My Executive


    Nov 11, 2013

    Yoga-pants maker puts his foot in it


    WHEN the founder of athletic-apparel business Lululemon said his products were wrong for certain body shapes, some customers were quick to take offence, creating a potential public-relations headache for the highly successful company.

    "Quite frankly, some women's bodies just don't work for it (his clothing)," said Mr Chip Wilson in an interview with Bloomberg TV last week. "It doesn't work for some women's bodies."

    From New York to San Francisco, reaction was harsh.

    "It's absolutely ridiculous. I've shopped there before, but I won't again," said Ms Sashea Lawson, a triathlete and distance runner in New York City.

    Barista and runner Raine Stark said women were tired of pressure to achieve "upper-thigh clearance".

    "It's problematic to try to shame women or push one body form," said Ms Stark, 23, at an Oakland fitness shop. "If your thighs touch, it doesn't affect your quality of life. It's meaningless."

    The company did not respond to requests for comment immediately.

    Mr Wilson created a phenomenal success story with Lululemon Athletica, whose net revenues have soared nine-fold since 2006 to US$1.37 billion (S$1.7 billion) by the end of fiscal 2012.

    Revenue for the next 12 months is expected to grow 20.8 per cent, nearly four times the 5.4 per cent expected from its peers.

    But the maker of form-fitting workout clothes has hit some snags.

    Some Lululemon yoga pants were so sheer as to be see-through, leading to a recall in March that will cost US$57 million to US$67 million in sales this year.

    In June, chief executive officer Christine Day unexpectedly announced that she was leaving. Recently, the company received complaints that its products were susceptible to little pills on the fabric, or pilling.

    Mr Wilson was discussing the pilling issue in the TV interview when he made the comment about women's bodies.

    "It's really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure there is over a period of time and how much they use it," he said.

    Ms Lawson said Mr Wilson should stand by his product rather than blame his customers. Others were perplexed, believing Lululemon was made for every woman.

    "They are supposed to sort of make every body shape flattering. That's what I've always heard from the sales staff, who are always super helpful, super nice," said Ms Leila Richards, who has been practising yoga for 20 years and only recently started shopping at Lululemon.

    Still, there were those who thought the founder might have a point, even if it hurts his business.

    "People need to be conscious of how they present themselves in public," said Ms Anne Baker, 25, of Brooklyn.

    "He probably shouldn't have said it. It's going to be horrible PR. But it doesn't mean it isn't true."