Read More

Shop Outdoor Voices Shop Outdoor Voices Shop Outdoor Voices Shop Outdoor Voices Shop Outdoor Voices Shop Outdoor Voices

1

HomeCommunityThe Catch Up

Ty Haney & Chip Wilson

hero-image

CHIP WILSON, Founder of LULULEMON, and TY HANEY TAKE ON HARD TOPICS WHILE TAKING ON VANCOUVER’S GROUSE GRIND: MOTHER NATURE’S NATURAL STAIRMASTER.

You might have heard me say that we’re not up against the Nikes or the lululemons of the world. And I meant it. Which is why when I had the opportunity to interview Chip Wilson, founder of lululemon, I took it. 

I flew out to Chip’s home turf of Vancouver to hike the Grouse Grind, Mother Nature’s stairmaster, which Chip does 4x per week and in 1 hour. I was excited to be able to have one on one time with Chip and ask him some questions about what he’s built and what’s next. From one founder to another. 

It’s undeniable that there are generational differences between us. He founded lululemon in 1998, and I OV in 2014. There was a lot to ask, a lot to learn.

The Chip Wilson mentality is that phenomenal product and people come first. The Instagram strategies, the interactive sites, the marketing around it, always is secondary. He thinks it’s due time for a woman to rise up for women. He thinks tech is making us lazy. He would never make an operations person the boss. 

Admittedly, I agree and disagree with some of his approach, but there is wealth in the difference of opinion. There is the difference in generations, in men and women, and it’s the tension, rather the celebration of that tension and the dance between all of it that make the products, the companies, the cause for #DoingThings and the lives we’re living the best that they can be.

On Ideology

TY:
What did lulu stand for on day one? What was the mission?

CHIP:
Well, our design ethos was that we provide components for people to live a longer, healthier, more fun life. And then it morphed into elevating the world from a place of mediocrity to greatness through a transformational development program we had.

I was born into a very athletic family and I swam, swam, swam, swam, for many hours a week. And so I think that endorphin rush that I get – what it actually does – is the transformational part of lululemon. We actually train people on a mind basis: it has people be present.

When you are in an endorphin state, you have no past. You care less about your past. 

So what the endorphins, what some people call the “runner’s high,” gives you is a feeling of being present. And at the end of the day, what you’ll see is a sign on the top of the mountain, the meaning of life could be living in the moment. 

Babies find this out pretty quickly. They have no past. They have no future. And all they’re being is creative in the moment. Now, when you’re having sex, it’s the same thing, 45 seconds after sex, there’s no past, no future, and you’re in the present. When you’re drunk or stoned, you’re not escaping to something. You’re actually eliminating your past so you have no future. So you’re in the moment. It’s eutopic. When you’re a 90-year-old man, you’re told you have a month to live, you don’t give a shit about your past. You have no future. And you watch every blade of grass move. Why do we wait until we’re on our deathbed to live in the moment? That’s what it’s all about.

When you’re drunk or stoned, you’re not escaping to something. You’re actually eliminating your past so you have no future.

Ty and Chip

On Body

TY:
One thing that we’ve seen is the younger generation wants to show their bodies in any forms and shapes and sizes. They don’t give a shit about cellulite. Is that different than when lulu started? What are you observing today in how people think about their bodies?

CHIP:
At the end of the day, everything comes down to survival and reproduction.

You can argue about it all you want but after Maslow’s principles of hierarchy, once the basics are taken care of, and your survival is done, then you want to reproduce. I think that many people have, since the beginning of time, gotten wrapped up in something called “looking good.”

Fake it until you make it or pretend you’re something you’re not. If you’re inauthentic about yourself, everyone can see it. You think you can hide it, but everyone knows and that’s the big fallacy. So you’re asking about something right now and actually I don’t know. Are they fooling themselves? Because I have children that are 13 and I can see they’re sitting around doing a lot of digital stuff and less physical stuff. 

TY:
Are you saying that people in the past were more prone to exercise because of the need for looking good?

CHIP:
No, I’m saying the world was a lot different and people were moving a lot more because there wasn’t the transit. I think there wasn’t the digital.

TY:
So, you think all this digi-tech shit is making us lazy.

CHIP:
Yes, and it’s making us fat. People can hide it from themselves.

If you’re inauthentic about yourself, everyone can see it.

Hiking

On Product

TY:
How did you go from making shorts for yourself, a 6’3″, 250-pound man, to product for women with boobs and butts and things?

