If you don’t remember Chip Wilson by name, you’ll surely remember his words: “Quite frankly, some women’s bodies just actually don’t work” for pants. “It’s really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there.”
So he said last year, when the high-flying yoga wear company he founded, Lululemon, started to get complaints that its new line of yoga pants were sheer. You could see through them, and not by design.
It’s been downward-facing dog ever since.
The company has been trying to mount a comeback. But after it lost $67 million — and lost a third of its market value — he was forced to step down as chairman. Now Wilson is in warrior pose, possibly preparing for a proxy fight to win additional board seats or teaming up with a private equity firm to buy out the company, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday.
Wilson remains the largest shareholder in Lululemon with a 27 percent stake in the company, but he’s not afraid to make a fuss in public.
Earlier this month, he called for the removal of two board members on the eve of Lululemon’s annual meeting. “I was hopeful that we would be able to create a balance at Lululemon between product and growth that would complement each other,” he said in a press release. “Instead, I have found a palpable imbalance in Board representation, which is heavily weighted towards short-term results at the expense of product, culture and brand and longer-term corporate goals.”
Wilson didn’t get his way – the board members stayed. Ultimately, he may have only succeeded in rattling investors.
It wasn’t his first gaffe. Wilson has said he chose the name “Lululemon” because L is not in the Japanese vocabulary. “It’s funny to watch them try to say it,” he said in a 2004 profile in the National Post Business magazine.
Last year’s recall resulted in a loss of $67 million in revenue after the faulty pants were recalled and destroyed. Chief executive Christine Day resigned last June before several major stock price dips in the fourth quarter.
Speaking with the Wall Street Journal, Janet Kloppenburg of JJK Research attributed the stock’s struggles to the distraction of dealing with the recall. Lululemon was so focused on improving quality that it didn’t see a trend in patterns and bright colors evolving in yoga clothes.
A Lululemon spokesman told the Journal the company is focused on strengthening its “product engine” and expanding around the globe.
With sales of women’s active wear up 9 percent, Lululemon should be doing well right now, the Motley Fool pointed out. Instead, the company is handing over market share to a growing number of competitors such as Athleta.
After last week’s disappointing earnings report, Lululemon’s stock fell 16 percent on Thursday to $37.25, its lowest level in more than three years. It was down 37 percent since the beginning of the year. Wilson’s battle with the board isn’t likely to instill confidence in investors either.