Lululemon Founder Says Company Worse off Without Him


When a brand has to part ways with its founder, it’s not generally under happy circumstances. There’s often a lot said, and there can be some very public hard feelings. In the case of women’s sportswear brand, Lululemon, founder and former CEO Chip Wilson is still speaking out, still insisting the company did better with him despite the controversial statements that forced his resignation.

Wilson had already helmed a successful surf-skate-ski clothing company when he saw a new opportunity. People at the gym looked miserable in what they had to wear, especially in yoga class, where sweating is part of the point. He thought about his idea for a while, and Lululemon was eventually born.

Later, he took the company public, but, as the company grew, Wilson admitted that brought on more challenges. “What I really lost was control of the company on a governance level once it went public… The (corporate) mindset isn’t necessarily aligned with creativity, or trying to describe a future that is not here yet…” he told CNN.

But that loss of control did not keep Wilson from courting controversy. In one Made for the Headlines moment, Wilson and some employees dressed as babies to mock allegations that Lululemon relied on child labor. He called the stunt a “marketing insurance policy.”

That statement and the perception by some that Wilson was okay with child labor got the company in some trouble, but it was his next public PR faux paus that really hit the company hard. During an already difficult time – Lululemon had been forced to recall a large number of its trademark pants – Wilson blamed ‘some women’s bodies’ for the trouble that led to the recall: “Some women’s bodies don’t work for the pants… It’s really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there over a period of time…”

Wilson defended the comments as factual and not meant to offend, but offend they did. Countless women, as well as fashion bloggers and other opinion makers, were outraged. Wilson eventually offered a pre-recorded apology. That did little to quell the rage, and Wilson was forced to resign.

This was in 2015, and, today, Wilson says his company would be in better shape if he was still directly involved. “It would be far more global than it is now… The company would have been worth 30, 40% more…”

Lululemon has declined to respond to these latest comments in any fashion. Their choice, it seems, is to let Wilson say what he wants. They will keep their distance.

Ronn Torossian

Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5WPR and one of the most well-respected Public Relations professionals in the United States. Ronn is the author of "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations."

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