing more toward men, or even if the sales growth is driven by a balanced performance. But running and yoga have some natural synergies. Runner’s World, for example, showcases an entire series of yoga videos on the magazine’s website to teach runners about yoga. And yoga is a popular cross-training activity for runners that train for marathons and other long-distance events.

Meanwhile, some of the men’s gear sales at Lululemon aren’t even by the men themselves. Morningstar analyst Bridget Weishaar said some female shoppers, the core customer base at Lululemon, are also picking up gear for their husbands. Men are also introduced to the brand when shopping with their wives. And once they are in the store, Lululemon’s designs could help tip the scale toward a sale.

“It is a premium brand, so if the design is masculine enough, I think that they have had and will continue to have traction with men,” Weishaar said.

When Chip Wilson founded Lululemon in the late 1990s, he initially wanted to build a company that would sell gear to women interested in athletic apparel, with focus on yoga. Success from that business model led to strong sales and copycats, as Gap (GPS) and others have entered the space after seeing how well Lululemon performed for many years.

The strong performance from the men’s line, as well as soaring sales for gear aimed at teens, has helped diversify Lululemon’s business and also gives the retailer more opportunities to expand sales without just relying on stretchy pants and yoga mats.

In some ways, Lululemon’s overtures to men echoes what Under Armour (UA) has been doing to appeal to women. Under Armour’s roots are in men’s apparel, when company founder Kevin Plank became frustrated by the uncomfortable cotton shirts he wore when playing football at the University of Maryland.

In the early years, Under Armour struggled in the women’s aisle, with management admitting the “shrink it and pink it” strategy—resizing a men’s style and adding some color—was a bust. But Under Armour appears to have learned some lessons along the way. Plank in July told analysts that he believed the women’s business could one day be as large, if not larger, than the men’s side. Under Armour this summer debuted a high-profile marketing campaign that focuses on several female athletes, including ballerina Misty Copeland. New ads also feature model Gisele Bündchen.