A Lululemon advertisement. Image Source.
A new Racked report has exposed a toxic “culture of oppression” at women’s activewear brand Lululemon. Current and former employees told the publication that the company’s former CEO Laurent Potdevin, who resigned last week, turned the brand into a “boys club”. They also criticised his relationship with a former Lululemon designer, calling it unprofessional and claiming that she received preferential treatment from Potdevin.
Lululemon bills itself as an inspirational/mindful brand — its manifesto features slogans like “creativity is maximised when you are living in the moment”, “do one thing a day that scares you”, and “dance, sing, floss and travel”, I could go on but I’m sure you get the picture. These attitudes make their way into the company’s employee training programs with staff encouraged to practice personal development and share their worries via something called “clearing”. Potdevin announced his relationship with a staff member during one of these sessions and, according to a former employee, “the entire company was expected to be okay with the relationship because it was shared in a clearing”.
“There was literally zero accountability because HR’s attitude was that Lululemon employees should take responsibility, share things in a clearing, and then move on,” they added.
Another former employee said Potdevin created a “culture of oppression” at Lululemon. “If you think about it, everyone at the company was an overachieving type-A cheerleader, and he was creating an environment where you are aggressively chasing power,” she continued. “There was a lot of crying.”
A former Lululemon designer said that when Potdevin took over the company in 2014, he “basically turned Lululemon’s executive team into a boy’s club overnight”.
“We had so many smart, incredibly strong, and capable women at the company, and he brought in a ton of men,” they added. “Of course every new CEO is going to come in and create his own team, but he brought in a lot of people he had personal ties to, and it just felt like total nepotism.”
“There was a lot of toxicity felt at the head office, and happiness eroded pretty quickly,” another former employee said.
“I remember thinking at one point that if you wanted to become a VP at Lululemon, you had to be a man. It became almost ironic that it was just a group of men running a leggings brand for women,” a third employee recalled.
Lululemon addressed Potdevin’s misconduct with the following statement:
“Laurent’s resignation was not about any single action or event. There were a range of instances where he demonstrated a lack of leadership and fell short of our standards of conduct. Out of respect for the privacy of the individuals involved, we are limited in the amount of detail we can provide.
Lululemon’s culture is founded on all of us contributing to an environment rooted in our values, which includes a commitment to working with integrity and a collective dedication to creating a respectful workplace. When the company is made aware of misconduct, it takes appropriate action. We regularly review our policies to ensure our employees come to work each day in safe environments where they are empowered to speak up through a range of resources, including trained and dedicated leaders and confidential reporting mechanisms.”
A current Lululemon employee said that the company needs a complete overhaul following Potdevin’s resignation.
“Lululemon has a facade professing mindfulness and health, but the reality on the inside is far different,” the London-based employee told Racked. “They need to get back to basics and instill respect, morals, and set standards.”
Read the report in full here.