Billionaire Chip Wilson, the founder of athletic wear brand Lululemon, believes DEI programs are actively harming the company he founded.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion programs have exploded in recent years, specifically in business, government, and academia. The stated goal of the initiatives is good: promoting fairness for everyone. But the way the programs are administered is controversial, particularly because they often promote woke, progressive ideologies to remedy perceived societal disparities.
In the fashion industry, DEI initiatives promote men and women of all colors, shapes, and sizes. But this is a massive branding problem for Lululemon, Wilson told Forbes in an interview.
Bashing the “whole diversity and inclusion thing,” Wilson said that many of the people Lululemon now feature in brand ads look “unhealthy,” “sickly,” and “not inspirational.” The problem, Wilson diagnosed, is Lululemon is not exclusive enough.
“They’re trying to become like the Gap: everything to everybody,” Wilson explained.
“And I think the definition of a brand is that you’re not everything to everybody,” he explained. “You’ve got to be clear that you don’t want certain customers coming in.”
Forbes claimed that Wilson’s “rant” against DEI initiatives proves “why Wilson isn’t the person to run a 21st century retailer.” But the business wisdom contained within his remarks is common, accepted knowledge among entrepreneurs: successful businesses do not try to be everything to everyone all the time. Instead, they carve out a unique niche and reliably deliver high-quality products and solutions.
Wilson is no stranger to controversial remarks about inclusion.
In 2013, he stepped down as chairman of the board of directors of Lululemon after saying that “some women’s bodies just don’t actually work” in Lululemon’s famous yoga pants.
In response to Wilson’s comments to Forbes, Lululemon distanced itself from its former CEO and defended the company’s DEI programs.
“Chip Wilson does not speak for Lululemon, and his comments do not reflect our company views or beliefs,” a Lululemon spokesperson said. “We have made considerable progress since launching our Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Action (IDEA) function, and we are proud of the goals we have achieved.”