Lululemon founder Chip Wilson has sparked another controversy, this time with a remark that seemed to disparage Jewish people.
In an interview with The New York Times about his legacy, charity, and Kit and Ace, his family's upscale-casual clothing brand, the Vancouver billionaire scolded reporter Katherine Rosman for arriving 15 minutes late. Trying to defuse the situation, the company's publicist volunteered that she can be casually late when meeting friends.
"Jewish Standard Time," Mr. Wilson said, jumping in. "It's showing you didn't respect your friends' time."
Among the people who have known him – and his propensity for off-hand, off-colour remarks – his use of the phrase still drew anger and dismay.
One former partner of Mr. Wilson's sounded angry, but not surprised. Syd Beder, a veteran Toronto retailer and son of Holocaust survivors, said the incident showed Mr. Wilson "when the filter is taken off."
Braden Bennett said that when he read the article, published last Tuesday, he was gobsmacked. "I thought, 'There goes Chip again,'" recalled Mr. Bennett. "Who says that in a business meeting when you've only met for the first time?"
Along with Mr. Beder, Mr. Bennett set up a Toronto Lululemon store in 2002, but the group parted ways with Mr. Wilson the next year.
Karen Wyder, who was on Lululemon Athletica's senior management team and worked alongside Mr. Wilson , said, "I never heard any stuff like that at all."
Mr. Wilson responded in a statement on Thursday evening.
"As human beings, let's call it like it is," the statement said. "Any attempt by the press to make this controversial and into something it is not – is because media is a digital commodity product, unable to differentiate itself in any way but through manufactured fantasy. The media needs to create news in order to manufacture media hits, and sell ads. I understand and I am sympathetic."
Mr. Wilson founded Lululemon Athletica in 1998 and stepped down as its non-executive chairman in late 2013. Perhaps his most infamous remark came earlier that year, in which he suggested that some women were too large for the retailer's pants.
The company had no comment.
In the Times article, the founder referred to his former company as a wayward child that will return to him some day.
"Lululemon became a teenager who wants its own way of doing things," he said. "It turns into a little bit of a pain in the butt, but you love it still. Now it's at university. It still wants me, but it doesn't want me. It wants me to support it, but it doesn't want to acknowledge I'm supporting it."
At another point in the interview, he extolled one of the pleasures of doing business. "It is a precious experience to have these breakfasts," Mr. Wilson said. "Look at the beautiful girl I get to sit beside!"
"Everyone at the table tee-hee'd, awkwardly," Ms. Rosman wrote.