Chip Wilson's comments about his lululemon pants -- and the thighs that wear them -- have plunked one of Canada's richest men right beside this country's most infamous mayor. Not a place you want to sit from a branding perspective. The issue is bigger than money, but people like money, so that's where I'll start.
Regardless of whether or not Chip is the CEO or chairman, he still has a vested interest in the company, and still stands to gain from the public's perception of it. From a business perspective, it's not advisable to blame your customer when your product quality is diminishing or failing.
Admittedly, Lulu did a great job managing the see-through pants pandemonium and took the blame, giving gift cards or exchanges and inviting guests back when the product was back on shelves.
Going beyond that instance and looking at Chip's comments in the media, it's his apology that gets me. Sure, maybe the guy made a mistake and conveyed his message poorly -- maybe there was truth in his statement at some level. The way he communicated that, though, pissed a lot of people off, and in my experience, when you say something you didn't intend to say that hurts or offends people, you apologize to them. Sincerely. You take the blame and say you'll make it better.
Maple Leaf Foods is a great example of how to handle a corporate crisis. When a listeria strain turned up in its lunch meat and ended up killing some Canadians and making others sick, the CEO of that company immediately held a press conference, apologized, and meant it. CBC used words like " immediate actions, openness, accountability and leadership from a very visible and empathetic individual," to describe that man. And that situation was actually one of life or death.
Workout gear is hardly killing anyone by wearing it or not wearing it, but there is a way to handle yourself and your brand as an individual whose name is, for a great many people, still inextricably linked to a product -- regardless of the reality. From a brand perspective, would it kill the guy to pay someone to write a decent apology for him to deliver?
Beyond Benjamins, though, this is a fascinating example of women standing up to booty -- uh, I mean "beauty" -- ideals being pushed on us and saying we will not accept anyone blaming us for our bodies. I'm going to assume good faith: That Chip was just talking common sense that if I, for example, were to try on a pair of size 00 pants, they would split like a hot dog roasting over a campfire. That's not fat-shaming or sexist, per se, but rather it's objectively true there are sizes that will fit me, and others that won't. I accept that.
But this is part of a bigger movement, in my opinion. Women are starting to protest Photoshop in magazines, impossible beauty standards from the fashion industry, and messaging from marketers that we ought to hate ourselves for who we are (and that the only way to self-love is through a product). Regardless of whether Chip Wilson should be blamed for his arguably innocuous comments, the fact is, they struck a nerve with women.
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We will not be told by anyone that we are not skinny enough, not pretty enough, not enough anymore. We will not be told that size 00 is the size for which we ought to strive, because 00 is nothing. It's less than nothing. And dammit, we are something. Women are fighting to take up more space in CEO seats, offices, hockey rinks and political tables around the world. For anyone to so much as imply that we should be taking up less space is increasingly unacceptable, and I applaud women for not taking this one lying in sivasana.
So maybe Chip is a scapegoat, and for that, I apologize. But bravo to the women who are increasingly owning their bodies and telling the fashion and marketing worlds how we want to be treated.