Lululemon founder steps down as chairman

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Getty Images

Chip Wilson, the founder and chairman of upscale yoga pants maker Lululemon Athletica, has resigned as chairman of its board of directors after an uproar over his comments about customers’ bodies.

Michael Casey, lead director of the board, will replace him, the company said Tuesday. Laurent Potdevin, previously chief executive of Burton Snowboards who most recently served as president of Toms Shoes, will replace Christine Day, who said in June she was resigning as chief executive.

Wilson’s resignation comes after a media firestorm about remarks he made in an interview, following criticism of the company’s products for being too sheer and pilling. He will retain a seat on the board.

(Read moreRivals benefiting from Lululemon woes)

“Frankly some women’s bodies just don’t actually work for [the pants],” he said in an interview last month on Bloomberg. “It’s really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there over a period of time, how much they use it.” 

(Read moreLululemon’s customer complaints)

Some customers were offended by the chairman’s remarks, and some felt his online apology didn’t go far enough to address the concerns of the women who were offended.

As a result, an online petition was launched that called for a more sincere apology and urged Lululemon to make clothes in larger sizes.

“Removing him as the leader of the board is important, but having him there in some form is also an important thing because he founded the company. He just doesn’t edit himself very well sometimes,” said Sterne Agee analyst Sam Poser. “You want that founder to be influential in some way, you just don’t want him to overwhelm.”

Poser downgraded the stock to “underperform” following the publicity surrounding Wilson’s comments, and has maintained the rating. “The company culture and the leadership is as, if not more, important than how good the pants make a woman’s derriere look,” he argued at the time of the downgrade.

In an e-mail following the announcement, Brian Sozzi, CEO of Belus Capital Advisors, said that the appointment of Potdevin as Lululemon’s CEO should help smooth over Wilson’s media flubs, because of his background at the socially responsible Toms Shoes. He noted that Potdevin should also be the first CEO to have full control of the company, as Wilson “loomed large over outgoing CEO Christine Day” when he served as chairman.

Lululemon built its reputation on a particular kind of fabric, which has enabled it to charge around $100 for a pair of its pants, but with a range of cheaper copycat versions now on the market, analysts are concerned that its sales may be affected.

Its share price, which hit an all-time high of $81.43 in June, closed at just over $70 on Monday. Shares dipped as low as $69.15 on Tuesday morning, but regained some ground.

By CNBC’s Catherine Boyle. Follow her on Twitter: @cboylecnbc. CNBC’s Krystina Gustafson contributed to this report.

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