CHIP:
I learned that women buy clothes much differently than men. They are much more considerate and deliberate in how they outfit. And layering is a big thing. Especially first layers. At the time, the only first layer for women were Danskin tights. Danskin cut their patterns narrow and made the garment stretch to get the most yield out of the fabric. 

Of course, when stretched like that the fabric was so thin that if you had anything that was an “imperfection,” it showed perfectly. If you weren’t a 10 out of 10 woman that didn’t work. I found this fabric that was thicker and it was made out of nylon. I think Danskin was using like 4% Lycra and this was like 13% Lycra. These days everyone’s using 20% or 27% Lycra.



I learned that women buy clothes much differently than men

hiking
hiking
hiking
hiking

On Corporate Responsibility

TY:
I often ask myself, what responsibility do we, as a company putting physical products out into the world, have to continue producing leggings etc.?

More clearly, how important is product to the mission in this day and age? I’ve been thinking, what the hell happens to a lululemon legging 10 years after someone’s bought it? Do you ever think about that? How many leggings has lulu put into the world by now?

CHIP:
Maybe 400 million. When I was growing up, most clothing was really poorly made, because people wanted to sell it as cheaply as they could.

My mandate at lululemon was everything had to last five years. I figured that five years was five times longer than any other piece of clothing I’d seen at the time. But the reality of it is, lululemon stuff never goes away. Now you can see it all going on to websites. It’s retro. I mean, there’s no reason to throw it away. But people want new styles. 

TY:
Consumers are becoming more aware that synthetics were made to last a long time and therefore don’t go away easily, but ultimately, where do they go?  

CHIP:
I was trying to put in a program at lululemon. I was going to have boxes in all our stores for people to drop off old items, but it never happened.

TY:
Like a take-back?

CHIP:
Exactly. I could see the future and they couldn’t. Once you’ve got something like lululemon, who has enough volume, they can set up a whole system, and actually make money out of taking it back. Shredding it, and then redoing it.  

TY:
We’re kicking off a take-back program in August, which is kind of an experimental thing because we don’t yet know what the best second life options are for our product but we take the responsibility very seriously and are going to find out.

I could see the future and they couldn’t.

Chit Chat

On Growing a Company

TY:
I read your blog post about the danger of hiring ‘super experienced’ people for their experience. And holy shit, that’s probably been the hardest thing for me in the five years since starting OV — being told I need to hire people that have done it before. But what I’ve found is that often ‘experience’ comes with a preset way of doing things vs understanding that as a new company value comes by creating our own rules to the game and that there are ‘many ways’ to build a company. Too often when ‘experience’ walks in the door, that “Totally Possible” mindset is gone. The understanding that at OV we are in value creation mode not value protection mode and must boldly go after things differently than those companies that have come before us. What are your thoughts on this?

CHIP:
If I had to do it over, I would never let an operations person be a boss and for sure never a CEO. I’d have a brand product person on top. Brand. Product. Culture.

TY:
I think I’m sensitive but it crushes my spirit when people come in that operate that way. I think the best thing I’ve been able to do is move quickly and recognize that quickly. Do you have any advice around that piece?

CHIP:
At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself, what kind of company do you want? You want to go in to work, and you want to love your life. I think that you want to bring these people in— to consult, to teach your people how to do the operational part of it. Let them grow. Or, again, you want to bring them in underneath those people, but never let them make the final decisions above.

TY:
Because, what happens?

CHIP:
Because these experienced people who come from big companies, they have survived. They have survived by being Machiavellian. They don’t even know. It’s fascinating, I’m listening to the story of Mao Tse-tung right now, just all the backstabbing deals and manipulation, everything, just to get in power. People in the world are sociopaths, and they, probably a much higher percentage of them are CEOs because they know how to get there. And then they get enough power, and then they push you out. 

TY:
Right. Is that why Landmark was so important, because it was a beast to get through?

CHIP:
Critical. Critical. It wasn’t a beast. It’s three days, 12 hours a day. Mostly because people don’t have that much time, but they can spend three days, you know?

TY:
So, that experience, I can only imagine, at that size and scale, and on that stage, actually, I have no idea what that would be.

CHIP:
It’s the same scale it is when you have a single store and somebody complains. You look them in the eye, and you go, “You know what? I don’t really care, because you’re not our customer, and you’re just trying to manipulate me to give you a return. And it’s your fault. You know exactly what you did.” You know, like someone comes in with a ripped pair of pants and you can tell it’s not our fault, it’s just that you know, their kid took a pair of scissors to their pants, and now they want me to replace it for them. You know that type of thing?

experienced people who come from big companies, they have survived. They have survived by being Machiavellian

Hillside
Bridge
Hillside
Bridge

TY:
Yeah, and do you?

