Lululemon founder Chip Wilson has stirred controversy this week by openly criticizing the athletic apparel company’s diversity and inclusion initiatives. Wilson, who stepped down from Lululemon’s board in 2015, said he does not agree with the “whole diversity and inclusion thing” the company is currently pushing.
Wilson: Lululemon Trying to Become Like The Gap
In an interview with Business of Fashion published January 3rd, Wilson asserted that Lululemon has shifted away from its original brand identity in recent years.
“It’s funny, since I left the business Lululemon became a fashion company versus a technical athletic brand for women,” Wilson said. “It looks like it is becoming more like Gap.”
Wilson founded Lululemon in 1998 based on making technical athletic wear specifically designed for women. The company quickly built a cult following with its $100 yoga pants and aspirational brand image centered around healthy living.
However, Wilson believes Lululemon has now grown “obsessed with competition” and is abandoning its core customer base in an effort to appear diverse and inclusive.
Remarks Slam Company’s Marketing and Models
The former Lululemon leader sharply critiqued recent advertising campaigns featuring models he sees as contradictory to the brand’s initial focus on athletic wear.
“All the models they’re using now are these younger Generation Z-type, healthy-body people versus strong, athletic models that show people what they could achieve,” Wilson told Business of Fashion. “It’s kind of promoting obesity in some sense.”
Wilson also indicated displeasure over Lululemon expanding its size ranges in both womenswear and menswear.
“Did you ever see an overweight person working out at Lululemon?” Wilson remarked. “I don’t think the Generational Zs and younger bodies are as healthy [as past generations].”
The controversial billionaire additionally warned that welcoming more diverse clientele could be detrimental for the brand.
“You’ve got to be really careful who the customer is that’s actually buying your product because if you’re selling product to somebody who is unhealthy, they’re not going to get healthy wearing it,” Wilson stated plainly. “They’re still going to be unhealthy.”
Lululemon Quickly Seeks Distance From Wilson’s Comments
Lululemon leadership promptly responded to founder Chip Wilson’s damaging diversity statements by emphasizing the company’s changed culture over the past decade.
In a statement to media outlets, Lululemon firmly clarified Wilson has not been involved with the company for years and said his remarks “do not align with our values.”
“Lululemon is a different company today than it was 20 years ago,” the official company response read. “Our activewear is designed for all body types – every body lives in our clothes – and promotes health and wellbeing.”
Lululemon further highlighted its commitment to diversity, pointing to the fact that nearly 75% of current company leadership roles are filled by women and people of color.
Backlash Mounts Over Perceived Fatphobia and Racism
Outrage swiftly erupted online slamming Chip Wilson’s comments as discriminatory and promoting unrealistic beauty standards.
Critics lambasted the implications that Lululemon gear should only be marketed to young, skinny, traditionally attractive models. Many also blasted Wilson’s remarks as thinly-veiled racism stemming from an unwillingness to open the Lululemon brand to more diverse customers.
|“Lululemon should fire their billionaire, fatphobic, racist founder Chip Wilson.”
|“It’s 2024 – can we stop listening to horribly out-of-touch men try to define what diversity and inclusion means? Chip Wilson is an embarrassment.”
|“This Lululemon nonsense just confirms my belief that no successful brand stays ‘pure of heart’ as it scales.”
Backlash extended beyond social media posts, as body acceptance groups threatened boycotts of Lululemon stores over the inflammatory comments. Even some Lululemon corporate employees anonymously spoke out that Wilson’s remarks have hurt company morale.
What’s Next After the Controversy
It remains to be seen what lasting impacts Chip Wilson’s diversity criticisms might have on Lululemon’s brand reputation and stock price. Lululemon share prices dipped nearly 5% the day Wilson’s comments went viral, signalling potential trouble.
Some analysts predict customer attrition in the short term, but don’t expect any massive long-term financial effects unless diversity issues persist at the company. It also appears unlikely at this point that Lululemon leadership would cut ties with founder Chip Wilson or remove him from the company’s board.
“Lululemon is positioned nicely to weather this current media storm so long as they continue championing diversity from the top down,” noted Wall Street analyst Stevie Smith. “But if Consumer Reports start dinging them for lack of inclusive sizing or racistblind spots, that could really sting sales.”
For his part, Wilson remains defiant that promoting overweight models and expanding Lululemon’s customer base is the wrong path. Nonetheless, the $7 billion meditation mogul may have permanently severed his reputation with the company he built from the ground up over 25 years ago.
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