If Lululemon founder Chip Wilson truly believed that "Friends are more important than money" -- one of the many points of the athletic-wear brand's "manifesto" -- he probably wouldn't have alienated so many of his customers with his recent comments.
While attempting to defend his product against claims the material is sheer and prone to pilling, Wilson responded, "Quite frankly, some women's bodies actually just don't work for [the pants]. They don't work for some women's bodies."
He continued, "It's really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there, and over a period of time how much they use it."
Upon reading this, I went into auto-feminist mode: die, patriarchal scum, die! But I thought about it and realized that it's his business, and he can lie if he wants to. If blaming women's bodies is a strategy that pleases both the customer and the shareholder, it seems like a solid financial plan for someone with no conscience.
My real problem with the whole thing is the fact that Lululemon's brand is based on healthy living and self-empowerment, and that's not something that only comes in sizes 1-3-5.
The company has created an aura of wellness around their products. I can just feel the toxins draining from my body when I step in one of their stores. But since their products don't go above a size 12, that shiny happy feeling is reserved for just a few.
A size 12 in Luon means a 32.5 inch waist, while the average Canadian woman's waistline is 33 inches. So maybe it's not that Wilson cares about women getting healthier in mind and body, it's that he wants hot, young, thin women to wear his clothing and make him rich.
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A serious "wardrobe malfunction" involving 17 per cent of the company's pants getting recalled for being sheer this June cost the company money and customers. But everyone handles crises differently. Some people put their heads down and try to prove to their customers they're still a trustworthy brand. Some people blame women's big fat thighs.
Wilson isn't the first big-wig to piss women off with remarks about his ideal customer. Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries won't shut up about who he doesn't want in his clothing. There are so many choice quotes I can't pick just one, so here is a random sampling:
"Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don't belong [in our clothes], and they can't belong."
"Abercrombie is only interested in people with washboard stomachs who look like they're about to jump on a surfboard."
"I don't want our core customers to see people who aren't as hot as them wearing our clothing."
"I really don't care what anyone other than our target customer thinks."
It's this final quote that makes me wonder -- with all Jeffries and Wilsons seem to have in common -- who is Lululemon's ideal customer?
The website's "company history" section paints a picture of a CEO who wanted to wrap everyone in Luon and make the world feel good.
"The idea was to have the store be a community hub where people could learn and discuss the physical aspects of healthy living from yoga and diet to running and cycling as well as the mental aspects of living a powerful life of possibilities."
Nowhere in that explanation is a size restriction; "I'll take a powerful life of possibilities in a medium, please" is not a thing.
It seems unfair Wilson is marketing to everyone who enjoys the concept of health, but alienating women whose body type doesn't fit his idea of what that looks like. I even agree, some clothing doesn't work for every body, but it's up to the brain attached to that body to make the choice. Turtlenecks give me a uniboob -- I steer clear. But Cotton Ginny doesn't turn me away at the door. And if there's one type of clothing that fits everyone it's stretchy pants.
Despite that fact, this isn't the first time Lululemon has made it clear their clothes don't fit everyone. According to an investigation into Lululemon's fat-bias Huffington Post's Kim Bhasin reports,
"Most of the merchandise was presented out on the floor, hung on the walls, or folded neatly in cabinets for all the world to see. But the largest sizes -- the 10s and the 12s -- were relegated to a separate area at the back of the store, left clumped and unfolded under a table."
What we can take from this teachable moment is that maybe Lululemon -- gasp -- doesn't really care about health and wellness and only cares about having a certain kind of customer spending an insane amount of money over and over again. Wilson is, after all, worth $2.9B as a result of his elastic-waist empire.
And while he as a business owner has the right to design for one woman instead of many, make no mistake: what Wilson said hurts women and girls.
Surely you've seen the dreaded thigh gap making the media rounds? While often a product of photoshop, it's sadly the goal of many young women -- and how must those young women feel when they hear the creator of status symbol clothing say the pants don't work for women whose thighs rub? Wilson is just another person who conflates thinness with health, but how many 16-year-olds understand that?
Do yourself a favour Chip, now that you've blamed "bigger" women for your product's shortcomings, give up the healthy mind and healthy body act and say what you really mean: skinnier women make your brand seem cooler, and that's how you like it.
And maybe the stretchy-pants savant should take advice from his own manifesto: Your outlook on life is a direct reflection of how much you like yourself.