While many CEOs are shouting out about their increased efforts to ramp up diversity across their business one founder is promoting the exact opposite.
Lululemon’s billionaire founder Chip Wilson insists that exclusivity trumps inclusivity while blasting the posh leggings company which he stepped down from 10 years ago.
“They’re trying to become like the Gap, everything to everybody,” Wilson, who has an estimated net worth of $8.7B said in an interview with 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.”
Still, the activewear giant is clearly onto something: Wilson has added almost $4 billion to his net worth since 2020, nearly all because of the rise in value of his 8% stake in Lululemon stock.
Chip Wilson’s controversial comments aren’t a first
It’s not the first time Wilson has expressed his disdain for his brainchild’s “whole diversity and inclusion thing”, having repeatedly faced backlash for anti-Asian, sexist, and fat-phobic comments.
The American-Canadia entrepreneur most infamously insisted that the company’s most popular product, its leggings, are not for everyone—or more specifically, plus-sized women—when they came under fire for being see-through.
“They don’t work for some women’s bodies,” he told Bloomberg Television’s Street Smart in 2013, before stepping down as the firm’s CEO and then leaving the board entirely in 2015.
Wilson previously declared that when founding Lululemon back in 1998, he specifically came up with a brand name that has three L’s because the sound does not exist in Japanese phonetics.
“It’s funny to watch them try and say it,” he told Canada’s National Post Business Magazine.
He has also spoken in favor of children working in factories to earn money and avoid poverty, blamed birth control for rising divorce rates, and described plus-sized clothing as “a money loser” for businesses.
A double standard
Since Wilson’s departure, Lululemon has been trying to shake off the idea that it’s exclusively for white upper-middle-class women of a certain stature through inclusive marketing and by bolstering its diversity and inclusion commitments.
But such efforts have often been labeled tokenistic by celebrities, consumers, and staff members alike.
In November 2020, the Canadian-headquartered international company formed a new department named “Inclusion Diversity, Equity and Action,” known internally as IDEA, which was tasked with increasing the diversity of staff and expanding DEI training, development and discourse.
However, over a dozen employees at the firm told the Business of Fashion it was launched to protect the company’s image first and foremost and that the company often denied Black employees job opportunities in favor of “less-qualified white counterparts”.
In its statement to BoF, Lululemon said it “has made considerable progress since launching IDEA, and we are proud of the goals we have achieved, which include maintaining a continuous two-way dialogue with our people.”
At around the same time, it came under fire for promoting a yoga workshop billed as an opportunity to “resist capitalism”.
The class promised to teach participants how “gender constructs across the world have informed culture and the ways violent colonialism has erased these histories to enforce consumerism”.
However, at around $120 for a pair of leggings, many were quick to point out the brand’s hypocrisy.
“Lululemon IS capitalism. It is literally a privately-owned corporation that raked in half a billion dollars in pure profits last year, merely by selling overpriced yoga pants to women willing and able to pay for this luxury,” a popular post on the matter on X, formerly known as Twitter, read.
“WHY are you pushing an anti-capitalist Marxist workshop when you ONLY exist because of capitalism?,” another decried.
Author: Orianna Rosa Royle