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June 14, 2024

Lululemon Founder Criticizes Diversity Efforts, Sparks Backlash

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Jan 5, 2024

Lululemon founder Chip Wilson is making controversial comments criticizing the company’s diversity and inclusion initiatives, eliciting strong reactions and calls for boycotts. Wilson claims the efforts to expand Lululemon’s customer base are watering down the brand.

What Did Wilson Say?

Chip Wilson, who founded Lululemon in 1998 and served as CEO until 2005, slammed the retailer’s diversity and inclusion efforts in an interview on January 3rd with the Bet On Black podcast. His controversial comments focused on three key areas:

Body Types

Wilson stated that the push to use more diverse models and offer larger sizes was harmful: “Lululemon was built initially for petite Asian women… You need healthy models to attract healthy people or unhealthy people are just going to attract more unhealthy people.” He claimed using “unhealthy” models would promote obesity and was bad for society.

Race

The founder argued Lululemon should target “Westernized” Asians rather than trying to appeal to all races: “Rather than saying we want to design product for every person on Earth, I think Lulu could be more successful if it said, look, we are definitely going to design products for people that do yoga 15 to 20 times a month. Not somebody that does it once a month.”

Men’s Line

Wilson blasted Lululemon’s push into men’s clothing as “appalling”, claiming the designs do not properly fit male bodies and that the retailer “shouldn’t pretend to be something it isn’t.”

The founder summarized his view by stating: “I think there was probably too much emphasis put on the whole diversity, inclusion thing… It takes time to really make sure the customer understands the difference.”

Lululemon’s Response

Lululemon quickly distanced itself from Wilson’s remarks, with a spokesperson telling media outlets:

“We disagree with Chip’s comments… they are not aligned with our values as a business.”

CEO Calvin McDonald sent a letter to employees saying inclusion was essential and that the company stands against intolerance and racism. Many analysts believe Lululemon had to take a strong stance given societal shifts on diversity in recent years.

The swift and sharp response highlights the ongoing tension between Wilson and Lululemon management. As founder he feels a strong sense of ownership, but he has not been involved in company leadership for nearly 20 years.

Calls for Boycott

Wilson’s comments sparked intense criticism on social media and among diversity advocates. Several organizations called for consumers to boycott Lululemon over the offensive remarks:

  • CEO of non-profit Asians 4 Abolition tweeted: “Apparently Asians with belly fat, cellulite, disabilities, or darker skin tones should take our money elsewhere.”

  • Plus model and activist Corissa Enneking said: “Comments like these further the exclusion of bodies from communal spaces.”

  • Non-profit Beauty Redefined urged followers not to support a company with underlying fatphobic values.

Despite Lululemon’s efforts to distance itself, many feel Wilson’s role as founder means his views reflect ingrained issues with the company culture. Some analysts say comments could hurt sales if boycotts gain momentum.

Key Background Details

Understanding the full context requires some background on Lululemon and Chip Wilson’s history:

Founding 1998 in Vancouver by Chip Wilson
Company Profile Athletic apparel & accessories retailer focused on yoga and fitness. Known for leggings and women’s clothing but expanded into menswear, shoes, accessories.
Stores Over 600 stores globally. Mainly located in U.S., Canada, China, UK, other countries. Large ecommerce business.
Financials Annual revenue of $7.5 billion (2023 estimate). Valuation of over $50 billion. One of fastest growing apparel retailers.
Wilson’s Involvement Served as Lululemon CEO from 1998-2005. Remained chairman until 2013 then resigned from board in 2015 after multiple controversies. Still 14% shareholder.
Previous Controversies Wilson has a history of problematic comments viewed as fat-shaming, racist, and sexist. Fueled major PR crises for Lululemon in past.

As founder, Wilson feels a sense of ownership over the Lululemon brand even though he has not been involved with the company for many years. Analysts say his ideal target consumer remains petite, wealthy, fitness-focused women like those who formed the original core customer base.

What Happens Next?

It remains unclear if calls for an organized Lululemon boycott over Wilson’s latest comments will materialize or the extent this might impact sales. However, experts say the controversy presents risks for the yoga retailer:

  • Reputational damage: Negative publicity around diversity issues challenges Lululemon’s branding as an inclusive, progressive company.

  • Impact on growth plans: Expanding to diverse customer segments is key to Lululemon’s aggressive 5-year growth strategy revealed last year. Controversy could hinder these goals if certain demographics feel unwelcome.

  • Competitive pressure: Rival brands like Athleta, Fabletics, and Nike could seek to take market share by directly appealing to consumers offended by comments.

Analysts will be monitoring reaction over coming weeks including metrics like social media sentiment, store traffic trends, and financial indicators. Management may look to proactively address diversity concerns by accelerating related initiatives.

While disavowed by current leadership, Wilson’s polarizing take re-ignites tensions around Lululemon’s culture and who it seeks to serve at a pivotal time in the company’s expansion.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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