Lululemon billionaire helps China’s Anta in consumer sales push

LULULEMON Athletica founder Chip Wilson, shorn of his influence at the apparel empire he started, says he's devoting time to helping Amer Sports Group expand sales through direct-to-consumer channels.

The Canadian billionaire was a minority partner in the group led by China's Anta Sports Products that bought Amer for more than US$5 billion, a deal announced in 2018. Amer's portfolio includes Salomon and Atomic ski equipment, Arc'teryx outdoor apparel and sporting goods maker Wilson, known for tennis rackets, basketballs and other gear.

"Our goal is to take these brands globally," Wilson said in an interview. Helping them expand their direct-to-consumer sales efforts "has been a lot of fun, a big opportunity. We get back into design, we get back into product and brand".

Wilson, 67, is Canada's 13th richest person with a net worth of US$5.7 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. The bulk of that fortune is derived from his stake in Lululemon, which he began with a single store in Vancouver in 2000. He left the board in 2015 and later published a book that criticised the company's performance.

"We lost our power there and that's the way it went, and there was a difference of opinion," he said. "But now I get to take all my knowledge - our knowledge - and put it to somewhere where it's in its relative infancy."

Wilson said he owns 20 per cent of Amer, which is worth at least US$1.2 billion based on his estimate that the closely held firm is valued at US$6 billion to US$7 billion.

Some of Amer's brands are mostly for winter use, which presents an opportunity, Wilson said. "We know that these brands don't know very much about spring, summer product. They don't know very much about women's product and they were all wholesale," he said.

Wilson and his wife, Summer, announced a C$100 million (S$106 million) gift last week to protect vast tracts of wilderness in Western Canada. It's one of the largest donations ever among Canada's ultra-rich, with the money earmarked to buy forests and repurchase mining and resource licences in British Columbia and turn "massive amounts of land" into parks that indigenous groups would manage.

Wilson said the donation fits with his family's belief that outdoor activities are a key to solving high levels of anxiety, obesity and other afflictions. He's generally concerned about the path North American society is on.

"It definitely seems that we're in stage 5 of 6 of the fall of the North American empire, so to speak," said Wilson, a direct reference to Ray Dalio's book, "Principles for Dealing with the Changing World Order," about the rise and fall of nations.

"Stage 5 is overprinting of money, inflation. It's very polarising," Wilson said on Bloomberg Television. In Dalio's book, the sixth stage includes civil wars and revolutions, which Wilson said he thinks is possible, making reference to the Jan 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol. BLOOMBERG

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