Lululemon billionaire founder Chip Wilson has found himself in hot water for making divisive comments. The high-end yoga retail chairman announced his resignation after months of public scrutiny over his comments about the size women’s thighs. Michael Casey, lead director of the board, will succeed him while Laurent Potdevin will replace CEO Christine Day, who announced plans to resign in June.
The executive shake-up comes on the heels of more than nine months of controversy that began in March when the company recalled $67 million worth of its fitted Luon pant following an outpour of complaints that the fabric was too sheer. The popular pants accounted for nearly 17 percent of sales, and though Lululemon released a new version in June, more complaints followed over pilling fabric. But it was Wilson who sparked public furore when he suggested that female customer’s thighs were the problem, during a Bloomberg TV interview.
“Some women’s bodies just don’t actually work for it. It’s really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there. I mean over a period of time, and how much they use it,”
“I’m sad for the people at Lululemon…that have really had to face the brunt of my actions. I take responsibility for all that has occurred and the impact it has had on you. I’m sorry to have put you all through this.”
This isn’t the first faux paus for Wilson, who founded the Vancouver-based company in 1998. Here’s a look back:
Toting Randian Objectivism
In 2011 the then-CEO ordered up Lululemon tote bags emblazoned with the famed Tea Party slogan and Ayn Rand quote, “Who is John Galt?” The line is famously pulled Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, which argues for objectivism, or the pursuit of self-interest. The bag stirred mixed reactions, puzzling some over how the concept pertains to the Hindu and Buddhist values of yoga. Wilson explained in a blog post he was inspired by Rand when he read the book at age 18.
“Our bags are visual reminders for ourselves to live a life we love and conquer the epidemic of mediocrity. We all have a John Galt inside of us, cheering us on. How are we going to live lives we love?”
Charging up for plus-sized customers
In 2005 Wilson defended Lululemon’s business model to exclude plus sizes from the brand in an interview with the Calgary Herald, arguing that it would take at least 30 percent more fabric to create bigger clothes. Subsequently, Wilson said he would have to charge more but he would never do that because plus-size people are “sensitive.”
“It’s a money loser for sure,” he said. “I understand their plight, but it’s tough.”
Child labor is ok
Lululemon again came under scrutiny when Wilson seemed to support the practice of child labor in third world countries at a Vancouver business sustainability conference in 2005, The Tyee reported.
“I look at it the same way the WTO does it, and that is that the single easiest way to spread wealth around the world is to have poor countries pull themselves out of poverty.”
In 2004 Wilson told the National Post Business magazine that he selected the name “Lululemon” because Japanese have a difficult time pronouncing the letter “L.”
“It’s funny watching them try to say it. “