How Lululemon went sour

The yoga clothing company's latest comments spark outrage and reveal a rotten core.

By The Week Nov 8, 2013 12:51PM

Clothing made by Lululemon Athletica Inc. on display for sale on March 19, 2013 in Pasadena, California (© Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)Apparently, if you're charging close to $100 for a pair of sweatpants, you can ignore the adage that the customer is always right.

In fact, why not do the opposite and throw that undeserving fattie under the bus, blaming her for your defective product? At least that's what you do if you're Lululemon (LULU).

Chip Wilson, the founder of yoga pants for lithe sorority sisters and Atkins-obsessed urban mommies, has found a way to continue to damage Lululemon just as people were starting to (sort of) forget about their overpriced and utterly see-through pants.

On Bloomberg TV's "Street Smart," Wilson decided to tackle the sheer pants scandal head on . . . by blaming not-skinny and toned women. "Quite frankly, some women's bodies just actually don't work for it."

Further digging himself into a hole (presumably filled with many angry women in warrior pose), he added, "It's really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there over a period of time, how much they use it." Simply put, "they don't work for some women's bodies."

Wow. "What kind of position do you have to master to get your foot this far into your mouth," wondered Christina Chaey at Fast Company. In one fell swoop, Wilson managed to alienate the 35 percent of American adults who are obese, as well as the vast, vast majority of women who just aren't as yoga-toned as Lululemon would like their ideal, weightless customer to be.

"One would think a $10.1 billion company ostensibly devoted to health and fitness could find a way to inspire that market, or at least not insult it outright," wrote Kyle Stock at Businessweek. Especially when: It lost $67 million due to a recall of its yoga pants earlier this year; its shares have fallen 14 percent from September; and its CEO Christina Day, who is credited with much of Lululemon's growth, announced her resignation.

When you're in that situation, you wear kid gloves whenever talking about your customers and pray that you can keep convincing as many of them as possible that everyone's butt looks great in pants that cost nearly as much as a flight from New York to Miami.

Wilson's co-founder and wife, Shannon, immediately realized the major faux pas and tried to step in. Her recovery, though, was less than artful. Saying her husband's comments were not about weight, but about the treatment of the pants, she added, "Are you sitting on a cement ground?"

Unfortunately, if I'm spending $98 on yoga pants, they better last through a nuclear holocaust, let alone sitting on my apartment stoop.

While this is the latest big slip-up for Lululemon, it's not the first. Just last week, the chain sparked outrage in Dallas after one of its shops wrote on its window, "We do partners yoga, not partners card!" Partners Card is a discount card that raises money for a local domestic abuse shelter when you shop at certain stores (Lululemon, of course, is not part of it). Yeah, dissing charities that help battered women is totally going to improve your image.

But all these bad PR moments suggest something more specific than your run-of-the-mill corporate train wreck. Lululemon's true colors are shining through, but with all that ugliness, customers may not be hanging on for the pastel-colored ride. Lululemon may be known as the yoga pants of "Mean Girls," but if it wants to survive, it would be wise to not so boldly embrace that persona.

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Tags: LULU
Nov 8, 2013 2:48PM
I do not care what your body shape is, you are an idiot for spending $100 on yoga pants.
Nov 8, 2013 3:04PM

Yoga classes are at least 75% comprised of females.  Just who are you trying to impress in your $100 yoga pants as you are in downward facing dog?


Target has a really good selection of reasonably priced exercise clothes for ALL body types.  AND you can rub your thighs together and sit on a cement ground if you so choose without fear of overexposure.

Nov 8, 2013 4:38PM
The point many of you are missing is that yoga is an inclusive practice. It is about knowing and understanding YOUR body, it's about breathing, connection.  The fact that companies like Lululemon have cashed in on what should be a non-material practice just speaks to the society we live in.  I have practiced yoga for many years.  I have thighs, that's just the way I'm built.  Of course, I would never pay $100.00 dollars for a pair of yoga pants anyway. And no one in my yoga classes pays any attention to what anyone is wearing.
Nov 8, 2013 4:00PM

I personally think even the largest of women look good in these pants...Of course, i just like looking at asses so...i;'m kinda biased


Nov 8, 2013 3:45PM
Maybe all the hot chicks will pick up the slack and buy more pants, their sense of elitism well protected by Lululemon's press conferences.
Nov 8, 2013 1:11PM
See through tights on fat or skinny girls?
Nov 8, 2013 4:11PM
Well, as a semi-fatty, I have to admit I understand where the guy is going with this...and the previous comments a few months back commenting on overweight women.  Lululemon has never pretended to cater to anything but ALREADY-FIT women.  It is not a brand for a size 12 person who is working on slimming down.  Until you are slim, buy your darn clothes at Walmart or Target or someplace that caters to ALL sizes.  I have never had any illusions about what Lululemon looks for in clientele and I don't see why they should be sorry that someone overweight was trying to (most likely, imho) squeeeeeze into a size she shouldn't be in yet.  Perhaps they should provide dimensions on the they do for hosiery sometimes.  example:  Size 4 pant = 7-9" calf, 10-14" thigh, etc.?

