December 13, 2013

Lululemon tries to regroup

Comments by Lululemon's CEO find a cold audience among yoga enthusiasts in Maine.

By Leslie Bridgers
Staff Writer

The day after Erin Beaupain of Portland bought some very pricey workout shirts at the upscale Lululemon clothing outlet in Kittery, the company’s chairman publicly blamed “some women’s bodies” for complaints about the quality of its yoga pants and their tendency to become see-through when stretched.

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Pedestrians pass by Lululemon, seller of high-end yoga clothing, on Milk Street in Portland on Thursday. Remarks by the company’s resigning CEO have led some former customers to shop for other brands.

Photos by Jill Brady/Staff Photographer

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Jamie Blumenthal, former Lululemon customer: "I'm not going to have my butt hanging out."

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Like many customers, Beaupain, 25, found the comments so offensive, she swore off the brand.

“Now I’m embarrassed and won’t even wear it,” she said.

On Monday, a month after the notorious comments aired on Bloomberg Television, Lululemon Athletica Inc. announced that founder and chairman Chip Wilson will resign next year. The company is also replacing chief executive Christine Day with Laurent Potdevin, formerly the president of Toms Shoes, a company that donates some of its shoes to children in need.

On Thursday, Lululemon predicted weak sales for the fourth quarter. Its stock price closed at $60.39, close to a 12-month low and down from a 52-week high of $82.50.

In southern Maine, where Lululemon has two stores – the Kittery outlet and a showroom in Portland – women working out at local gyms said they were reluctant to buy its high-priced products.

An employee at the Lululemon Portland showroom, the company’s term for a smaller store with limited inventory, declined to say how business has been affected by the negative publicity.

The Canadian company did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday.

Opinions were sharp at the Planet Fitness gym in Portland.

Former Lululemon customer Jaime Blumenthal had not heard about the chairman’s comments, but was familiar with the quality complaints. Blumenthal owned a few pairs of the pants, she said, until her sister borrowed them. She won’t be trying to get them back.

“I’m not going to have my butt hanging out,” Blumenthal said.

Several young women coming in and out of the gym said that they already avoid buying Lululemon products: Prices for workout pants start at $78.

Carrie Allen of Portland, 26, said she thinks people who would spend that kind of money care more about wearing the brand than about having quality workout clothes.

“They’re like the Abercombie & Fitch of the yoga world,” she said, referring to another company whose head was criticized for comments some called insensitive. Abercombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries said in 2006 that the company catered to “cool kids.”

Helen Gillis of Cape Elizabeth, 22, said Wilson’s comments didn’t matter. “You can buy yoga pants at Target or Walmart,” she said.

Women’s workout pants were advertised online Thursday at around $30 at Target, and as cheap as $8 at Walmart.

Aside from yoga pants, Lululemon sells sports bras, tank tops and scarves, as well as a men’s line.

John Eldredge of Cumberland doesn’t wear the clothes, and only heard a “snippet” of coverage about the situation, but said a universal rule applies: “I think any leader, whether it’s a CEO or a leader of anything, who takes the risk of making controversial comments risks paying the price,” he said.

Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:

Twitter: @lesliebridgers

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Additional Photos

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John Eldredge, doesn't wear Lululemon clothes: "I think any leader, whether it's a CEO or a leader of anything, who takes the risk of making controversial comments risks paying the price."

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Carrie Allen, Portland: "They're like the Abercrombie & Fitch of the yoga world."

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Helen Gillis, has never bought clothes from Lululemon: "You can buy yoga pants at target or Walmart."

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