When Santa Monica, Calif., publicist Kevinie Woo got the word of a looming shortage, “at first I was a little bit panicked.”
The product in question: yoga pants. But not just any yoga pants.
Lululemon Athletica Inc., the purveyor of pricey athletic wear, warned this week of a squeezed supply of its signature black yoga pants, form-fitting women’s garments that have developed an almost cult-like following nationwide.
The news came after the company announced it would be recalling thousands of pairs from store shelves because of a manufacturing defect. Customers had complained that the material was too sheer, revealing more than the bendy-stretchy crowd was accustomed to seeing.
“The only workout clothes I buy are from Lululemon,” said Woo, who practices yoga as many as five times a week. “I wish they would have caught it sooner, but at least they were honest about it.”
Chalk it up to the sisterhood of the tree-pose pants — workout fanatics including actress Reese Witherspoon and supermodel Gisele Bundchen have flocked to Lululemon gear in recent years as meditation and stretching becomes an increasingly stylish activity.
The black yoga pants are especially beloved, with reviewers often going to ecstatic lengths to describe their charms. For active women, they’re nearly as ubiquitous as jeans — worn not just to the gym but also to the grocery store and the office. Some believe the pants have near-magical powers to suction in tummies and thighs — like Spanx, but more comfortable.
Screenwriter and yoga instructor Hilary Galanoy, 44, of Hollywood said Lululemon is the most popular brand among her students.
“What’s great is that it lasts forever,” she said. “I’ve had some of their things for six or seven years, and they still look good.”
Many fans see the pants as the equivalent of a caramel macchiato at Starbucks: reliable, satisfying and totally worth the hefty price. Lululemon’s Astro yoga pants, for example, are $98 online.
In Southern California, where yoga studios sometimes seem as plentiful as palm trees, Carrie O’Brien, 42, said she’s willing to pay up for workout wear.
“If I can get it at Target for $19.99, that’s great,” the Los Angeles resident said. “But (if a Lululemon style) makes my butt look smaller, I’ll pay $20 more.”
But the recall — the latest in a series of quality problems for the Vancouver, British Columbia, company — may have strained the loyalty of some Lululemon faithful.
“You look around, and it’s everybody wearing those clothes, even those who don’t do yoga,” said Erin Henry, 31, a model who was running errands in Santa Monica. “They’ve gone mass market. With companies that expand so quickly, quality tends to go downhill.”
Lululemon said late Monday that it pulled its Luon women’s pants from its stores and e-commerce sites over the weekend after learning about “a level of sheerness in some of our women’s black Luon bottoms that falls short of our very high standards.”
The company is offering customers full refunds for or exchanges of the pants, which make up 17 percent of the women’s pants and crop pants the chain sells in stores.
The chain said it was still investigating how the batch of too-skimpy pants was allowed to reach stores.