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The Future Legacy Bag, a small cross-body bag emblazoned with a maple leaf, is Lululemon's new fundraising item that will replace Hudson's Bay Company's popular red mittens. Ten per cent of sales will go to support Canadian Olympians and Paralympians.Handout

Lululemon will take over as the official outfitter of Canada’s team at the next four Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) and the Canadian Paralympic Committee (CPC) announced Thursday that Vancouver-based Lululemon Athletica Inc. will design Team Canada’s clothing for the Games through 2028, as the deal with long-time outfitter Hudson’s Bay Company comes to an end.

The official outfitter is among the most visible sponsor categories for the COC and CPC. Now, Lululemon, best known for its running and yoga wear, is set to clothe the athletes and staff for the opening and closing ceremonies, on podiums, for media appearances and in the athletes’ village.

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The multiyear partnership will span four Olympic and Paralympic Games, starting with the 2022 Beijing Winter Games, which open in February. The deal also includes the 2024 Paris Summer Games, 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games and the 2028 Summer Games in Los Angeles. Financial details of the deal were not disclosed.

Team Canada’s athlete kit for the Beijing Games will be revealed in late October, along with additional designs available for the public to buy.

“In Lululemon, we have an absolute cutting-edge innovator in its technical design of apparel and accessories, and in the way it thinks about yoga, recovery and mindfulness,” said David Shoemaker, the COC’s chief executive officer and secretary-general.

“The executives and staff of the COC and CPC are overjoyed, and the athletes are over the moon with the selection. So many of them already wear the apparel, and use the accessories and yoga mats and many are already athlete ambassadors, so it’s just a perfect fit.”

Calvin McDonald, Lululemon’s CEO, said when he first shared the news of the outfitting deal with a group of Lululemon store leaders, it prompted tears of joy.

“As a Canadian and a lifelong fan of the Games, I was excited to share the partnership,” he said. “It felt like such a moment for Lululemon.”

Sales at Lululemon have soared during the pandemic as many people have increased their focus on health and wellness, and their interest in athletic and leisure clothing while working from home. The retailer recently shared strong Q2 results.

As McDonald worked on the deal with the COC and CPC, he learned about the tradition that takes place in the athletes’ village of each Games, in which athletes from different countries often trade pieces of team clothing. That prompted McDonald to make a prediction.

“Not only will the Canadians be the best dressed, and the most proud of all the other athletes, but they’re not going to want to trade a single piece,” McDonald said. “So they’re going to want to come back with every piece they went with, and the Canadian kit, from others around the world, will be the most coveted.”

Karen O’Neill, CEO of the CPC, said that Lululemon’s focus on innovating designs and materials was appealing, especially as it pertained to inclusive clothing for Paralympians.

“We’re always interested in looking at performance, innovation, accessibility and inclusive clothing, and oftentimes that doesn’t come right off the rack, particularly when you’re dealing with world-class performance,” O’Neill said. “We want to raise the bar.”

COC’s new deal ends HBC’s 16-year-run, which spanned eight Games, as Team Canada’s official outfitter. The company designed Canada’s uniforms for the Turin, Beijing, Vancouver and London Games, then renewed for 2013 to 2020. Its renewal included the Games in Sochi, Rio, Pyeongchang and Tokyo, plus Pan American and Youth Olympic Games.

The Hudson’s Bay collections included memorable Team Canada athlete garb, from the iconic red parkas and plaid scarves worn to open the Games in Vancouver, to the audacious graffiti-splashed denim jackets they sported while closing the Games in Tokyo.

Hudson’s Bay declined to comment on its now-expired deal, but provided a statement to The Globe and Mail.

“Hudson’s Bay has been a strong supporter of Team Canada for 16 years,” the statement said. “We are incredibly proud of the kits worn by the athletes on the world stage, and the support we provided a generation of athletes. We wish them continued success and remain steadfast fans of Team Canada.”

Canadians bought HBC’s popular red mittens every winter, with proceeds going to help Canadian Olympians since the initiative launched in 2009. There was also a para flip-flop campaign to support Paralympians.

Now a new fundraising item takes the place of those: the Future Legacy Bag from Lululemon, a small cross-body bag emblazoned with a maple leaf. It becomes the new retail give-back item, with 10 per cent of sales going to support Canadian Olympians and Paralympians.

“We’re very grateful to HBC, for those 16 years. And you know, you think of their hero-item red mittens and the para hero item, and what those did to further the dreams of Canadian athletes,” Shoemaker said. “We just felt as though we had a golden opportunity with Lululemon, to bring innovation and a breath of fresh air, and a new approach to the outfitter category. It was an opportunity we simply could not pass up.”

It remains unclear what Team Canada can expect logistically from the Games in Beijing, as the world continues to grapple with the pandemic. The Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics took place this summer after being delayed by a year, and were heavily restricted by COVID-19 protocols. Fans were banned from competitions and limited numbers of athletes could march in opening and closing ceremonies.

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