Not all bodies are created alike. Not all clothing lines are meant for every shape. The world is made up of J. Crew bodies and Kohl's bodies and that's OK. Everyone who's ever tried on jeans knows this. But when arrogantly philosophical stretchy pants brand Lululemon's founder Chip Wilson tried to explain a recent product failure, he did so in a manner that suggested his company's "live in the moment" maxim isn't such a hot idea when answering journalists.
Earlier this year, the once billion dollar brand, long famed for its magical, butt-flattering $98 pants, came under fire after customers complained the merchandise was too sheer. At the time, Lululemon said that the pants "didn’t meet our high standards" regarding coverage and issued a recall and a refund offer to unhappy patrons. It was a decision that affected 17 percent of its product stock and may ultimately cost the company $67 million. It also threw an unflattering spotlight on the brand's crunchy, wholesome, "sustainable" image, reminding customers that those Sunday morning vinyasa class clothes are made halfway around the world. And its "standards" claim seems questionable after its Taiwan supplier fought back against the charge and insisted, "All the pants were manufactured according to the requirements set out in the contract with Lululemon."
This isn't the company's first flub. Eight years ago, when it was first expanding its manufacturing to Asia, Wilson enthused, "Ninety-five per cent of the factories I've seen in the Orient are far better than ones in North America. In China, many people come from the western provinces and their goal is to work seven days a week 16 hours a day, because in five years they want to have a pile of money to go home with and start a business." Six years ago, the company claimed its "VitaSea" line, which promised to release "marine amino acids, minerals and vitamins into the skin upon contact with moisture," was made with seaweed. It was not. Chip Wilson also thinks that breast cancer is caused by "the number of cigarette-smoking Power Women who were on the pill."
Since the latest debacle last spring, the company's problems have not abated. More recently, customers have been complaining the sheerness is still an issue, and that newly purchased clothing is also now rapidly pilling.
And now, Chip Wilson seems to have decided that the problem has never been in the pants. The problem, he'd like to imply, is your booty, lady. In an interview this week for Bloomberg TV, anatomy expert Wilson, who's previously suggested that the sheerness was a result of women buying pants too small for them, admitted, "There's no doubt that we made a mistake," but insisted, "Women will wear seat belts that don't work or they'll wear a purse that doesn't work, or quite frankly, some women’s bodies just actually don’t work for it … They don't work for some women's bodies. It’s about the rubbing through the thighs, [and] how much pressure is there." Wilson did later in the interview say, when asked if not every woman could wear his pants, "I think they can, I just think it's how you use them." But his comments were an echo of what the company said this summer, when it explained on Facebook, "Our product and design strategy is built around creating products for our target guest in our size range of 2-12. While we know that doesn’t work for everyone and recognize fitness and health come in all shapes and sizes, we’ve built our business, brand and relationship with our guests on this formula."
I'm all for accepting the limits of what everyday wear and tear should be, but that has got to be the dumbest thing anyone's ever said. Yoga doers of the world, unless your thighs are made of pumice, your thighs are not ruining your pants.
In much the same way that Abercrombie & Fitch's Mike Jeffries became a self-revealing bozo the day he admitted, "A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely," Wilson may soon find himself regretting his flippant, blamey remarks. Those people your pants don't "work for"? Don't worry about them; they won't be coming back. And they'll likely take a whole lot of offended perfect yoga butts with them, because not everybody wants to spend a hundred dollars to patronize a company with such an apparently snotty view of its own customers. But if there's one thing that's been proven in all of this, it's that it shouldn't be surprising that a yoga mogul could so effortlessly put his foot in his mouth.