Insights / public-relations

Problems with your Lululemon yoga pants? Blame your thighs?!

We have another Lululemon PR debacle on our hands: Lululemon Co-founders Chip and Shannon Wilson recently made an appearance on Bloomberg TV’s Street Smart segment.

During their interview, they touched on issues that have been circulating such as the sheer yoga pants, apparel sizes and pilling issues. Most recently, there have been customer complaints that the pants are now pilling after a few months.

Instead of having a well thought-through answer and possible solution, Chip explained, “There’s always been pilling… Frankly some women’s bodies just don’t actually work for it [yoga pants].” As a PR brand manager and a woman, I gasped at his comment. I could not believe the words coming out of his mouth. Was he actually trying to put the blame on the customer? What was he thinking?

And the immediate damage did not stop there. Chip continued, “They don’t work for some women’s bodies, it’s really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there over a period of time, how much they use them.” Shannon, formerly Lululemon’s chief designer, looked stunned by the comment and interrupted Chip to try and help the situation by giving an alternative explanation. Shannon offered, “What people need to consider is what’s the use and what it’s being up against. Are you sitting on a cement ground?” Unfortunately it did not help.

While this might be an odd example, at Mason, we believe that media training is essential for anyone who is going to interact with the media – especially if an issue is brewing. In order to face issues that may arise with a product, it is imperative to prepare by having appropriate answers to convey to the media. In Lululemon’s case, the founders seemed to drop the ball on this matter, and now the company’s clients are dropping left and right! This could have been easily avoided, and Chip could have shown support to his customers instead of insulting and knocking them down.

It is a shame that a company that has a strong following was so ill prepared to answer issues customers are facing with its products. Instead of properly addressing the issue and showing the actions being taken to improve their products, Chip Wilson blamed the pilling issue on his customers’ thighs.

Understanding the issue at hand and their customers’ brand experience should have been at the forefront of his mind. Customers will support brands/products that work to rectify poor product performance and stand behind them as they work through the issue. However, after these comments, I wonder whether Lululemon will have the following they once had.

What are your thoughts? How do you think this will affect the company? Can they correct course?