A Mindfulness Concept
With Shannon and I both removed once again from the day-to-day management of lululemon, we now had more time to focus on launching a new initiative based on one-minute mindfulness exercises. Shannon and I sought to develop a free digital platform offering training to individuals, schools, and companies. We were wealthy, creative people with no creative outlet, and we wanted to do something more for the world.
A Bloomberg interview was set for November 5, 2013, at their New York studio. The show was Street Smart, a business analysis and commentary program. The anchor was Trish Regan, an experienced journalist who’d appeared on CNBC, CBS, and Fox, among others.
As was expected, the interview on November 5, 2013, started with Trish Regan asking us to define mindfulness.
Then came the switch.
“I want to segue into another story,” Trish said. “You’re the founder [of lululemon], you’re a former designer . . . what’s going on with the pants?”1
My initial response was to focus on the unique challenges of producing a technical fabric. “When you push technology,” I replied, “something’s going to happen every now and then.”2
Trish pressed a little harder, asking me about complaints of pilling on the fabric.
My reply: “There has always been pilling. The thing is that women will wear seat belts that don’t work, or they’ll wear a purse that doesn’t work, or quite frankly some women’s bodies just actually don’t work for it.”
Trish: “They don’t work for the pant?”
Me: “No, they don’t work for some women’s bodies.”3
I knew from working in the stores that something about our perfect fit hadn’t been working and I couldn’t put my finger on it. I didn’t say that in the moment, but after the social media backlash from this comment, I had an “aha” moment.
Women had been buying our Luon pants not just for athletics, but as a compression garment to shape their bodies, like Spanx. But lululemon pants, and Luon, specifically, were designed for athletic use, not compression.
Women wanted to reframe their bodies while also training and sweating to improve their bodies. I could sense something was happening to the integrity of the pants, but the real information was emerging slowly and only after women had owned the pants for six months or more.
So, when asked why lululemon pants pill, I considered my own market research. I had studying every person’s body and clothing for as far back as I could remember. I had a lifetime of gathered information. I hear fabric crinkle. I feel other people’s bad quality clothing, and I feel sorry for people wearing stiff, uncomfortable fabric. I smell the odour from polyester fabrics. I cringe at hiked-up pants, poor-fitting bras or plumber’s butt. I understand the correlation between every athlete’s body and the millimetre of fabric required to make every type of fabric work.
I calculate the exact perfect athletic garment for each body, and then I correlate it to the average, so that I can make and sell the greatest quantity to the most people. I cross-reference the cost of fabric per body, and I determine if there are enough consumers of that body type to design a style and make enough pieces to make money. I assess the cost of marketing to each segment group, for which there could be 40 billion permutations and combinations.
With the pilling, what I eventually discovered was that some customers were buying the pants two to four sizes smaller than necessary, with body-shaping in mind. The pants still looked great, but there was more stress being placed on the fabric and seams than what we’d originally designed it for. If enough stress is placed on any object, fractures can occur.
When Trish Regan tried to pigeonhole our exchange by saying, “Interesting, not every woman can wear a lululemon yoga pant,” I immediately replied, “No, I think they can. I just think it’s how you use it.”4 I thought this clarified my remarks.
Shannon and I left the studio feeling good. It wasn’t until the next morning that I knew there was real trouble. Bloomberg’s editors had spliced and diced the footage into something out of reality TV. Trish Regan exemplified what I considered the “false front” of the media. Perhaps Trish had been in survival mode and was facing terrible ratings. Similar to Roger Ayles’ Fox News approach, media competition had become so fierce that if Bloomberg didn’t create news, they couldn’t differentiate themselves in the media marketplace. What was simple had been made scandalous.
From the Bloomberg moment on, nothing would be the same. My comments were the antithesis of everything I stood for and of everything the women of lululemon and I had built. The ramifications for the company, for my family and for everyone involved were catastrophic.
I made a mistake and I was going to pay heavily for it. The tendency to throw stones and lash out at an easy target has gained momentum in recent years. For those who have judged me on this comment alone and deemed me an irresponsible loose cannon, I would say they are not the 32-year-old highly educated, media savvy, athletic person for whom lululemon was created.