Lululemon Founder Says It’s Not For ‘Certain Customers,’ Pans Company’s Diversity Efforts
Lululemon founder Chip Wilson is dismissive of the “whole diversity and inclusion thing” at the athletic apparel company, according to a Forbes story published Tuesday.
“They’re trying to become like the Gap, everything to everybody,” Wilson told the outlet. “And I think the definition of a brand is that you’re not everything to everybody … You’ve got to be clear that you don’t want certain customers coming in.”
Wilson, who is no longer with Lululemon, also criticized the company’s decision to include people in its advertising whom he deemed “sickly” and “unhealthy”-looking and “not inspirational,” according to Forbes.
Wilson founded the apparel brand in 1998 and resigned as chairman in 2013, after making fatphobic remarks in response to a backlash the company received for the sheerness of some of the brand’s leggings.
“Frankly, some women’s bodies just don’t actually work [for the yoga pants],” Wilson said on Bloomberg TV’s “Street Smart” program in November 2013, months after the company initially came under criticism for selling yoga pants that turned out to be see-through. “It’s more really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there over a period of time, how much they use it.”
In recent years, the company has tried to distance itself from Wilson’s infamous comments, introducing extended sizing in 2020. The retailer now says its core values include “personal responsibility, entrepreneurship, honesty, courage, connection, fun, and inclusion.” In 2020, the company created a team dedicated to the principles of inclusion, diversity, equity and action, or “IDEA.”
However, some Lululemon employees have said the company lacks racial sensitivity. One former employee told Business Insider in 2021 that Lululemon remained an emblem of “privileged white wellness.”
Wilson, a 68-year-old billionaire, still owns an 8% stake in Lululemon. He has made or been accused of making a number of controversial comments over the years — including blaming divorce rates on birth control pills and allegedly suggesting that child labor is acceptable.
He has also repeatedly suggested that the “Lululemon” name was chosen with the Japanese market in mind.
“A Japanese marketing firm would not try to create a North American sounding brand with the letter ‘L’ because the sound does not exist in Japanese phonetics,” Wilson wrote in a blog post for the company in 2009, Business Insider reported. “By including an ‘L’ in the name, it was thought the Japanese consumer would find the name innately North American and authentic.”
It’s been rumored for years that Wilson at one point mocked Japanese people for supposedly mispronouncing the name “Lululemon.”
“It’s funny to watch them try and say it,” Wilson allegedly said in 2005, according to the Canadian outlet The Tyee.
Wilson later denied making these comments.