Apparently, if you're charging close to $100 for a pair of sweatpants, you can ignore the old adage, the customer is always right. In fact, why not do the opposite and throw that undeserving fattie under the bus, blaming them for your defective product? At least, that's what you do if you're Lululemon.
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.