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Lululemon founder apologizes for remark on customers’ thighs

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Published:   |   Updated: November 11, 2013 at 04:28 PM

The founder of luxury yoga-wear maker Lululemon apologized for essentially saying women who complained about the company’s yoga pants had legs too large for the products.

In a video posted online Monday, Lululemon founder Chip Wilson said he was “sad” for Lululemon employees who took the brunt of outrage from his interview on Bloomberg television last week.

In that Bloomberg interview, reporters asked Wilson about customer complaints that yoga pants made with the new Luon fabric were “pilling” between the thighs and the seams were tearing. He replied, “Frankly, some women’s bodies just don’t actually work for it ... It’s about the rubbing through the thighs and how much pressure is there.”

The comments triggered a tidal wave of outrage among customers in social media, railing against Wilson’s outlook — particularly as many parents and health advocates have been alarmed at the trend of young women starving themselves to become thin enough to have a “thigh gap,” or visible gap between their thighs when their ankles touch.

Only adding to outrage, Wilson in the Bloomberg interview said he only meditated in a yoga mindset while standing at the urinal, and that he was “too wealthy” to come back as CEO to fix other controversies surrounding the company. Among them, charges that Lululemon retail stores were hiding its biggest sizes out of sight, and the lingering fallout from Lululemon’s recall of pants that turned transparent when women bent over in yoga class.

One customer, Elizabeth Miller, posted on the Lululemon Facebook page, saying “Please remind your company that if you are going to promote love and positive body image on their webpage, you probably shouldn’t say we are too fat to wear your pants.”

Wilson’s apology video mentioned none of those issues specifically. Instead, he appears to stand in a hallway in a makeshift video session, which stops and starts halfway through, where he says, “I’m sad. I’m really sad. I’m really sad for the repercussions of my actions ... I take responsibility for all that has occurred. For all of you who have made Lululemon what it is today, I ask you to stay in a conversation that is above the fray. I ask you to prove that the culture that you have built can’t be chipped away.”

That video seems to only anger some customers more. One wrote in response, “On one hand you are bashing us for being fat and on the other hand bashing us for maybe trying to do something about it. Should my ‘fat ass’ squeeze into a small size just so I can say I own a pair...no!”

Rather than fix the problem, the apology video “only made it worse,” said David Johnson, a crisis communications consultant with Strategic Vision.

“Even the comment that he wants people to be above the fray suggests people who had complaints were wrong,” Johnson said. “That would be interpreted as a slam against them.” The company has to understand, he said, that they face two genuine problems at once: The actual product issues that need to be fixed, and the public outrage over the founder’s comments and apology.

Johnson said top management of Lululemon has to cut ties with the founder, at least on a public level. “That’s always a difficult thing to do,” he said. “But they have to do that and really convince the public through PR, marketing and advertising that while the Founder’s comments were horrible and unacceptable that his thoughts are not the corporate culture.”

rmullins@tampatrib.com

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