Lululemon designed Canada’s Olympic outfits as an artistic ode to the country

Sure, the Olympics are about feats of athletic prowess. But they’re also about fashion. And this summer, the games are being held in Paris, arguably the fashion capital of the world. 

Lululemon, the official outfitter of Team Canada, understood the assignment. “We were focused on functionality, but we didn’t compromise on style,” says Audrey Reilly, Lululemon’s creative director who led the design of Canada’s kits. 

Lululemon was tasked with designing athletes’ outfits for their entire experience at the Olympics. This includes the big moments, like the opening and closing ceremonies, receiving medals on the podium, and speaking with the media. It will also provide outfits for travel and casual wear while relaxing in the village. However, it does not create outfits for individual sporting events. 

[Photo: Lululemon]

Inside Lululemon’s design process

Lululemon uses in-depth focus groups and product testing in the design process for its athleisure, and it used the same approach when designing Canada’s kits. Designers spent months carrying out focus groups with 19 Olympic and Paraolympic athletes across 14 sports to understand  their needs. They weren’t just interested in the physical needs, but also their emotional and social needs. “We believe that how you feel has a major impact on your performance,” says Reilly. “So we wanted to hear how we could help them feel stronger and more confident.”

[Photo: Lululemon]

The opening ceremony outfits are particularly striking. Athletes will wear a deep red bomber covered in a complex print featuring flowers and even animals. “This is a moment of national pride,” she says. “And Canada is known for its natural landscapes. We wanted the print to be a kind of talisman, helping the athletes feel like they’re carrying a part of their home with them.”

But there were also practical concerns. Between July and September, Paris is sweltering, and the athletes wanted to remain cool. The bomber jacket has mesh panels, vents, and a perforated liner that increases airflow. And when things get very hot, there are straps in the jacket so they can take it off and wear it as a backpack. 

[Photo: Lululemon]

In focus groups, athletes mentioned that they tended to feel anxious when it came to speaking with the media. So Reilly’s team created a rain jacket in more muted browns and cream that are designed to be soothing. 

A customizable kit

It was also important to some athletes to be able to express themselves through these outfits. Melissa Humana-Paredes, on the beach volleyball team, wanted to be able to adapt the kits to fit her own personal style. So Lululemon made sure to create outfits that were customizable. Athletes can wear shorts or trousers in the opening ceremony, for instance. With the podium outfits, atheletes can wear jackets with or without sleeves. The jacket for media interviews is translucent, so the unique outfit you wear underneath will peak through. 

[Photo: Lululemon]

But there were also some very practical concerns. Reilly says that 55% of athletes at the games will be in wheelchairs, and most haven’t had Olympic outfits that are particularly suited to their needs. Lululemon created many adaptive garments, including a carpenter trouser that is specifically suited to sitting in a wheelchair. It is made of soft fabric with minimal seams and no back pockets for a more comfortable seated experience. And it has pull on loops to make it easier to get dressed while seated. Athletes also said they needed storage on their garments, to hold their phones and wallets. These trousers have pockets below the knees and at the front of their hips, so they can easily access items without them falling into the wheelchair seat. 

The Closing Ceremony outfit is also inspired by nature. It features a beautiful print of the Aurora Borealis, as seen from Canada. It was created by Mason Mashon, an indigenous artist from the Saddle Creek Cree Nation. Reilly says that the print is designed to make the athletes feel proud. “Pride means many things,” she says. “Our athletes are proud of the diversity in Canada and our culture and art. We want them to feel all of this as they close out the games.”