Jonathan Bernstein’s blog post on the Lululemon double crisis (sheer pants then a bad Bloomberg interview, followed by a rather pathetic “apology” video, caused me to look closer at the videos.
The Bloomberg interview which aired Nov 5 had Chip Wilson and Shannon Wilson, founders of Lululemon discussing the problems they have had with sheer yoga pants.
That was followed by an apology video posted on YouTube in which Chip Wilson accepts responsibility for the fray that followed.
What happened? The Bloomberg interviewer asked about pilling. And Chip Wilson (with a very anxious looking Shannon looking on) explained that like a lot of other problems, seatbelts for example, what happens with pants has to do with the woman wearing them and the kind of bodies they have. He referred to thighs rubbing together. OK, now Bloomberg has something juicy, so they headline the interview thusly: “Lululemon Pants Don’t Work for Some Women: Founder.”
And then the sh-storm began. The storm that led to the rather pathetic apology on YouTube.
It’s a crisis, and not a very effective response. But, overall my reaction is different. Mr. Wilson spoke the truth. Those super tight fitting yoga pants are not for every woman. What?! I can’t say that on the Internet! We’re supposed to pretend there are no differences and a company making pants should be egalitarian. Give me a break! This “crisis” isn’t about Lululemon, Chip Wilson or even ill-thought comments. This crisis is about our society and its prickliness, hyper-sensitivity, offensibility, intolerance in the name of pluralism and non-discrimination. Someone looking at this rationally would say its the society in crisis and not the company who doesn’t make yoga pants for every woman and a founder who would have the integrity to express that on TV.
Sure, some are going to be offended. Hey, if your thighs rub together a lot, then these pants are going to pill and you should probably look at something else–maybe like jeans. But, we can’t say that can we. Not with the Internet. Not with a TV channel that will take your words, meant to explain and be helpful, and turn them into a headline sure to cause outrage.
The truth is Chip Wilson should not be doing interviews, nor should he do YouTube videos. He’s too honest. Bernstein would have him in his interview be more apologetic rather than asking his employees (whom he acknowledged he hurt by his comments) to be above the fray. Here he is being honest and authentic again. Apologize for what? Speaking the truth? For causing the fracas? Why, when it is the hypersensitive fed by an outrage seeking media that caused it?
The truth is that is the world we live in and Chip Wilson lives in. It is a crisis, a crisis that could have been averted by being less honest, less forthright, less transparent than Mr. Wilson. I hate to say this, God I hate to say this, but Lululemon needed a spinner on that interview. One that would have stuck to the talking points. Who would have diverted the question by saying: we continually look for ways to improve our product so that all women of every shape and size can enjoy our superior pants. It wouldn’t be true, honest or transparent, but it would not have caused the storm.
And if the apology was needed, Mr. Wilson should have had a script and practiced and practiced it, rather than going off rather like he was just getting over a serious bout of grief. He should have said, “I am so sorry, sorry that I misspoke and offended women across this country. We of course are working harder than ever to make the best possible pants for all women regardless of how much their thighs rub together.” No, he shouldn’t have. Because he couldn’t in all honesty. And I do get the sense that honesty, transparency and integrity are important to him.
So many crises these days are a result of not thinking through how the loud, prickly, hypersensitive voices will dominate the conversation. Far too many are created by the outrage seeking irresponsibility of media–fanning the flames for their own profits. I can decry it, and I do. But it is our reality and one we must live in.
I suspect Mr. Wilson has learned that lesson. Next time, we will see someone capable of meeting these expectations more effectively.