Lululemon’s Billionaire Founder Is Tired of the Brand’s Diversity

Photo: SOPA Images/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Gett

This week, while you were putting on your buttery-soft seamless Lululemon leggings, the brand’s billionaire founder, Chip Wilson, said in a Forbes interview that he doesn’t want “everybody” in the brand’s leggings. “Lululemon is trying to be everything to everybody,” said Wilson. “But you’ve got to be clear that you don’t want certain customers coming in.” Which certain customers, Chip?

But this is not the first time that Wilson, who founded the cult-favorite brand in 1998, has made comments that got him in trouble. He stepped down in 2013 as company chairman after customers started calling out the sheerness of the yoga pants and Wilson said in a now-deleted Bloomberg interview, “Quite frankly, some women’s bodies just don’t actually work for it. It’s about the rubbing through the thighs and how much pressure there is.” When asked if he was saying that not every woman can wear Lululemon’s yoga pants, he responded, “No, I think they can. I just think it’s how you use them.” While he has been off the board for a decade, in 2015 he completely removed himself from the brand — except for, of course, his stake in it. He has sold three-fourths of his stake in the company, but he still holds an 8 percent stake, Lululemon’s largest individual shareholder, making him worth an estimated $7 billion, according to Forbes.

In the past few years, the brand has been trying to distance itself from Wilson. And while the company has been doing more than fine without him — featuring more inclusive campaigns that include curvier body types and more diverse races — Wilson constantly criticizes the brand’s new direction, commenting that the people in the new ads look “unhealthy,” “sickly,” and “not inspirational.” In 2020, the apparel conglomerate extended into plus sizes in six core styles, adding up to a size 20. It has also expanded into apparel outside athleisure, including more fashion-forward pieces like men’s button-down shirts, which Wilson calls “appalling.”

And if fatphobic comments were not enough, in 2004 Wilson told Canada’s National Post Business Magazine that he specifically came up with a brand name that has three L’s because the sound doesn’t exist in Japanese phonetics. “It’s funny to watch them try and say it,” he said

Lululemon has also been subject to investigation when, in 2019, workers making the stretchy, colorful leggings at a factory in Bangladesh (the factory is operated by the Youngone Corporation, the brand’s supplier) claimed they were verbally harassed, faced threats of being physically abused, and were paid low wages. And most recently, in November 2023, 14 current and former employees were interviewed by the Business of Fashion. They admitted that the company is unwelcoming to Black people and shared the racial discrimination they’ve experienced.

Owing to a pandemic boom, the company doubled its revenue from $4 billion to over $8 billion. The irony? This rise in profit came on the heels of more inclusive sizing and advertisements, the exact thing Wilson is complaining about.

A spokesperson for the company stated: “Chip Wilson does not speak for lululemon, and his comments do not reflect our company views or beliefs. Chip has not been involved with the company since his resignation from the board in 2015 and we are a very different company today.”  The statement went on to say they are committed to “creating and fostering an inclusive, diverse, and welcoming environment.

Lululemon’s Billionaire Founder Is Tired of Its Diversity