Chip Wilson slams Lululemon’s diversity efforts: ‘You don’t want certain customers’

Lululemon is (again) distancing itself from billionaire founder and former executive Chip Wilson after he made controversial comments about the brand’s inclusion efforts.

“(This) whole diversity and inclusion thing that they have become — trying to become like the Gap, everything to everybody…you’ve got to be clear that you don’t want certain customers coming in,” Wilson, 68, told Forbes in a wide-ranging profile published this week, adding that the athletic-wear giant is using “unhealthy,” “sickly” and “not inspirational” people in their marketing and advertising.

FILE – Lululemon founder Chip Wilson is courting controversy with recent comments he made to Forbes. Wilson attends an announcement, in Vancouver, B.C., Thursday, Sept. 15, 2022.

Darryl Dyck / The Canadian Press

A decade ago, in 2013, Wilson came under fire after making comments that the brand’s pants “do not work” for some women’s bodies, responding to criticism at the time that the company’s most popular product, leggings, were see-through.

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“The thing is women will wear seat belts that do not work, or they will wear a purse that does not work,” said Wilson at the time. “Or quite frankly, some women’s bodies actually do not work for (the pants).”

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Critics accused Wilson of shaming women’s bodies and gathered thousands of supporters through an online petition.

Two days later, Wilson apologized in a video posted online, in which he said he was “sad for the repercussions of my actions. I’m sad for the people of Lululemon who I care so much about that have really had to face the brunt of my actions. I take responsibility for all that has occurred.”

It wasn’t long, however, until he came under fire again, for anti-Asian comments that surfaced in a 2004 interview.

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He told the National Post Business Magazine that while coming up with the company’s name in 1998, he specifically chose a name that has three Ls because the sound doesn’t exist in Japanese phonetics.

“It’s funny to watch them try and say it,” he said.

The comments, among others, eventually lead to Wilson being ousted as an executive. He left the company in 2015. Today, he holds an eight-per-cent stake in the brand.

Click to play video: 'Lululemon founder Chip Wilson steps down'

Lululemon founder Chip Wilson steps down

Lululemon made strides in 2020 to include expanded sizing, and now includes up to women’s size 20 and men’s size 46 on some of their items.

Chip Wilson does not speak for Lululemon, and his comments do not reflect our company views or beliefs,” a company spokesperson told Bloomberg in a statement this week, following Wilson’s controversial interview. “Chip has not been involved with the company since his resignation from the board in 2015 and we are a very different company today.”

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The company said it added a chief diversity and inclusion officer in 2020 and has programs that include racial representation goals for its staff, as well as an executive steering committee.

Joanna Schwartz, a marketing professor at Georgia College & State University, told Newsweek that Wilson’s comments are “an almost definitional expression of coded language.”

“He clearly sees Lululemon as a brand where a large percentage of the population isn’t welcome,” Schwartz added. “In light of that kind of opposition, it’s really impressive that the brand has pushed against that to include a greater racial and ethnic diversity, and by addressing the brand’s formerly long-standing sizeism, which includes a focus almost exclusively on women’s sizes 00-10.”

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