There is a certain push toward perfectionism in athletic wear — some of that Nike “Just do it” ethos tends to permeate the market segment in a way that can feel a bit like pressure to all but the most seasoned athletes.
But Austin-based Outdoor Voices operates with a much simpler motto for its workout wear: “Doing things is better than not doing them,” a simple brand motto that encapsulates its more laid-back approach to the fitness lifestyle that company Founder Tyler Haney hopes to bring to the masses.
“I was always an athlete growing up, running track and playing basketball, but never resonated with the credo to be ‘faster, better, stronger’ that so many major activewear brands are built around,” Haney said. “In Boulder, recreational activity is an integral part of everyday life — walking, running, hiking, skiing — and activity isn’t necessarily measured by performance, it’s social and fun. I started Outdoor Voices because I wanted an activewear brand that really celebrated approaching activity lightheartedly.”
She also wanted a brand that was constructed for athletic endeavors — using technical and performance materials — but that would be aesthetically appropriate in a winder range of setting than on the gym floor.
“I felt there was a huge gap aesthetically between the clothing I was wearing in my everyday life and the active apparel available on the market,” said Haney. “I’m drawn to grays, navy, and charcoal tones and I kept asking myself why there wasn’t an activewear line with clean, simple silhouettes and understated but really high-quality composition.”
And, as it turns out, it was a look that others were hoping for as well. In its five or so years in operation, its growth has accelerated at an impressive pace — the firm reported growth of 800 percent in 2016. The brand currently operates 10 retail stores in four states, with another one planned for New York’s Flatiron District marked “coming soon” on the Outdoor Voices website.
The brand has also drawn big-name attention, with its design team hailing from established shops like Calvin Klein and Alexander Wang; Mickey Drexler, formerly of J.Crew, now chairs the company’s board.
Outdoor Voices has also taken chances over its short but influential life. About a year ago the formerly New York-based startup packed up its 40-person staff and relocated, caravan style, to the firm’s new corporate HQ in in Austin, Texas.
“It struck me that the city is super-supportive of entrepreneurship,” Haney told Inc.
The move was a hard sell at first. Drexler, a lifelong New Yorker, referred to the OV’s proposed store location in the city as “the worst retail location I've ever seen, potentially in the world,” according to Haney.
But it was ultimately a move that paid off for the up-and-coming brand, as Austin lived up to it founder’s hopes as a natural “spiritual home” for the company. Today the Austin store does sales comparable with Outdoor Voices shops in both New York and San Francisco.
The brand’s marketing these days is mostly by word-of-mouth — it doesn’t expand very much on marketing and relies on customers to spread the word. Those customers, Haney noted, are unusually avid repeat customers and tend to come back at nearly twice the rate the average eCommerce site sees. And though the firm is the beneficiary of the occasional celebrity Instagram post, it does not as yet don’t trade in very many big-name endorsements.
“We haven't been celebrity focused, and we wanted to built the brand in an authentic way,” Haney noted.
And in a way that speaks to what Haney called the authentic customer — the person who enjoys recreational activity in a variety of forms not necessarily limited to hardcore, heavy-duty athletics that requires hours of specialized training. Those hardcore customers exist, and Outdoor Voices maintains it makes gear suitable to their high-test lifestyle — but that high-performance attitude doesn’t represent a majority of those looking to build a healthier lifestyle. Some people have more modest goals, Haney said, and Outdoor Voices is making sure there is a space for that customer as well.
“With Nike and so many other brands, it’s really about being an expert, being the best,” Haney told Vogue. “With OV, it’s about how you stay healthy — and happy.”