Lululemon founder faces backlash for blasting company’s diversity, inclusion efforts

Business

Lululemon’s controversial founder Chip Wilson is again facing criticism for his latest remarks regarding the company’s diversity and inclusion efforts.

In a recent article by Forbes, Wilson objected to the company’s use of models with a range of body types, whom he said looked “unhealthy,” “sickly” and “not inspirational.”

“They’re trying to become like the Gap, everything to everybody,” Wilson said in an interview with the magazine.

“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.”

Wilson’s views have prompted backlash, including calls to boycott the brand by Lululemon customers on social media, to Canadian designers calling for the end to anti-fat sentiment and exclusionary biases in the fashion industry.

 

“Clothing is powerful and it is political,” said Connally McDougall, owner of Connally Goods, a Vancouver-based size-inclusive clothing brand. 

“When regular people are hearing these comments it’s hard. We’ve had to build our own exoskeleton of armour against these comments and what we need to do is speak up against it.”

Wilson does not speak for Lululemon, says company

Wilson founded Lululemon in 1998 and resigned as chairman in 2013, following controversial comments about its Luon yoga pants, which some customers had complained were too sheer. 

“Quite frankly, some women’s bodies just don’t work for it … It’s really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there,” Wilson told Bloomberg in 2013.

In a statement, the athletic wear company headquartered in B.C. said Wilson does not speak for nor reflect Lululemon’s views. 

“Lululemon is committed to creating and fostering an inclusive, diverse, and welcoming environment throughout our organization and across our communities,” it said, adding Wilson has not been involved with the company since his 2015 resignation from the board of directors.

“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.”

Lululemon, according to Forbes, is the seventh largest apparel company in the world, with Wilson as its largest individual shareholder with an eight per cent stake.

‘Ridiculous’ to ‘talk down’ to customers: designer

McDougall says embracing body inclusivity in her business and marketing has made a profound impact, adding she went from working out of her living room to a small production studio in Vancouver, and made six figures in sales in 2023.

“For a design to be good, it has to include everybody, and I mean every body,” McDougall said. 

Connally McDougall says her Vancouver-based clothing brand, Connally Goods, embraces all body types with size-inclusive options. (Nika Wiatrowska)

“When I see people like Chip Wilson saying that large people aren’t their customers … I just get incensed because how can you hold on to these harmful views.”

At first, she says, her business included sizes up to 3XL, but was encouraged by peers and advocacy groups to expand her range further. 

“[I was told that] garments up to 60 inches in body circumference don’t encompass a huge majority of people wanting to buy clothes,” she said. 

“That really shook me awake … to create clothes for literally all sizes … and seeing the transformation in people, the way they carry themselves, is profound.”

Four women are smiling and laughing in front of a black fan. Two of the women are standing and the other two are crouching in front. They are all wearing size inclusive clothing.
Connally McDougall says body-inclusive clothes options have made a huge impact on her business. In 2023, Connally Goods made over six figures in sales, according to McDougall. (Nika Wiatrowska)

McDougall says it doesn’t make fiscal sense for companies to exclude a large demographic of people. 

“These are people with buying power and when you talk down to them … it’s actually ridiculous.”

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