Over a decade ago when lululemon started in Vancouver and quickly took off, I remember a lot of Vancouverites feeling proud. At UBC it was rare to walk between classes and not pass by at least one girl wearing a hoodie or three-quarter-length pants with that iconic omega symbol logo.
I remember going into a lululemon store and feeling good to shop there, like I was doing something good for myself and helping a local, socially-conscious business.
Judging by the success of the business over the years, a lot of customers must have continued to feel that way.
But that goodwill has surely been challenged by the recent lululemon body-shaming through comments made by founder/Ayn Rand fan/company spiritual leader Chip Wilson. The controversy started when Wilson and his wife appeared on Bloomberg TV and Wilson was asked about complaints that some of lululemon’s pants were too sheer. Wilson’s response? Blame women’s bodies:
“Some bodies actually do not work for it,” Wilson replied. When asked to elaborate, he continued, “Even our small size will fit an extra large. It is really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there over a period of time, and how much they use them.”
You’re saying women are paying you up to $130 a pair for yoga pants and they shouldn’t expect them to last if their thighs rub together? News flash: most women’s thighs touch. Do you really think it’s up to your women customers to work to fit your pants rather than the other way around?
Wilson has now sort-of-not-really apologized for his comments, in a YouTube message that lasts less than a minute and appears to be targeted more at staff than customers. He apologizes that he’s “put you all through this” but never says his comments were wrong.
I’m not remotely shocked, because lululemon has a long history of reinforcing gender norms and body ideals.
For one, they don’t sell clothes for women larger than a size 12. In 2005, Wilson said he would never sell larger sizes because they would require more fabric to make, so he’d have to charge even more. He tried to make it seem that just not making the clothes was his way of being “sensitive” to plus-sized customers. Even that sad excuse doens’t explain why staff have reported the size 10 and 12 merchandise is separated out from the smaller sizes and practically hidden in some stores.
Although recently lululemon is trying harder to market to men, their customer base, upon which their success is built, has always been women. Lyndsay at Our Feminist Playschool gave me the heads-up about a 2009 blog post by Wilson that reveals even more about his messed-up beliefs about women, in case you weren’t turned off enough by his fat-shaming. You should hop over to read the whole thing, but it starts out: Read more