Now that he’s no longer with Lululemon, ex-CEO Chip Wilson is deep into the business of his new store, Kit and Ace. Still, he can’t help being critical of his old company. In a New York Times interview, the sage womenswear guru criticizes the brand’s new business model, saying it’s no longer “a woman’s company.”
For the Times profile published on Tuesday, writer Katherine Rosman tagged along with Wilson for a company breakfast in Soho and a tour of retail spots. In it, we learn that he believes in “Jewish Standard Time” (when you have a soft arrival for cocktails) and “coconut time” (for people in Miami) and will attempt to embarrass you at length—as he tried to with Rosman—if you show up 15 minutes late.
We also learn that he still considers Lululemon a star in the market and that he likes square tables. Rosman describes Chip as “an imposing figure, 6 feet 2 inches tall, with a large head shaved bald and the scruff of a beard,” as well as “friendly and open.”
While speaking about his old venture, Wilson tells Rosman that Lululemon “has turned from being a woman’s company to being a man’s company,” adding that, “It didn’t follow through on building a pipeline of women. We got a lot of women who were older, and they didn’t develop women under them. I think they were trying to protect their jobs.”
Lululemon’s major PR disaster was, of course, all those expensive see-through pants they sold at nonsense prices, and the fact that Wilson blamed the see-through pants on the big butts within them. As he’s done in the past, Wilson continued to deny responsibility. “I became a scapegoat for a lot of people not doing what they were supposed to do,” he says. “It was Machiavellian rules, but I didn’t know I was playing a game. I’ve been coached not to say the things that I’m saying.”
Even so, Wilson still respects his old business. During a cab ride, this happened:
“The market is so volatile,” he said.
“Any stars?” his wife asked.
“That is really great,” she said. “It’s very important to us. We follow it. It was where we fell in love.”
That exchange doesn’t at all sound staged.
Rather than specifically workout gear, Kit and Ace, which launched in 2014, targets athleisure customers who want comfy daylong threads, with a focus on “technical cashmere.” Wilson has opened 60 stores (not just in the U.S.), a process he describes as a birth of sorts.
“A new business is like a baby,” he says. “It cries, it’s puking, it’s 24 hours a day and sometimes you don’t know why you did it. But then you give it a bath and put some powder on it and you can’t believe how beautiful it is.”
The greatest/grossest part of the profile perhaps is Rosman’s description of Wilson at a breakfast meeting, where he meets with a group of women employees to talk about the company’s goals. Chip is characteristically inappropriate:
“It is a precious experience to have these breakfasts,” Mr. Wilson said. “Look at the beautiful girl I get to sit beside!”
Everyone at the table tee-hee’d, awkwardly.
He turned to one of the women and asked, “If you woke up with amnesia and couldn’t remember your name, what would you call yourself?”
“Stephanie,” the woman answered, before mentioning that it was a name her parents had considered giving her.
Mr. Wilson rejected her response. If she had amnesia, he reasoned, she wouldn’t know that she even had parents, much less that they had almost named her Stephanie. “With amnesia,” he said, “you have no past. Your name could be Refrigerator. This is about ultimate possibility.”
Never change, Chip.
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