On the occasion of our latest OUTDOOR ISSUE, we talked to designers, brand-makers, buyers and everyone else who has a say in the field of urban outdoors. One of the activewear brands we featured within the issue is Outdoor Voices by 29-year-old Tyler Haney, who has hit on the need for activewear that goes beyond just the gym.
The athleisure market has been off and running for some time. Most would say it has to be in, at least, its sweaty tenth marathon mile by now. But, for Tyler Haney, the Millennial founder of Outdoor Voices, that’s just the problem. Grabbing a coffee during a jogging stroller jaunt or hitting the street after an Orange Theory workout dressed in triathlon clothing seems out of place and wrong to Haney, a girl who grew up in Colorado running track and playing sports. Haney sees an everyday, active life as coinciding and colliding with a sporting life. The 29-year-old knows no difference, saying her childhood was spent as “the ultimate tomboy” wearing short hair, playing basketball at the YMCA, trying out for the boys soccer team, even entertaining some Olympic horseback hurdling dreams until her passion for design called her, bringing her to New York’s Parsons School of Design.
Mastering design skills at school, Haney’s young track star lived on in cleansing long runs. And it was on one of these runs, appropriately enough, that Haney concocted a brand to meld seamlessly into people’s active lifestyles, clothing that meant you could work up a sweat or a conversation and look fashionable while doing it.
Outdoor Voices was born on a mission to be fashionable and active at the same time, a niche not often filled by the big money players such as Nike, Under Armour and even, believe it or not, Lululemon. Haney worked in muted colors such as navy, gray and subtle black rather than neons and eschewed the mesh that seems to be taking over so much of the legging market. She tested the comfort, the seams, the flexibility. Haney concentrated on the most needed apparel items for active people: leggings, bras, sweats and tanks. She grew a legion of devotees with her high-waisted, practical leggings and crop tops. She crowdsourced and used social media to generate feedback. She thought long and hard about technical fabrications, endurance and material weight. She knew she wanted super human athletes but also busy moms, active students and outdoor lovers alike. And Haney slowly created a brand that was chatty, down to earth and wearer centered rather than dogmatic, large and looming. The company says: “doing things is better than not doing things.” The employees bond by doing yoga together on Mondays and monthly basketball games along with jogging meet ups for fans of the brand shown on the OV Trail Shop system with routes along 22 locations.
But how did the little, start up athleisure brand gain credibility, attention and, most importantly, funding in a market crowded by larger brands trying to cash in on a trend? By doing what Haney knows best: combining the endurance of a long distance runner with a friendly smile. That got Haney and Outdoor Voices the support of a few collabs. There was a joint venture with J.Crew, as part of the “Discover” program, and then A.P.C., who Haney completed a cool knit capsule collection with in 2016. Support followed from the likes of designer Jenna Lyons, actor and producer Lena Dunham, Goop’s Gwyneth Paltrow and influencer Deandra Medine of Man Repeller fame. The collabs and the money keep coming. Outdoor Voices recently announced its foray into the running market via a cool collab with French brand Hoka One One.
And, it seems, just the snap of Haney’s limber fingers sends her fans into a frenzy. Recently, in fact, Haney and her followers gave multibrand retailer Bandier a piece of their collective minds when the store launched its own athleisure line that mimicked Outdoor Voices to a tee and a legging, at that. Haney went on Instagram to speak to it and her loyalists chimed in. The colorblocking war garnered nearly 600 comments and was a first in Haney publically taking on her imitators. The copycatting is likely down to other brands realizing that Haney is, indeed, on to something. Muted tones and outside-of-the-gym activewear fill a lifestyle niche that just works in today’s society.
But Outdoor Voices isn’t just about looking good after the burn. Haney strikes a chord with her fabrics too. There’s Tech Sweat, a thinner material for high intensity workouts. There’s also Textured Compression, a slightly thicker weight and all sorts of innovation and research in between. Though the brand’s crop tops started out for smaller chested women, it is now speaking to its fans and developing bras that support women with a little more up top. The clothing sizes have yet to budge too much, travelling up to a snug version of XL, but followers feel that plus sizes must be just around the corner.
Outdoor Voices seeks to inspire, to be devoted to an active lifestyle rather than winning. Instead, competing comes first. The brand is just as centered on dogwalkers and horseback riders as it is to sprinters and mountain climbers. It encourages its wearers to show up all the time and participate, donning clothing that can achieve whatever their hearts desire. It’s a formula that’s working on every level, including monetarily. Haney better get used to the clones. Because it seems she’s started something that will take athleisure beyond the finish line.
Have a look at our brand new Outdoor Issue and read more about the booming segment.