Is It Time Time to Drop Your Lululemon Obsession?

The beloved athleisure brand’s CEO just stepped down due to misconduct. But the scandals that have surrounded Lululemon in the past few years have seemingly done nothing to dim the loyalty of its (largely female) demographic

A photo of former Lululemon CEO Laurent Potdevin against the brand's logo

Laurent Potdevin (Photograph: Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press)

On Monday, Laurent Potdevin—CEO of Lululemon—stepped down from his role because of professional misconduct, although the company is keeping tight-lipped about what that actually means. The Vancouver-based yoga wear brand announced the news in a statement which read, in part: “Lululemon expects all employees to exemplify the highest levels of integrity and respect for one another. Mr. Potdevin fell short of these standards of conduct.”

Potdevin will be still be paid out $5 million despite whatever misconduct occurred. (According to a Bloomberg report, insiders say his departure doesn’t have anything to do with finances or operations, but “spanned a range of incidents and involved multiple individuals.”) Lululemon also lost its creative director Lee Holman in November, who left for “personal reasons.”

Previously the president of feel-good footwear company Toms, Potdevin joined Lululemon at a time when it was mired in controversy around its Luon pants, which were see-through in all the wrong places, prompting a PR nightmare that culminated in two high-profile departures.

Potdevin’s alleged misconduct—coupled with Lululemon founder and former CEO Chip Wilson’s problematic comments about the Luon debacle—is even more troubling considering the fact that Lululemon sees itself not as an athletic-wear retailer, but a leadership development organization dedicated to self-actualization via stretchy fabric and the clichéd aphorisms that abound on its reusable shopping bags (“Creativity is maximized when you are living in the moment”). The controversies that have surrounded the company in the last few years—which have seemingly done nothing to dim the loyalty of its (largely female) demographic—reveal that the leaders themselves clearly have some self-actualizing to do.

Before you drop your hard-earned money on another pair of Wunder Under tights, here are five signs that Lululemon might not love you as much as you love it.

The company is facing a lawsuit alleging it promoted and relocated a known serial sexual harasser

As reported in December by BuzzFeed, a part-time employee alleges she was assaulted by her supervisor, who was moved from another store to the location where she worked in Santa Monica. The lawsuit describes the company as “the perfect environment for a sexual predator.” Lululemon initiated an internal investigation that found the supervisor was not in line with its code of conduct, and he resigned. The company told BuzzFeed that its Santa Monica store management team was not aware of the supervisor’s previous misconduct when he was transferred. According to CNBC, the Los Angeles County District Attorney decided not to prosecute the supervisor for rape.

Founder Chip Wilson credited the company’s success to him being a straight guy who knows what other straight guys want to see

“I think that Lululemon was so successful because I was probably the only straight guy that was making women’s apparel, and I knew what a guy liked,” Wilson said in a 2015 New York Times Magazine profile. “Girls ended up wearing it, and guys commented on it.”

It handled the Luon recall very, very poorly

As if paying $100 for yoga pants that reveal more than you bargained for wasn’t bad enough, there were reports that when women went to return the pants, they were asked to put them on and bend over to prove they were really too sheer.

And then Wilson made it worse by saying his clothes aren’t for some women’s bodies

When asked about the Luon controversy—as well as about new complaints that the pants were pilling—in a 2013 Bloomberg interview, Wilson replied that “some women’s bodies don’t work for [the pants].” When pressed about what he meant, he said: “It’s really about the rubbing through the thighs.” Wilson stepped down as chairman shortly after making these comments.

Wilson blamed the rise of breast cancer rates on the behaviour of “Power Women”

In a 2009 blog post, Wilson wrote: “Breast cancer also came into prominence in the 1990’s. I suggest this was due to the number of cigarette-smoking Power Women who were on the pill (initial concentrations of hormones in the pill were very high) and taking on the stress previously left to men in the working world.” Um, okay. (Meanwhile, the company’s imaginary “muse,” whom Wilson described in his New York Times profile, looked a lot like a power woman—Ocean, a 32-year-old single woman who owns a condo, makes six figures and has oodles of excess money to spend on clothes to lounge in.)

While it’s easy to get distracted by Lululemon hawking the promise of enlightenment via a gorgeous sports bra, it may be time for female consumers to educate the company on what a women-friendly corporate culture really looks like.

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