Tech

Lululemon CEO announces in internal email it will no longer use contentious ‘Whitespace’ name for its innovation team and also reveals the resignation of the group’s leader

  • Lululemon is shuttering its Whitespace team and instead calling innovation efforts Lululemon Labs.
  • The retailer also announced the resignation of Whitespace leader and chief science officer, Tom Waller. 
  • The changes come amid internal turmoil at the company around diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Lululemon CEO Calvin McDonald announced the company will dissolve its Whitespace innovation team, unveiling a series of sweeping changes as the athletic brand reaches an “inflection point,” he wrote in an email sent to staffers on Thursday. 

“With this update, we will no longer have a function known as Whitespace, and will instead refer to Lululemon Labs to speak to how we ignite innovation within our company to win in the market,” McDonald wrote. 

In the internal email, which has been reviewed by Insider, McDonald also announced the resignation of Tom Waller, senior vice president of Whitespace and chief science officer, effective Friday. 

According to two former Whitespace employees who spoke to Insider in early July, the Whitespace name came under fire in the summer of 2020 due to its lack of diversity and in the wake of protests against the murder of George Floyd. 

A company spokesperson confirmed Waller’s resignation, and told Insider that Waller “made a decision to resign from Lululemon this week to pursue other opportunities within the apparel retail industry.”

The spokesperson said the changes are designed “to further integrate innovation within the business with strong leaders ready to take on expanded roles,” adding that the name Lululemon Labs will “speak to how we scale innovation at the company.” 

In his email, McDonald wrote that innovation efforts will be redistributed across the company under Lululemon Labs. “We recognize our opportunity to bring innovation even closer to the business to bolster capabilities for immediate and long-term initiatives and planning,” McDonald wrote. 

The changes come after growing internal turmoil around diversity, equity, and inclusion within the company’s corporate headquarters in Vancouver, British Columbia.

“We have a team called Whitespace, and there are no Black people on the team,” one former White Space employee told Insider in early July.

The former staffers said multiple requests to change the group’s name were met with resistance from members of senior leadership, including Tom Waller. 

Following the name change request, Waller asked employees to meet with him one-on-one to air their grievances, according to another former Whitespace employee. However, his request to meet with Waller went unanswered. 

“We brought it up, like, ‘Hey, it’s kind of offensive. We get what you meant by it, but dude, there’s literally white in the name and you guys are all white, so maybe reconsider, you know?'” the employee told Insider. 

Instead, the employee said Waller opted to hold a meeting with about 60 employees, during which he asked attendees who had issues with the Whitespace name to voice them publicly. 

Asking employees to put “very sensitive racial issues on display” made the employee feel uncomfortable, he said, adding that he felt it prevented junior-level employees from speaking up. 

In a message to Insider on Thursday, the employee said the resignation of Waller was “super positive for Lululemon.” 

Waller did not immediately respond to Insider’s request to comment. 

The tension over the Whitespace name also came on the heels of an incident involving a former Lululemon executive who pushed to put “all lives matter” on the company website, which left employees feeling “triggered and traumatized,” according to a former staffer. 

Waller started at Lululemon in 2012, joining the company after working in roles at companies including Speedo and Progressive Sports Technologies. 

“We are extremely grateful for all that Tom has helped us achieve since joining us in 2012,” McDonald wrote in his email. “We wish Tom well in the next chapter and look forward to continuing to build upon the strong foundation he has helped build for innovation within the company.”

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