Dennis "Chip" Wilson, the Lululemon co-founder whose mouth poops offensive statements, announced Monday that he's stepping down from his board post at the overpriced yoga pants shrine that he and his wife built. In light of his exit, The New York Times spoke to the extremely Zen clothier for a lengthy profile, in which Wilson says, "I feel like I've kind of been in prison."
The 59-year-old was interviewed in his Vancouver home (pictured here), which looks like a beautiful prison with a dog and everything. In the past few years, he's faced a series of PR headaches, thanks to silly women who were sold on the promise of expensive see-through yoga tights. Wilson's famously crap defense: "Some women's bodies don't work for the pants."
Lululemon had to recall the sheer pants in 2013, although as NYT writer Amy Wallace mentions, "Some women who tried to return the pants at Lululemon stores said they were told to put them on and bend over so staff members could determine just how see-through they were."
Sadly for this poor little rich guy, his company's stocks later took a hit and execs asked him to stop saying things:
Thus began what Wilson thinks of as his incarceration. Over the next year, his net worth would plummet 47 percent, according to Canadian Business magazine — to just $2.1 billion. As Lululemon's biggest shareholder, and as a member of its board, he says, he was told by the company's executives that it was his fiduciary duty to refrain from further public statements.
Wilson sort of apologized, but even now he's sorry he's not sorry:
"If you are doing a brand well, you need to offend somebody, or you're not standing for anything," he told me. He remained a bit hurt, and a little mystified, by the drubbing he'd taken. "I mean, how women can say these things about me given everything I've done to build the women's company?" he asked. "My background has always been people telling me my ideas are crazy. And I've noticed that 90 percent of them have come true."
The strangest part of the profile is the description of Wilson's Ayn Rand-inspired management style, which an ex-store-manager calls "a little brainwash-y." It certainly sounds cultish:
He likes to quote Ayn Rand — he once put "Who was John Galt?" on a Lululemon shopping bag — and to repeat the lessons of the Landmark Forum, the controversial program of motivational seminars founded on Werner Erhard's '70s EST philosophy of "self-actualization." It has been called a cult, but Wilson told me that when he first discovered Landmark, he was struck by the idea that "once I take responsibility, then I have power." He is a strict believer, and he has used it to shape Lululemon's corporate culture.
Here's Wilson explaining why he started Lululemon (short answer: CAPITALISM):
"If I could eliminate the middlemen, have my own retail stores and sell the pants for $90 to $95," Wilson recalls thinking, "I bet you women will buy billions of them." He made some prototypes and asked his yoga teacher to beta-test them. She gave them raves: they were comfortable but tight enough to stay put; they were not sheer; as a plus, they made her backside look good. "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 told me. "Girls ended up wearing it, and guys commented on it."
Because the only reason women wear clothing at all is for men. Wilson also describes Lululemon's muse as "a 32-year-old professional single woman named Ocean who makes $100,000 a year."
Ocean was the target market, he explained, because she was the woman who all women want to be. "If you're 20 years old or you're graduating from university, you can't wait to be that woman," he said. "If you're 42 years old with a couple children, you wish you had that time back."
Cool, cool. In his official exit letter, Wilson explained that he'll now be devoting his attention to helping his wife Shannon and son J.J. launch Kit and Ace, which he refers to as "the next Lululemon, so to speak."
And of course Kit and Ace also has its muses. Did you have to ask?
Kit, a 29-year-old single woman who, Shannon told me, "is looking to buy her first apartment, but is still renting. She works in the creative area, like in graphic design or fashion, and loves to bike on weekends"; and Ace, a 32-year-old similarly groovy guy, who drinks strong coffee, "likes to go to breweries and hangs out with his friends. He does CrossFit once a week and spins three times a week, loves brunch on the weekends."
Chip Wilson is truly a work of art. Again, you can read the full profile here.
Image via Lululemon