Coping and Profiting from Criticism

Founders of Toms Shoes and Lululemon demonstrated contrasting styles of responding to criticism. One said critics had a point; the other said some potential customers are too broad in the beam. Guess which style worked out best?

Toms founder and CEO Blake Mycoskie told the Huffington Post he was initially hurt by criticism that his "buy one give one" business model provided people with shoes, but not jobs. Critics called his shoe donations tied to shoe sales a gimmick that was ineffective, patronizing and hypocritical.

"If you really are serious about poverty alleviation, our critics said, then you need to create jobs," said Mycoskie. "At first I took that personally, but then I realized that they were right... using our model to create jobs is the next level."

Mycoskie pledged by the end of 2015, Toms will produce one-third of its shoes in countries where it donates footwear. It already has a shoe factory in Kenya with locally hired workers, he says, and will expand the same model to Ethiopia and Haiti. 

"There really is a lot you can learn from critics," Mycoskie told the Huffington Post. "You can either try to debate them and fight them or you embrace them, and that's what we're trying to do."

Lululemon's critics were less harsh, but no less determined in exposing what they believed to be quality downgrades in the company's yoga pants. When complaints about sheer fabric in the bum first surfaced earlier this year, Lululemon blamed customers with an overly large bottom line. Eventually it got around to reinforcing the fabric after consulting university experts and their "sheer-o-metre." 

Sheer Brilliance or Cheeky Cover-up?

PR Daily last week praised Lululemon's "sheer brilliance" in managing the flap over its see-through yoga pants. However, comments responding to its story hinted that the controversy and the company's troubles aren't over yet.

The British Columbia-based athletic apparel company recalled a batch of its black luon pants in March after complaints that the fabric was too sheer and revealing when women bent over. The company endured a lot of cheeky humor, unfavorable media attention and lower stock prices. But PR Daily proclaimed Lululemon handled the crisis in textbook fashion.

Elissa Freeman posted on March 26 that Lululemon owned the peaking bum problem once it became aware of it, kept the media informed, stayed in contact with its brand ambassadors (yoga instructors and personal trainers) and even managed to laugh at itself. Her post featured a picture of the front window of a Lululemon store in Toronto with its models displaying their rears and a sign that read, "We want to be transparent with you."

The same story quoted Jason Inglis, a Toronto personal trainer and Lululemon brand ambassador, as saying, "This issue will only make Lululemon that much stronger because they will pay even more attention to detail. This company strives on separating themselves from not just being good, but being great."

Kevin Allen, writing for PR Daily last week, sustained the upbeat theme as Lululemon announced the return of its yoga pants with more boffo in the bottom. Allen cited a Lululemon blog post that talked about how it looked "at every aspect of this fabric" and even asked university scientists to develop a "sheer-o-metre" to measure how much light perforates different fabrics.