November 16, 2013

In Defense of Lululemon’s CEO, Chip Wilson.

Summary: We put our money into a corporation we know is a big ****, they’re gonna act like big ****s, and that’s their right.

So now’s the time to invest our hard-earned yoga outfit dollars in companies that are actually mindful. ~ Waylon Lewis, ed.

Image source here.

In Defense of Lululemon’s CEO, Chip Wilson.

Okay, that title of mine is bullshit.


I don’t particularly care to defend Lululemon or Chip Wilson. You should know that they’ve never advertised and never will and I therefore have no backroom reason to be nicey nice to them, unlike…other yoga publications. That said, I like to try and be fair. It’s a nice thing to be.

Lululemon staff in Boulder, my hometown, have never been anything but outgoingly, genuinely kind to me. Same at Yoga Journal conferences. They’re nice people. There’s a nice company culture, and as a (smaller, much smaller, okay, miniscule-level) CEO myself, I admire Lulu for creating such a proactive, independent, inspired company culture.

For years, however, I’ve criticized Lululemon for this. I stand by that, and underline it here. Literally!

And, this: Lululemon could and should be an ethically-sourced brand, since it takes the dollars of an ethics-focused community. But: said demographic isn’t ethical, particularly: the yoga folks of the world consume, consume, consume, and much of that consumption is of products made unethically.

Still, yoga is a path, not just a demographic or an industry, and the path itself is founded upon ethics.

So: it’s an obvious thing to say but we who practice yoga should walk our talk, and support brands that are equally as ethical as our practice. Secondhand should be our first shopping option. Inner Waves and Blue Canoe and the like should be where we send our dollars, next.

But, in a limited defense of Lululemon, they make nice stuff, that fits (some of us) well, and lasts a long time (or, doesn’t, according to who you’re talking to). I’d say that they make great men’s shorts. Great. They fit, they work, they don’t cling. The shorts fit well, and serve my practice well. So, props to Lululemon’s designers.

To shift to offense, the shorts are made of plastic—like everything in Lulu. Plastic is indirectly related to cancer, and to permanently polluting our environment. It’s the last thing that we want to sweat in. Heat plus water plus plastic..? No.

Next, as mentioned previously, the shorts are made in a factory resembling this. Poor unicorns.

Secondly, I respect Chip for saying what he actually thinks. That’s rare.

I don’t believe that his apology is sincere—I think, in private, he thinks what he said was clumsy, but true: that it’s hard to design his clothes for all sizes without getting overly sheer (nakey), and Lulu doesn’t try all that hard.

So let’s remember: it’s the right of any company to target any demographic, and the funny (sad?) thing about this latest controversy is that, if anything, it will help Lululemon’s reputation for being the yoga outfit of choice for slim, well-off “yoga girls.” Still, I find it sad that we the people love to pile up on any public figure for speaking their mind—however wrong. It doesn’t work to change their minds. They simply begin to be less sincere. I would rather Chip offend us than cloak his actual ethics, inspirations, and views behind BS PR. Wouldn’t you, too? For better and worse, Lulu has a long history of doing what it wants, with a sense of humor, or heart, and damn the consequences.

Hell, even their name, apparently, is jokey racism-lite (Chip thought it’d be funny to challenge the ability of the many Japanese-Canadians of Vancouver, Lulu’s home, to say his company’s name: RuRuRemon, haah, right?).

But that’s what we get when we, a community (not merely a demographic) with the ability to actually help to transform ourselves, our society and our planet for the better, invest our hard-earned dollars in a right of rightwing public company and a wealthy CEO who doesn’t (frankly) think you should be wearing his yoga pants if you look like this.


1. I hope this controversy encourages Lulu to make their company’s products more fair labor, and more eco-responsible. I doubt it. But I’d love it. It’d be a free-PR bonanza from a psyched community.

2. I hope this controversy encourages Lulu fans to support mindful businesses, including Lulu if it gets mindful.

3. I hope this controversy isn’t just a gossipy, angry pile-on-Chip for speaking his mind.

4. I hope this controversy doesn’t encourage Chip to cease to speak his mind. I hope he and his wife will continue to support mainstream meditation. I hope he’ll continue to build a wildly successful company that makes products that are well-loved and brings the path of yoga to the malls of America (etc).

Then we can all go back to…you know, our (eco, fair labor?) yoga mat.


PS: I know it’s lululemon, not Lululemon. I just like to tweak our friends at lulu, a little, to make sure we can all laugh and smile at ourselves and this situation, despite the serious questions and issues it touches upon.

PPS: not particularly relephant, but it’s elephant journal, not Elephant Journal.




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turiya Nov 17, 2013 2:54pm

this whole issue about Lululemon is kinda funny from where i sit: I live in Australia and did yoga for about 25 years before I even heard the name Lululemon.. but first i think i may have seen an ad in a US magazine. It just seemed like another 'brand' doing snazzy marketing to cash in on the "new" (haha) yoga craze sweeping through the west. Never did I think that it would catch on OR even worse, that a lot of 'newbies' would think they had to have "yoga pants" or "yoga gear" as we call it here in order to do yoga or attend class. Who would have thought?! It became quite surprising (okay, I admit, amusing) when i started to see the little Lululemon logo sneak its way into the various studios I practice in… first on the pants, then on tops, mats, wow! you name it!! — it was spreading like bird flu! and someone somewhere was making a sh*t load of $$. Okay we live in a capitalist culture, and marketing can take over common sense but somehow I thought yoga might be immuned to this madness. A few stores have opened across Australia – so of course I have checked them out. What an eye opener! How overpriced can a pair of stretchy pants be??! Is it the cool logo? (yes the sales girls are sweet) but – C'mon boys and girls – we are not in a fashion show. Lets get back to breathing deep and slow – and closing our little eyes so we don't have to be distracted by any little logos or wonder if her's are better than ours etc. etc. I'm a bit sick of hearing the name now – so maybe the brand has its own karma and 'this too will pass'.

Claire Nov 17, 2013 1:54pm

I enjoyed this article but as a somewhat naive shopper, I know few other yoga apparel options. Any suggestions of where a girl can get good quality, eco-friendly, fair-labor yoga clothes and accessories? Thanks!

amphibi1yogini Nov 16, 2013 8:01pm

Aaannd, in other news … a large, flagship Athleta store is opening up in New York City's Union Square area (a.k.a. "The Wheatpacking District") just blocks from lululemon. This store is humongous. And, 'tis just days away …. [not that yours truly can afford to shop there much…]

& these clothes are not just about being able to rock a good tonga on your culo underneath, thank God… so when I've saved up some, I'm back there …

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Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of Elephant Journal & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat.” Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword’s Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by “Greatist”, Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: “the mindful life” beyond the choir & to all those who didn’t know they gave a care. elephantjournal.com | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, touches on modern relationships from a Buddhist point of view. His dream of 9 years, the Elephant “Ecosystem” will find a way to pay 1,000s of writers a month, helping reverse the tide of low-quality, unpaid writing & reading for free online.