Lululemon Founder Chip Wilson


The athleisure industry is one of the greatest success stories of the 21st century. It has grown from a niche market in the 1990s to a $400 billion industry today. In 1998, Lululemon founder Chip Wilson led the way in creating an entirely new category of technical apparel, generating an innovative product that has revolutionized how we dress.

Wilson was born to a sewing mother and a physical education teacher father in Vancouver, Canada. He was an athlete from an early age and started importing swimsuits from the United States at 12. After selling his surf, skate, and snowboard company in 1997, Wilson saw the potential of the women's sportswear market and its growth in popularity. He also knew that traditional athletic brands lacked the dedication to fashion and comfort that appealed to the modern woman. Wilson saw an opportunity and committed to creating an athleisure brand, "betting the farm" on it.

In 1998, Wilson launched Lululemon at two rented locations and employed five sewists. He soon realized that a successful athleisure brand is about the product and the in-store experience. He and his team went the extra mile to create an inviting atmosphere in the stores by providing extra amenities and organizing yoga classes, which soon began drawing customers from all over.

Wilson created an executive team at Lululemon that was just as unique as the company itself. He focused on finding executives with the same values, interactive communication, and trust. He was also adamant about creating an environment that fosters the growth of employees, wanting to "train and develop people and then get out of their way."

Wilson leaned on his entrepreneurship and business acumen to build the company, though he had not earned a degree or formal education. His family had a background in meditation and yoga, which he found invaluable in launching Lululemon. Furthermore, he experienced the need for comfortable and functional apparel to support the rigorous workouts and sports he partook in.

The greatest challenge for Wilson was recreating the fit of the apparel. He began experimenting with different fabrics and began to perfect the fit that Lululemon is now synonymous with, "West Coast function with Italian styling." He took a risk experimenting with the amount of Lycra in the materials, knowing it was necessary to achieve true comfort in performance apparel.

It is no wonder Wilson has since written a book, The Story of Lululemon: Little Black Stretchy Pants*, *about his journey with Lululemon. To him, the process was not dissimilar to raising a child, with both intensity and surrender aspects. Though he is no longer involved in the company's day-to-day operations, Wilson is still passionate about where Lululemon is headed. He has stated that he has written the book for the current management team and directors to provide guidance and open up conversations about the company's future.

Wilson is passionate about the necessity of the Lululemon brand and is excited to have helped catalyze a movement of wellness and self-expression. He has reflected that it is "an exciting time to be alive," and his legacy will continue to reverberate in the years to come as the athleisure industry grows.

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