CHIP:
No. Not a chance. But then that person goes online, complains.

TY:
Trolls.

CHIP:
“Worst company in the world.” Bad review. But I don’t care. Because I can’t be running my company by those people who aren’t really our customer.

TY:
How do you continue to have confidence in those situations? I’m talking specifically about when you go on Bloomberg and have this message that is a catalyst from a lot of people to talk shit. Does your confidence dip, or is it just…

CHIP:
Oh yeah, for sure. I think it’s all in context. Again, there was no such thing as social media when I started. And up until that time, I’d done 10,000 interviews.

TY:
Totally. Were you the face of lulu?

CHIP:
Yeah, I’d say.

TY:
Did you consider yourself that?

CHIP:
Yeah. I didn’t name the company after myself. I certainly was not a Tommy Hilfiger or a Calvin Klein. I didn’t do that because I think it’s highly egotistical. Also, if I ever wanted to sell the company, I think selling it with your name on it is probably devalues it 50%.

TY:
When you did sell, or private equity bought portions of it, did it feel like you were selling part of yourself, or was there a distance from it?

CHIP:
No, that was good. What I didn’t understand was what that would look like when we went public. So, it was all buddy-buddy at first with the board of directors, all partners, doing the best for each other. It was really great. And then we went public, and I didn’t realize I didn’t need three directors, I needed 10 to handle audit committee, comp committee, governance committee, etc.

So, I ended up with a board that wasn’t the culture. And I needed it quick, and I didn’t realize, because I was given like, two months from now we need more board of… more directors. And I didn’t know anybody. I was a product brand person.

TY:
Is there a trade-off between being big and making something the best? How big is enough?

CHIP:
I think there’s something about always wanting to know what’s possible. For me, we had this incredible training program, and I felt like we could change the face of how business was done, with integrity and responsibility, and developed employees that were basically all treated like entrepreneurs. It really worked out. That was the goal then. That became more interesting. And the conduit of that was the product.

TY:
People development. Why do you love that so much? Why is that important?

CHIP:
Selfishly, I wanted to go to work every day and be around great people. I wanted a great life. And that meant surrounding myself with great people. And so, that development program, I selfishly put in for me. And then, it was very easy for me to recognize very, very quickly that this was a new way of doing business. And it was the most profitable way. And it was a way that once I realized I had a global product, then I knew I could grow exponentially with the way I was training and developing people. I was training everyone to be a CEO.

I think there’s something about always wanting to know what’s possible

Calves Calves Calves

On Maternity Leave

CHIP:
I don’t know if you’re finding this yet, you may be, but I could see that all my initial employees, and I’d say 80% of them were 24 to 28 years old, female, and I was going to have a massive maternity issue. Because in Canada, it’s a year off. It’s not like the U.S.

TY:
Did they all get pregnant at the same time? How did that play out?

CHIP:
Well, I think that the thing that we had was the best. You had to do the Landmark course, I think, because women really have to get where they need to be open and undefended to the company about what their plans are.

There’s none of this bullshit like I’m not going to get pregnant or I’m not going to tell you. It’s open communication. Open and undefended. Letting them know that there’s not going to be your job when you come back. The world moves too quickly. If you’re in some fantasy that you’re going to have that same job when you return, you’re wrong. You’ve got to be really open with them. You can do that in government because government doesn’t move quick enough but the world is moving too quickly now.

TY:
Was there pushback when their jobs weren’t there or how did you deal with that?

CHIP:
No. I think because we were a growing company there was always a space for everybody.

there’s going to be a job, but it might not be the same job when you come back

MG 0041
MG 9862
MG 9911
MG 0137

On Motivation

TY:
What keeps you going? Like today, what are you driven by?

CHIP:
I find mediocrity boring. I always had the goal of quitting the corporate world when I was 30. I woke up one morning and went, “Oh I get it. I can become VP of the oil company, move to the suburbs, have two kids, retire, become a cyclist and then die. Great. Live that life. Let’s go live another one.” 

I think I’m more looking for what’s the new business model, or what’s the new way of operating, or how does this new technology of X going to have a ripple effect through the businesses that I love? So I do a lot of reading about the future. I try to keep myself on top. Then I try to figure out how to incorporate it without working hard. My goal now is health and family. It’s not necessarily business but saying that I just bought the biggest outdoor company in the world. It’s called Amer. They own Wilson, Arc’teryx, Peak Performance, Salomon.

