Lululemon Founder to Leave Executive Role

Chip Wilson to remain chairman at the yoga apparel firm.

Chip Wilson, founder and chairman of Lululemon Athletica Inc. plans to exit his post as chief innovation and branding officer on Jan. 29.

This story first appeared in the January 9, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Wilson founded the company in 1998 and served as its chief executive officer until 2005. He successfully tapped into the athletic lifestyle with a casual aesthetic and built a powerhouse firm that now has a market capitalization of $7.7 billion.

Christine Day, a former Starbucks executive, has headed the firm as ceo since 2008.

“Chip has created a legacy that has inspired the world and the mantle of leadership and care for the culture, values and mission of Lululemon is now in our hands,” Day said.

Wilson, 55, will continue as chairman.

“I remain deeply committed to the company’s continued success and given the strength we’ve built into the organization over the past three years, I feel comfortable leaving the company with Christine Day at the helm…” he said.

The Vancouver, British Columbia-based Lululemon went public in July 2007. Its stock has appreciated more than 283 percent since and closed at $53.68 Friday.

Wilson has been trimming his stake in the firm and sold off 1.3 million shares over the past year. He is still a significant shareholder, controlling 10.3 million shares, or 9.4 percent of those outstanding.

Lululemon has been ramping up inventories over the past year after not stocking enough for the 2010 holiday season. Year-over-year sales rose a slightly less than expected 31 percent in the third quarter and inventories at the end of the period were up 77 percent, spooking some investors.

But the firm remains one of the few true fashion darlings on Wall Street.

Stacy Pak, an analyst at Barclays Capital, said the firm “is one of the few attractive domestic growth stories, that it has a strong management team, it is one of the few companies in our sector with a truly unique store experience and strategy, it has great product, and there is upside from direct and on the operational side. With just 165 stores in operation at the end of [the third quarter, Lululemon] ought to be able to deliver strong double-digit square footage growth in the U.S. market for the next 10 years.”