Lululemon’s controversial founder is back with criticisms about its diversity and inclusion efforts — and the athleticwear company is distancing itself from his comments.
It’s been almost a decade since Chip Wilson left the company, but the founder has gripes about Lululemon’s “whole diversity and inclusion thing,” according to a new profile in Forbes. Wilson had founded the yogawear brand in 1998 in Vancouver, British Columbia.
“They’re trying to become like the Gap, everything to everybody,” Wilson told Forbes. “And I think the definition of a brand is that you’re not everything to everybody… You’ve got to be clear that you don’t want certain customers coming in.”
He also used a flurry of descriptions for the faces in the athleticwear’s ads: “unhealthy,” “sickly” and “not inspirational.”
In a statement to CNN, Lululemon said that Wilson does not speak for the company and that his views don’t stand for its values or beliefs. It said it’s a “very different company today” since Wilson left the board in 2015, and that he has not been involved with the company since.
“lululemon is committed to creating and fostering an inclusive, diverse, and welcoming environment throughout our organization and across our communities. We have made considerable progress since launching our Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Action (IDEA) function, and we are proud of the goals we have achieved,” a company spokesperson said over email.
“We also recognize that becoming a more diverse and inclusive organization takes time and is only possible through the sustained efforts of our leaders and our people,” the spokesperson said.
After attending his first yoga class in 1998, Wilson was inspired to make comfortable, functional clothing for the activity.
He had previously started Westbeach, a surf, skate, and snowboard clothing company.
“I recognized that the Japanese consumer liked a name with an L in it because the letter isn’t in the Japanese language. It sounded American,” he said. “So I thought if I ever have another company I am going to put three L’s in it.” Lululemon was born.
During his time at the company, Wilson’s outrageous comments seemed to never end.
CNN reported that he and his employees once dressed up as babies working with sewing machines to try to stay ahead of criticism that Lululemon relied on child labor.
“It was just a marketing insurance policy, let’s call it,” Wilson told CNN in 2018. “Nobody could accuse us of child labor, because we agreed with it.”
Wilson also held an image of what lululemon customers should look like. After a recall of a portion of its black pants, Wilson told Bloomberg in 2013, “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,” he added.
After a botched video apology in 2013, he stepped down as chairman of the board of directors.
– CNN’s Nathaniel Meyersohn contributed to this story.