Bring on the naysayers if I have misinterpreted something here.  I'm not saying he doesn't sound like a bit of an a-hole about the way he handles things but overall I don't feel it's his problem.  Do they have any proof they can offer of quality control testing that they do on the clothes before selling it to the appropriately sized clientele?  That would be my question.
Nov 8, 2013 4:17PM

1.  It does not make good business sense to only market your product to a small portion of the population rather than potentially having everyone as your customers, or at least all women, who would hand over their money in exchange for your goods.  Why else have a business?  Why have it publicly traded, if you are not interested in making money?


2.  It does not make good business sense to sell a low-quality product (meant for exercise, no less!) and then blame its flimsiness on customers'  weight and call it a "misuse" of the product.  Not to mention charging 5X a reasonable retail price for the crummy pants!  We are not talking about delicate glass Lladro statues meant to sit on a shelf, but exercise wear.  There is no excuse for not using a higher-quality fabric that is opaque (not transparent) and strong enough to withstand a workout and washing.  Costco sells very nice, high-quality yoga pants for $20 that could probably kick the **** of Lululemon's wussy pants.   

Nov 8, 2013 4:35PM
That's disappointing about Lululemon. I noticed my last pair of $98.00 yoga pants were not of the same quality as the prior pants I had purchased. It has nothing to do with size! Quality??
Nov 8, 2013 2:47PM
It - the company, is living up-to it's name!!!
Nov 8, 2013 4:30PM
It's like the Louis Vuitton of workout gear.  Not for everyone.  I'd never pay that price for a pair of workout pants, and I could fit into them just fine.  It's a status thing. A  Lululemon symbol on your **** is much more prestigious than a Champion symbol. Black yoga pants are black yoga pants.  Those of size should be thankful that they don't have a size to fit them, they won't be duped into buying overpriced pants!
Nov 8, 2013 3:46PM

the u.s is too accomodating. if you want to be hot and skinny, then work out and fit into these pants...otherwise quit complaining!!!

Nov 8, 2013 2:52PM
He's right. Much like the saying 'act your age', 'act your weight' is just as important.
Nov 8, 2013 3:30PM
This stor reminds me as to why the United States is now a second tier nation.
Nov 8, 2013 3:58PM
So - as an interested individual with a few bucks to spend I am supposed to believe an unsigned article on MSN's financial page and base my investing on that? Maybe the company is happy alienating 35% of the walmart shoppers while concentrating on high end sales. Not everyone can or needs to throw down $100 for yoga pants.
Nov 8, 2013 4:24PM
So if you're fat you are not hot? "Fat" people shouldn't do yoga. Fat people are ugly....I can't believe all the haters making these comments. Everyone has flaws and self worth is not determined by morons who think they are the beautiful people. I see these types everyday where I live because my town has been over taken by these self absorbed slobs. In a word, pathetic 
Nov 8, 2013 4:43PM

Overweight girls with beautiful faces can always lose weight, thereby becoming slim and beautiful.


Skinny girls with ugly faces can always gain weight, thereby becoming fat and ugly.


Beautiful faces are beautiful whether slim or fat, but you can't fix ugly.

Nov 8, 2013 2:43PM
If you are a fashionable plus size women by your made in the USA AMAZING active wear at

Nov 8, 2013 5:02PM
While I have not (and most likely will not SIMPLY due to price) purchased anything from Lululemon, I don't believe it is within this author's rights to deem those who do buy from this company as "lithe sorority sisters and Atkins-obsessed urban mommies". Stereotyping isn't a way to solve issues, either.
Nov 8, 2013 4:45PM
Just ask Abercrombie & Fitch how a smart a** attitude towards your customers works. You can soon use their stock for toilet paper. The days of paying a ton of money to a company, just to be treated like dog poop, are over. Just let the company exec's keep talking and they will be bankrupt soon!
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