(Reuters) - When the founder of athletic apparel business Lululemon said his products were wrong for certain body shapes, some customers were quick to take offense, creating a potential public relations headache for the highly successful company.
“Quite frankly, some women’s bodies just actually don’t work for it (his clothing),” Chip Wilson said in an interview with Bloomberg TV this week. “They don’t work for some women’s bodies.”
From New York to San Francisco, reaction was harsh.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous. I’ve shopped there before, but I won’t again,” said Sashea Lawson, a triathlete and distance runner in New York City.
Across the country, barista and runner Raine Stark said women were tired of pressure to achieve “upper thigh clearance.”
“It’s problematic to try to shame women or push one body form,” said Stark, 23, at an Oakland fitness shop. “If your thighs touch, it doesn’t affect your quality of life. It’s meaningless.”
The company did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Wilson created a phenomenal success story with Lululemon Athletica Inc, whose net revenues have soared nine-fold since 2006 to $1.37 billion by the end of fiscal 2012.
Investors love the company, whose forward price-to-earnings ratio stands at 29.7 against the 18.0 median of its peers, according to Thomson Reuters data. Revenue for the next 12 months is expected to grow 20.8 percent, nearly four times the 5.4 percent expected from its peers.
But the maker of form-fitting workout clothes has hit some snags.
Some Lululemon yoga pants were so sheer as to be see-through, leading to a recall in March that will cost $57 million to $67 million in sales this year. In June, chief executive officer Christine Day unexpectedly announced she was leaving. Recently, the company received complaints its products were susceptible to little pills on the fabric, or pilling.
Wilson was discussing the pilling issue in the TV interview when he made the comment about women’s bodies.
“It’s really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there over a period of time and how much they use it,” Wilson said.
The triathlete Lawson said Wilson should stand by his product rather than blame his customers. Others were perplexed, believing Lululemon was made for every woman.
“They are supposed to sort of make every body shape flattering. That’s what I’ve always heard from the sales people, who are always super helpful, super nice,” said Leila Richards, who has been practicing yoga for 20 years and only recently started shopping at Lululemon.
Still, there were those who thought Wilson might have a point, even if it hurts his business.
“People need to be conscious of how they present themselves in public,” said Anne Baker, 25, of Brooklyn. “He probably shouldn’t have said it. It’s going to be horrible PR. But it doesn’t mean it isn’t true.”
Additional reporting by Laila Kearney; Writing by Daniel Trotta. Editing by Andre Grenon