By Victoria Cavaliere and Solarina Ho
Nov 8 (Reuters) - When the founder of athletic apparelbusiness Lululemon said his products were wrong for certain bodyshapes, some customers were quick to take offense, creating apotential public relations headache for the highly successfulcompany.
"Quite frankly, some women's bodies just actually don't workfor it (his clothing)," Chip Wilson said in an interview withBloomberg TV this week. "They don't work for some women'sbodies."
From New York to San Francisco, reaction was harsh.
"It's absolutely ridiculous. I've shopped there before, butI won't again," said Sashea Lawson, a triathlete and distancerunner in New York City.
Across the country, barista and runner Raine Stark saidwomen were tired of pressure to achieve "upper thigh clearance."
"It's problematic to try to shame women or push one bodyform," said Stark, 23, at an Oakland fitness shop. "If yourthighs touch, it doesn't affect your quality of life. It'smeaningless."
The company did not immediately respond to requests forcomment.
Wilson created a phenomenal success story with LululemonAthletica Inc, whose net revenues have soared nine-foldsince 2006 to $1.37 billion by the end of fiscal 2012.
Investors love the company, whose forward price-to-earningsratio stands at 29.7 against the 18.0 median of its peers,according to Thomson Reuters data. Revenue for the next 12months is expected to grow 20.8 percent, nearly four times the5.4 percent expected from its peers.
But the maker of form-fitting workout clothes has hit somesnags.
Some Lululemon yoga pants were so sheer as to besee-through, leading to a recall in March that will cost $57million to $67 million in sales this year. In June, chiefexecutive officer Christine Day unexpectedly announced she wasleaving. Recently, the company received complaints its productswere susceptible to little pills on the fabric, or pilling.
Wilson was discussing the pilling issue in the TV interviewwhen he made the comment about women's bodies.
"It's really about the rubbing through the thighs, how muchpressure is there over a period of time and how much they useit," Wilson said.
The triathlete Lawson said Wilson should stand by hisproduct rather than blame his customers. Others were perplexed,believing Lululemon was made for every woman.
"They are supposed to sort of make every body shapeflattering. That's what I've always heard from the sales people,who are always super helpful, super nice," said Leila Richards,who has been practicing yoga for 20 years and only recentlystarted shopping at Lululemon.
Still, there were those who thought Wilson might have apoint, even if it hurts his business.
"People need to be conscious of how they present themselvesin public," said Anne Baker, 25, of Brooklyn. "He probablyshouldn't have said it. It's going to be horrible PR. But itdoesn't mean it isn't true."
- Chip Wilson