TY:
Why’d you buy it?

CHIP:
I believe these companies were making highly technical products, mostly hard goods, but they were removed from the context of being people people. They think about product and product working to a perfection.

TY:
Not the consumer necessarily.

CHIP:
Yeah. Their brains aren’t wired that way. They take these six or seven brands who have very weak apparel, except for Arc’teryx, and then bring women’s and technical streetwear to what they’re doing. As global brands with massive distribution, this is very interesting to me.

I find mediocrity boring. I always had the goal of quitting the corporate world when I was 30.

Hiya
Ziplines
Hiya
Ziplines

On Women

TY:
What would you be excited to see me do with OV?

CHIP:
Well I think someone needs to stand up for women now. I don’t think it can be a man. A woman saying, “Enough. We’re here on our own accord. We’re better educated than the men. We’re just as smart. We can do everything. This communication of being weak has to change.” It has to change. It’s working against women now, in my opinion.

TY:
Yeah. It’s about strength. The dynamic needs to be flipped. From a women’s standpoint, it’s about leading the conversation from a position of strength, power and working with the resources we already have.

CHIP:
I think that in 1998 60% of the graduates at a university were women and that was the big change. Let’s say they’re 22 years old. Well now, it’s 20 years later. Those women are only 42 years old. How can you expect a board of directors to be equal? How can you expect C level management companies to be equal. There’s no fucking way.

But I do think it’s going to happen naturally. Those board of directors and C level positions will occur. Now it’s not going to occur 50/50. You talk to a woman that’s running a company, she’s 45, and she’s trying to get women on her board of directors, there’s none to be had. If they can’t find them then how can we find them?

I think someone needs to stand up for women now. I don’t think it can be a man.

On Designing for Women

TY:
I have boobs, and a butt and another bump (pregnant :)) now. I believe it’s a huge advantage in terms of designing product that works for women. I get what you’re saying but it seems hard to create a supportive bra when you don’t know what having boobs is like.

CHIP:
I was a competitive swimmer. I always had a love for clothing but the girls would always complain about their suit, and how it fit. I heard it all my life. My wife was also an athlete, so I heard it from her too. My context for bras is it’s like a bridge. If you’re making a beautiful bridge, you need an engineer. Engineers often tend to be men. But the aesthetics of a bridge are usually feminine. It’s a combination of the two. I think you need two to make the best.

TY:
At OV, we only have women designers working on bras. They come from a very technical design background, but I guess what’s come naturally to me is we have an office full of women that are trying things and putting product to the test constantly. It’s very experimental… We focus on creating an experimental environment and bringing our customer along the journey with us. Like what actually does feel better but I get merging the true design and engineering technicality with what feels right. 

CHIP:
Yeah. I think it would be interesting to go get an actual bridge builder. I don’t think they’re much different. To apply those techniques to a bra.

TY:
For higher support bras or just bras in general?

CHIP:
Yeah, bras in general because I think you have suspension bridges, you have fixed bridges. For me I think the best ideas come from putting two disparate ideas together. So whether it be an Italian styling and West Coast function, or bridge building with a lacy underwear designer, or something, you know?

TY:
Right. I presented the updated version of our OV Operating Principles to the team recently. We call it ‘The Dance.’ That tension between two disparate things, that’s when the best shit gets created. Embracing ‘The Dance.’

For me I think the best ideas come from putting two disparate ideas together.

View
Ty

On Mantra

TY:
Do you have a current mantra or personal philosophy?

CHIP:
Do it now, do it right fucking now.

TY:
Cool. Do it now, right fucking now. I like it. We just did it. We’re doing it. We’re Doing Things. It’s our call to action. It’s interesting because there’s no start or finish and you can do it forever. You’re in the moment. Because for me the future of athletics is not about being first, it’s about frequency.

CHIP:
Yeah, I agree. I think at some point in your life being first is a fun game but it’s not the end goal. The game that you really want to win is living a long life.

TY:
Longevity. That’s what I keep coming back to and I’m going to keep working on it. As a company that makes product before our attributes, our comfort, versatility, durability and circularity and it’s in the name of longevity.

I want to build a sustainable long-term company but from a product standpoint, when we’re making at some point millions and millions of leggings, what happens to them? Because that’s certainly what wakes me up in the middle of the night being like, “Shit. Our world doesn’t necessarily need more leggings.”

being first is a fun game but it’s not the end goal. The game that you really want to win is living a long life.

Video & Photo by Dawit N.M.

join-the-convo