Fact Check: Lululemon's Founder Supposedly Picked Company Name Because It's Difficult for Japanese People to Pronounce. Here's the Truth

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Lululemon's founder, Chip Wilson, picked this name because he thought it would be funny to watch Japanese people pronounce it, as the Japanese language does not include the letter "L."


Rating: Mixture
Rating: Mixture

What's True:

Wilson did pick this name for the number of "Ls" in it, in part because he thought it would be funny to hear Japanese people pronounce it. However …


What's False:

… He also thought brand names with "Ls" felt foreign in Japan and would therefore be desirable to Japanese people.


For years, rumors have circulated online that Chip Wilson, founder of activewear company Lululemon, named it like that to watch Japanese people try to pronounce it:

"The name has no meaning," TikTok user @maddikoch said in a video on the topic. "It's literally just so it's funny to listen to people say it." The video had more than 2.6 million views, 13,000 comments and 164,000 shares.

Wilson founded Lululemon in 1998 in Vancouver, British Columbia. According to Wilson, a previous brand he'd bought, Homless Skateboards, also included an "L" in its name and was successful in Japan. Wilson said he deduced the consonant "L," which doesn't exist in Japanese, made the brand seem more authentically North American and had contributed to its success. So for his new endeavor — a line of yoga clothes — he brainstormed various names that included the letter in them. Wilson wrote in his book, which was available to read on his website:

On further consideration, it seemed the Japanese liked the name Homless because it had the letter L in it, and the Japanese language doesn't have that sound. Brand names with Ls in them sounded even more exotically North American/Western to Japanese consumers, especially the 20-year-olds.

This felt like a neat idea, so over the next few years, I played with alliterative names with Ls in them, la la la, jotting down variations in my notebook. This continued until the time came to develop a brand name for my new yoga apparel concept, and during this creative experimentation, lululemon was one possibility I wrote down.

It came out of nothing. Absolutely nothing. And it was risky at the time because the word "lemon" was attached to poor-quality '80s Detroit automobiles. However, the word lemon also represented fresh-ness. Either way, I would have to see how the focus groups responded to it.

Years after that happened, however, he told the National Post Business Magazine in Canada that, "It's funny to watch them try and say it," lending credence to the rumors.

Wilson stirred controversy several times when he was at the helm of Lululemon, according to Business Insider. On Nov. 5, 2013, he told Bloomberg TV anchor Trish Regan that Lululemon's yoga pants don't fit some women's bodies (emphasis ours):

"I want to segue into another story," Trish said. "You're the founder [of lululemon], you're a former designer … what's going on with the pants?"

My initial response was to focus on the unique challenges of producing a technical fabric. "When you push technology," I replied, "something's going to happen every now and then."

Trish pressed a little harder, asking me about complaints of pilling on the fabric.

My reply: "There has always been pilling. The thing is that women will wear seat belts that don't work, or they'll wear a purse that doesn't work, or quite frankly some women's bodies just actually don't work for it."

These remarks caused a backlash. Wilson, who stepped down from the company's board of directors in 2015, has also been on record defending child labor in developing countries.


Deveau, Scott. 'Yoga Mogul Has Critics in a Knot'. The Tyee, 17 Feb. 2005, http://thetyee.ca/News/2005/02/17/LuluCritics/. https://archive.is/g2yRZ.

Edwards, Jim. 'The Long, Strange History of Lululemon: North America's Weirdest Clothing Brand'. Business Insider, https://www.businessinsider.com/history-of-lululemon-2015-9. Accessed 21 June 2024.

Lieber, Chavie. 'Lululemon's Ex-CEO Wrote an Outrageous "Unauthorized" History of the Brand. Here's What We Learned.' Vox, 22 Oct. 2018, https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2018/10/22/18010410/chip-wilson-lululemon-athleisure-book.

Phillips, Brad. 'Lululemon Founder To Women: Your Thighs Are Too Fat'. Throughline Group, 12 Nov. 2013, https://www.throughlinegroup.com/2013/11/12/lululemon-founder-to-women-your-thighs-are-too-fat/.

The Story of Lululemon. https://chipwilson.com/book/. Accessed 21 June 2024.