Back in March, we reported on Lululemon’s controversial proactive management during its see through pants recall. At the time, it looked like a ploy to soften the blow of low earnings leading up to a quarterly earnings call with investors. But with Lululemon’s founder Chip Wilson stepping down from his position as chairman, we see that there are larger problems at hand for the athletic company. The biggest problem for Lululemon today is not see through pants, but rather, a reputation for exclusion.
Wilson is the third in a line of casualties stemming from the see through pants incident, including CEO Christine Day and product chief Sheree Waterson. But while Day and Waterson have stepped down without much fanfare, Wilson has taken a running jump at his exit, performing a classic foot-in-mouth yoga pose. Just last month, Wilson noted in a Bloomberg interview that there are some women who just shouldn’t wear Lululemon’s pants.
“Some women’s bodies just don’t actually work for it,” said Wilson. “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.”
Angry consumers did not take kindly to Wilson’s remarks, however truthful. Lululemon’s Facebook page was inundated with messages from women encouraging others to boycott the brand.
The athletic company does not make pants in larger sizes, as they would require more fabric and thus, be too expensive to manufacture. This also makes Lululemon’s pants more exclusive-a luxury meant only for thin women whose thighs don’t rub, who are also willing to pay $100 for a pair of yoga pants that might, in fact, be see through.
But is shutting out the larger market a good idea for Lululemon? The recent string of executive departures seems to indicate that it’s not. Following the Bloomberg interview, Wilson posted an apology to the employees of Lululemon who had to deal with irate customers:
“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.”
MSNBC notes that while Wilson expressed sadness for his actions, he never actually apologized to consumers for what he said.
As Wilson exits Lululemon’s chairman post, he leaves behind a string of offensive gaffes we’re sure the company is eager to bury in the past:
On plus size pants: “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.'”
On child labor: “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.”
On the Japanese: “Japanese have a difficult time pronouncing the letter “L.”
‘It’s funny watching them try to say it.'”
Wilson isn’t the only one at Lululemon dishing out questionable remarks. A Lululemon store in Maryland displayed a puzzling poem on its windows, apparently linking tea and pie to rubbing thighs:
Cups of Chai
Can Lululemon recover from see through pants and a founder in desperate need of a filter? The company’s new executive hire looks promising. Lululemon’s exiting CEO will be replaced by Laurent Potdevin, former president of Toms Shoes and manager of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton. Here’s hoping that Potdevin can boost Lululemon’s reputation with some of the same goodwill that has made Toms a strong reputational brand.