12 Utterly Bizarre Facts About The Rise Of Lululemon, The Cult-Like Yoga Brand

lululemonLululemon in lemon.

Photo: Wikimedia, CC.

Financially, Lululemon Athletica has gone from strength to strength in the last year. It reported 2011 revenues of $1 billion, up from $712 million the year before, for its trendy $98 yoga pants.But that success came at a price. In January, founder Chip Wilson stepped aside and his duties were taken over by CEO Christine Day, after he generated a string of unfortunate headlines about his weird beliefs.

Those beliefs include favouring child labour, his disdain for the ability of the Japanese to speak English, a love of Ayn Rand, and his opinion that The Pill created a generation of divorce-shattered women now seeking empowerment through yoga.

Here’s how it happened.

The founder is an Ayn Rand fan and the company takes its values from Atlas Shrugged.

Late last year, the company began printing the phrase 'Who is John Galt?' on its shopping bags. Galt, of course, is the star of Rand's 'objectivist' novel, 'Atlas Shrugged,' which argues that the naked pursuit of self-interest should be society's highest ambition. Founder Chip Wilson read the book when he was 18.

Wilson believes the birth control pill and smoking are responsible for high divorce rates—and the existence of Lululemon itself.

Wilson created the name 'Lululemon' because he thinks Japanese people can't say the letter 'L.'

Wilson said he favours using child labour in Third World countries.

Canada's The Tyee reported:

According to those who attended BALLE BC conference, Wilson told the delegates third world children should be allowed to work in factories because it provides them with much-needed wages. They also say he argued that even in Canada there is a place for 12- and 13-year-old street youths to find work in local factories as an alternative to collecting handouts.

'I look at it the same way the WTO does it, and that is that the single easiest way to spread wealth around the world is to have poor countries pull themselves out of poverty,' Wilson told The Tyee.

Wilson is one of those people who refers to himself in third person.

Some believe working at Lululemon is like being in a cult.

Douglas Atkin, author of The Culting of Brands, once told Fast Company, 'It's the first time I've heard of anyone almost directly using the techniques of cults and applying them to their business.'

After their first year of employment at the store chain, staffers are sent for seminars at the Landmark Forum. These seminars are two-day events in which people are encouraged to dig deep into their past in pursuit of personal growth, coupled with a hard sell on attending more seminars.*

*Correction: This article previously contained inaccurate and incomplete information about Landmark Education. Landmark is a mainstream, globally recognised personal and professional growth, training and development company whose programs are offered worldwide. Harris Interactive®, one of the largest and most respected market research firms in the world, conducted an independent survey of health professionals and educators who have taken Landmark's programs and the results show that more than 94% agree that Landmark's programs are professionally conducted and provide great value. We apologise for our error.

Lululemon store staff are not just being friendly. They're gathering data on you.

The Wall Street Journal reported recently that CEO Christine Day doesn't use focus groups. Rather, she spies on customers herself, as does her staff:

… Ms. Day spends hours each week in Lulu stores observing how customers shop, listening to their complaints, and then using the feedback to tweak product and stores.

Lulu also trains its workers to eavesdrop, placing the clothes-folding tables on the sales floor near the fitting rooms rather than in a back room so that workers can overhear complaints.

One customer described the experience this way:

When I buy stuff at Lululemon, they have often asked me where I work out, as well as who my favourite instructors are. This is not just idle talk -- this kind of information is self-consciously gathered by Lululemon sales staff and then reported back to Lululemon HQ every two weeks.

Wilson believes employees should ask their bosses this creepy question about surviving shipwrecks:

'12 people have been shipwrecked on a deserted island. There is one boat that will hold 6 people and if the 6 people work perfectly as team they have a 10% chance of survival. The people left behind will perish. Would you take me and if yes why and if not why not?'

In 2007, Lululemon falsely claimed its clothes were made with seaweed.

Wilson believes that if you get sick, it's your fault.

In his discussion of 'The Secret' on his corporate blog, Wilson argued that illness was mostly a choice. He wrote:

Health attracts health
Sickness attracts sickness

One of the company's corporate mantras is,

Stress is related to 99% of all illness.

Wilson, again:

Greatness is demanding the best of everything and doing what is required to get it. Greatness is demanding friends who demand the best, demanding the best wife or husband and the best job with the best pay. Greatness is demanding the company you work for to make the best products and be uncompromising in its promise to its customers. Greatness is demanding the best out of one's self.

At the beginning of the year, Wilson resigned as chief innovation and branding officer.

The company did not say if the move was linked to the string of controversial headlines Wilson had generated. He stayed on as chairman.

His duties were taken by CEO Christine Day (pictured).

Wilson later invested $14 million in a tea company.

Here's another successful entrepreneur who made mistakes ...

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