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Instead of neon-clad, sweat-drenched professional athletes, Outdoor Voices's Instagram shows folks skateboarding, hiking, jogging, even watering plants while wearing OV's simple sweats, leggings, and crop tops in neutral colors. "Our imagery and our visuals are so different than what you see from a Nike or an Under Armour, that are over the top competitive, harder, better, faster, stronger," founder Tyler Haney explains.
Haney wants to position Outdoor Voices—which she founded in 2013—as a new type of activewear brand for the Reformation and Glossier generation, and 2015's been a big year so far. OV just raised $1.1 million in funding and recently opened a NYC pop-up shop to go along with its flagship store in Austin, an outdoorsy town that's close to Haney's heart. Racked caught up with the 26-year-old founder and CEO to talk about how her brand stands out in a crowded market, what's next (jogging clubs, stores, and maybe even a giant Coachella-style track and field meet), and her best tips for other young business owners.
How did you get your start in fashion?
I was meant to go to school at the University of Southern California for track, but decided after high school that wasn't what I wanted to do. Instead, I moved to New York, took a year off, and then went to Parsons. While in school, I became obsessed with this performance activewear space, and kind of kicked it off from there.
Was it because you were in athlete?
I was always wearing Nike and a lot of performance material, but nothing in that space necessarily resonated with me aesthetically. That was the first inspiration. I love to wear brands like APC, Acne Studios, or Alexander Wang, but there's nothing out there for me that functions like a Nike T-shirt or Nike pair of pants. I'm really into in the active lifestyle, but I'm very much into the tonal sense of things. I love grays, and a more minimal, less-macho performance aesthetic.
Were you always a runner?
I grew up in Boulder, Colorado, and was super active. I ran the hurdles in high school, and also did cross country.
Do you still do that now?
I jog now. I'm obsessed with approaching activity in a different way—a lot less competitive. And that's kind of what the whole brand is about: approaching activity with moderation, ease, humor, and delight. It's what we say often.
Did you start the brand right after Parsons?
While I was in school, I started going to the mills that produced fabric for Nike and Lululemon. I took a bunch of years to just understand the technical aspects behind the fabric. Then right after school, I [felt] there was a huge opportunity in the activewear space. First, for products that don't look so macho; and second, to make apparel for recreation rather than professional athletes, or stuff that looks like it's for professional athletes.
Is there a certain person you have in mind when you're designing?
We like to think about making clothes for ourselves and our friends. In terms of other brands that I think have a similar demo is the Reformation girl, or the Into The Gloss/Glossier girl, or the person who eats at Sweetgreen. For me, we recognize that there's a whole set of new-generation brands like that, and there's definitely an activewear brand missing from that set.
The activewear market is pretty crowded. Is that how you are going to stand out?
Definitely. There's a trend toward fashion-meets-fitness, but we don't really see ourselves as a fashion company. We definitely want to set out to do this new generation of activewear. We all grew up with Nike and Under Armour, so our goal is to really become a true active brand. But instead of sponsoring professionals, we're sponsoring recreationals. And I think the way that we're resonating and building our community is through social and direct-to-consumer. We don't feel like there's an activewear brand out there that's really focused on that, and nailing that line.
Do you want to rival companies like Under Armour and Nike?
The ambition is to become a brand like that.
Do you plan to continue your affiliation with J.Crew?
We've loved working with J.Crew, but decided not to continue right now just because it took so many resources away from our direct business, which is where we're focused. We're still very close to them. We have really eliminated a lot of the wholesale.
You just got a lot of funding. What was the process like?
We pitched to a few dozen investors. Each conversation helped us continue to fine-tune the pitch. The big thing I learned was that time was the most helpful thing to finally secure funding. Being quite young, [Outdoor Voices president and partner] Andrew Parietti and I learned so much from every conversation that we had. Over the last year, we've really fine-tuned the branding and the language behind Outdoor Voices, and are clear what the next steps are.
Did you get frustrated by having so many conversations?
It's certainly grueling, but I wouldn't necessarily have wanted it to be any easier. I've met so many people and learned a whole lot from the process. The cool thing is that we've been able to put together quite a neat group of investors. They are very much brand people—it's not just about the money. They're strategic for us in that they live the OV lifestyle and are connected to people who do the same.
What's your main focus next with the money raised?
It's really nailing e-commerce and learning how to sell a whole bunch online. The way that we're driving that is through community. Social is a big thing for us this year. We're launching our first campaign in May where we're seeding about 300 influencers that we've come up with a criteria for. They're active, they're on brand, and they all have a substantial following. And then getting everyone to rally behind the prompt or hashtag "Doing Things." That's our version of Nike's Just Do it. That'll be our first outward-facing campaign, which we're really excited about.
How did you come up with Doing Things?
It took us awhile. I think the feeling was always there. We don't want to be prescriptive about what we want people to do in our clothes. One day, we were talking and someone blurted out, "Well, doing things is better than not doing things." That's sounds so cliché, but it's totally true. And then we pared it down to doing things. We've found that it's a great catalyst. People like that freedom in figuring out what that means to them.
What advice would you give to young business owners?
I think persistence is the biggest thing. It's definitely frightening at times, and it's super humbling to put yourself out there. Persistence is what sets you apart.
What are your hopes for Outdoor Voices in the short term and the long term?
Back to the community building, that's really what we're focused on: creating experiences and product for people to enjoy doing things together. In the longer term, we're really obsessed with this idea of creating a recreational festival. That goes back to track and field day, for adults. It's almost like adult summer camp.
For this year, it's focused on e-commerce. And next year is about creating stores that support the e-commerce. Next year, we're planning to open a shop in New York City and LA. Long-term, it's e-commerce supported by little retail experiences where people can get together and do things.