When life gives you Lululemons…

November 12, 2013

REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/Files

Lululemon founder Chip Wilson apologized on Friday following comments he made during a Bloomberg interview last week. In the interview, he was asked about the see-through yoga pants recall from earlier this year and about the more recent pilling problems on the company's pants.

His initial response to the product issues? "There's no doubt about it, we made a mistake." Yet he then added about the pilling that "quite frankly some women's bodies just actually don't work for it. They don't work for some women's bodies. ... It's really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there." While Wilson said he thought every woman could wear the company's pants, many interpreted his comments as, insultingly, shifting responsibility for a product flaw to customers whose thighs rub against each other. Oof.

Following the inevitable backlash on the Internet, Wilson--who has gotten in trouble for his foot-in-mouth problems before--posted a 53-second YouTube apology on Friday. In it, he said he was sad. Many times. "I'm sad for the repercussions of my actions." He said he takes responsibility "for all that has occurred and the impact it has had on you." And he apologized, but only "to have put you all through this"—apparently speaking to Lululemon's employees, and possibly to the yoga wear company's most cultish of fans.

He did not apologize, however, to women who may have been offended by his comments. He did not apologize for making the comments in the first place. And he did not apologize for the product issues that caused the problem.

Just making a YouTube apology video doesn't make it right--leaders have to actually execute the apology well. Wilson should have made it completely clear whom he was apologizing to, explicitly said he was sorry for the offense his comments caused, and directly shared how Lululemon would fix the product so that it works for customers—rather than the other way around.

Having to issue an apology video is never fun for any CEO. Issuing a second one to clear things up is even worse.

Jena McGregor is a columnist for On Leadership.

Read also:

CEOs, beware the YouTube apology

The great Lululemon yoga pants panic

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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.
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Jena McGregor | November 12, 2013