Lululemon Entrepreneur Catches Flack for Shopping Bags Asking: ‘Who Is John Galt?’
(CNSNews.com) – Chip Wilson turned his passion for fitness and quality sportswear from a storefront shop that opened in 2000 in Vancouver, Canada into a franchise and publicly traded company with assets of half a billion dollars, according to financial records filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission as of July, 2011.
However, it is Wilson’s promotion of the capitalist ideas of Ayn Rand through advertising on his company’s shopping bags that is drawing criticism lately, mainly from liberal critics.
Wilson’s first Lululemon Athletica shared its retail shop with a yoga studio and has since evolved and expanded into a fitness space and retailer with scores of locations across North America and Canada.
Recently, a shopping bag handed out to Lululemon customers--adorned with the words “Who is John Galt?”--has some people claiming that the protagonist from Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel about self-interest vs. government coercion, Atlas Shrugged, is unbecoming.
Rand’s philosophy, explained throughout the novel, essentially is atheistic materialism based upon individual self-interest where man basically glorifies himself and his own productive achievements.
On Nov. 2, a blog on Lululemon’s Web site explained the company’s decision to hand out the John Galt bag, including words from the book that Wilson chose as the vision for his company.
A blog contributor named Alexis, who is described on the company’s site as spending “her days working within the Brand team at lululemon’s Store Support Centre,” posted the following:
“You might be wondering why a company that makes yoga clothing has chosen a legendary literary character’s name to adorn the side of our bags. Lululemon’s founder, Chip Wilson, first read this book when he was eighteen years old working away from home. Only later, looking back, did he realize the impact the book’s ideology had on his quest to elevate the world from mediocrity to greatness (it is not coincidental that this is lululemon’s company vision).”
Under the heading, “What John Galt Teaches Us,” Alexis wrote:
“While the plot in the book may sound radical and far-fetched, we place many of these constraints and limitations on ourselves which impede us from living our best lives.
“Think about it: we are all born with magical machines, aka human bodies, able to think, jump, laugh and run. We are able to control our careers, where we live, how much money we make and how we spend our days through the choices we make.
“Of course, there are situations sometimes where we aren’t able to control what happens to us. Life can be hard, challenging and unfair. What we can control, however, is our reaction. We can choose to rise up and be great.”
The blog has hundreds of comments, with many readers expressing support while others are critical of the bags.
On the Nov. 17 edition of NPR’s All Things Considered, Guy Raz interviewed a reporter, Simon Houpt, with the Toronto Globe and Mail, who said Lululemon “has severely alienated its core constituency” by distributing the bag.
Houpt told Raz that “John Galt’s” ideals are “completely contrary to the teachings of yoga -- that yoga is, in fact, a core component of building community, and that the notion of self-interest, in fact, runs completely against that.”
Raz asked Houpt to explain why the company would promote the fictional character Galt and, in turn, Rand’s philosophy.
Part of the exchange on NPR ran as follows:
Raz: “Right. Yeah. On the company's blog, on its Web site, they try to explain this, essentially saying, look, society encourages people to be mediocre. This quote urges people to break free of - and this is a quote – “the constraints and limitations on ourselves, which impede us from living our best lives. Explain why the company decided to put this on the side of their bags.”
Houpt: “Well, I do have some trouble with that because, in fact, in reaching out numerous times to the company, they actually refused to speak on the record to offer their opinion to me. However, in the blog post you refer to, they do offer an explanation and they believe that this book inspires people to embrace greatness rather than this life of sad disappointment, which is apparently where all the rest of us are leading.”
The Lululemon blog, however, states that the fictional “John Galt” has a lot in common with Lululemon’s Chip Wilson.
“In ‘Atlas Shrugged,’ Ayn Rand describes a society where people work and reside in government-controlled environments that are tightly regimented,” the blog says. “Without realizing it, this control created a society of mediocrity; propagating a cycle of listless, uninspired existing as opposed to living.
“The character John Galt encouraged all of the world’s innovators and intelligent minds to go on strike from the increasingly controlling government in order to create a vacuum of brilliance, proving that independent creativity and free-will is critical for quality of life.”