Lululemon Founder Named the Company Because It Was ‘Funny to Watch’ Japanese People Try to Say It

Lululemon Founder Named the Company Because It Was ‘Funny to Watch’ Japanese People Try to Say It
Kimberly Nguyen
April 22, 2020
Lululemon’s original founder, Chip Wilson, stepped down in December 2013 following some questionable statements, but now the Vancouver-based athletic apparel company is back in the spotlight.
Earlier this week, Lululemon came under scrutiny when one of its senior global art directors posted a design of a long-sleeve T-shirt targeting the Chinese community on his personal Instagram account. The art director, Trevor Fleming, has since been fired from his position. This wouldn’t be the first problematic issue to come out of the company, however.
In 2005, Wilson told Canada’s National Post Business Magazine that the inability of Japanese people to pronounce L’s served as another marketing tool for the company in the country.
“The reason the Japanese liked [my former skateboard brand, ‘Homeless’] was because it had an L in it and a Japanese marketing firm wouldn’t come up with a brand name with an L in it. L is not in their vocabulary. It’s a tough pronunciation for them. So I thought, next time I have a company, I’ll make a name with three Ls and see if I can get three times the money. It’s kind of exotic for them. I was playing with Ls and I came up with Lululemon. It’s funny to watch them try to say it,” Wilson was quoted as saying.
Wilson has denied ever uttering these words, according to ABC News. The quote was also printed in Alison Kramer and Scott Stratten’s “UnSelling: The New Customer Experience”, about how customer service influences individual purchase transactions.
That same year, he also reportedly said he supported child labor in Third World countries because it would help them earn more money.
Wilson also made a comment in 2005 about body size, saying that it costs too much to manufacture pants larger than size 12. He said he “understood” the issue but cited that it cost 30% more fabric to make sizes beyond 12, according to the HuffPost.
Then, in 2009, revisiting the topic of the Japanese pronouncing Ls, he wrote, according to Business Insider:
“It was thought that a Japanese marketing firm would not try to create a North American sounding brand with the letter ‘L’ because the sound does not exist in Japanese phonetics. By including an ‘L’ in the name it was thought the Japanese consumer would find the name innately North American and authentic.
“In essence, the name “lululemon” has no roots and means nothing other than it has 3 ‘L’s’ in it.  Nothing more and nothing less.”
In 2013, Wilson said that some women’s bodies might not have been right for the company’s pants when customers started complaining about their pants pilling, Business Insider reported.
“They don’t work for some women’s bodies…it’s really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there over a period of time, how much they use it,” he said.
Feature Image (left) via Linkedin, (right) via Getty
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