Lululemon Athletica Inc. shares are not far off the record they hit in June, and for good reason.

The yoga apparel chain delivered blockbuster first-quarter results and significantly bumped up its earnings guidance for the full year. Plus, as I noted earlier this week, the short-term outlook for clothing retailers is better now than it has been in years, and Lululemon is well-positioned to take advantage.

The recent sizzle at Lululemon makes for a good occasion to step back and acknowledge just what a force it has become in the apparel business — and why that should be simultaneously scary and encouraging for other players in the specialty format.

The Vancouver-based company has done something truly remarkable in the last several years. Despite operating in the hyper-competitive athletic segment and enduring no shortage of leadership drama, Lululemon’s sales have vaulted past those of some of the most prominent names in the old guard of specialty apparel.

Its revenue still remains below that of some other big chains in the category, including Victoria’s Secret and Gap. But you get the point: Lululemon is not just a disruptor or a spoiler for the industry’s big guns. It is a big gun, and it is pulling away from some of the names that defined the last two or three decades of mall retailing.

Lululemon, notably, has reached this sales threshold in a healthy way. It had just 274 stores in the U.S. at the end of the latest quarter, a manageable portfolio in the digital era. And its e-commerce growth in the last quarter was especially strong, hinting that it is gaining momentum in that channel.

And Lululemon’s gross margin is most likely the envy of many…