Lululemon’s newest ambassador, Mirna Valerio, has been a runner since 1989, when she was a freshman in high school. She started running because she wanted to get better at field hockey and lacrosse, but fell in love with the sport because it made her a better athlete. Today, the bestselling author and sought-after speaker focuses her life on spreading health awareness and advocating for inclusion in the running community toward people of all races, sizes, genders and backgrounds. She is now partnering with lululemon to advise the brand on its inclusion, diversity, equity and action (IDEA) commitments.
Valerio’s running story wasn’t as smooth as it sounds. She ran recreationally through college, but as an adult, life circumstances got in the way. She was working a stressful job, living with her son in a different state than her husband, and driving back and forth on weekends so the family could be together. Her health began to suffer until, finally, she began having chest pains, which doctors diagnosed as a panic attack. The cardiologist told her that if she didn’t change her lifestyle, she was going to die. Valerio got back on her treadmill, re-prioritized her life and never looked back. After rebuilding her fitness, she began competing in 5Ks and 10Ks, sometimes doing four in one week.
“Yeah, I lost weight, but that wasn’t my goal,” she says. “My goal was to not die — to take better care of myself and to feel better.”
Those 10Ks turned into half-marathons, and she immediately got hooked on long distances because they allowed her to spend so much time outside. In 2011, she ran her first marathon, and a year later, she did her first trail marathon. She loved it, and as soon as registration opened for the next year’s event she signed up again, this time for the 50K. According to Valerio, ultrarunning is the perfect sport.
“It’s always an adventure,” she says. “You learn about yourself, what your body can take, that your body can take much more than you think it can, you learn about boredom and entertaining your mind.”
When lululemon first reached out to her to be an ambassador, Valerio says she was skeptical. After all, they didn’t even make clothes that fit her. Despite her misgivings, she gave them a chance, and did a lot of research into how the company has changed with regards to representation and diversity. She also got a chance to try on some clothes, and she was surprised at how much she loved them.
“Every time a company makes stuff for plus size, they don’t use a plus-size fit model, they just raise the sizes proportionally to a ‘straight size’ model,” she explains, “which doesn’t work.”
She was pleasantly surprised with the fit, performance and functionality of the clothes, and commented on how exciting it was to have clothes that not only fit well, but made her feel good while she was wearing them. Valerio added that plus-size people are normally relegated to the bottom of the barrel when it comes to fashion and functionality of clothing, and lululemon has clearly done a lot of work to reverse that trend within their own brand.
“Sixty per cent of women in the United States are size 14 and up,” she says, “and we want clothes. There’s a lot of fat-phobia, there’s a lot of body image wars going on, and I think that companies who don’t jump on the bandwagon are going to be left behind.”
She adds that this is also important in terms of building community, because if you want to create one that is sustainable, you have to include as many people as you possibly can. As an ambassador for the brand, Valerio plans to promote her five core values, which are joy, adventure, community, inclusion and learning. She wants to show people that they can have adventure and have access to joy in whatever they choose to do. She also considers herself a community builder, and her goal is to find the people who aren’t feeling included in the community and figure out a way to change that.
Valerio is now a part of lululemon’s ambassador advisory board, a role that will allow her to meet with senior leaders in the company and advise them on how they can make their brand more equitable and inclusive. She says that while lululemon has done an incredible amount of work so far, there is still more to be done. Finally, she says it is important for brands and companies to acknowledge that nothing exists without social justice, inclusion, diversity and equity.
“Commerce isn’t apart from that,” she explains. “Customers are becoming extraordinarily savvy, and they want the products that they consume to come from companies that care about actual people.”
She adds that these companies are also made up of employees that have lived experiences, and when you ignore that as a company you’re ignoring your own employees and the things that make them who they are. The role, she says, of any company is to make sure their customers are safe, part of a community, respected and regarded no matter what their identities are and to make sure your marketing and advertising is representative of the community that you serve, or the community you want to serve in the future.
Valerio is joining the lululemon team just in time for the brand to launch the new lululemon Global Run Campaign, which begins on Tuesday, March 30. The campaign is encouraging runners to feel closer to their run, leaning into the feeling of running as opposed to performance. Drawing on the brand’s longtime passion for mindfulness, the campaign is celebrating the daily achievements of all runners, from the front to the back of the pack. It will highlight how lululemon is working to make running more accessible and inclusive, helping to change the perspective of what a runner “looks like” and creating more representation in the running community.
“I am so honoured,” says Valerio. “It’s so cool to live in a time like this and to be a part of things like this.”