Lululemon’s ex-CEO wrote an “unauthorized” history of the brand. Here’s what we learned.
Chip Wilson, the founder and former CEO of the yoga apparel brand Lululemon, has written a tell-all book about his life and the business he built — and it is one wild read.
Little Black Stretchy Pants, which comes out on November 27, is being marketed as “the unauthorized story of Lululemon” — fitting given that the famously controversial Wilson stepped down as chairman of the board in 2013, and hasn’t been on the company’s board since 2015. (Lululemon has also distanced itself from its rogue founder; Wilson’s name isn’t even on its “our story” page, and Lululemon declined to comment about the book to Vox.)
Wilson’s Lululemon kick-started the athleisure market boom. Its $100 “Wunder Under” spandex leggings became ubiquitous in the fitness world, and the company convinced wealthy women they needed its luxury gear for working out. In the 20 years since its inception, Lululemon has developed a cult following; women and men alike swear by its products, to the point where there are underground markets dedicated to buying used Lululemon goods.
Under Wilson’s stewardship, the company has also been dogged by controversy and media blunders, and developed a reputation for being insular, pretentious, and eerie at times, due to the company’s obsession with developing employees under the self-help movement Landmark Forum.
I have covered Lululemon for almost five years, writing about the company’s products, fan groups, marketing efforts, and workplace culture. I read Wilson’s book in part to learn if the media’s depiction of him as being “socially inept,” unfiltered, and arrogant was unfair.
I found little to convince me he has been mischaracterized. This is, after all, a man who said in a videotaped interview that Lululemon pants weren’t made to be worn by all women; scolded a reporter for being late and invoked the phrase “Jewish Standard Time”; and checked out a woman’s butt while being interviewed by another reporter. (His book’s front cover, it’s worth noting, is a photo of a butt, in Lululemon leggings.)