Tyler Haney showed up to the biggest pitch of her first round of funding sporting a black eye. The young runner was working on a new concept for activewear, trying to turn a couple of bolts of technical fabrics that had been sitting under her bed and a few designs into a workable company.
The night before, running her regular route, she’d tripped over a dog and bashed up her face. Still, she needed to make her pitch. It wasn’t something to reschedule a meeting over. She’d finished the run the night before. She finished the pitch that day and won funding. And she hasn’t looked back.
A Different Kind of CEO
When Haney was starting Outdoor Voices, she wasn’t just coming up with some random idea for a company that she thought could make money. Outdoor Voices is rooted in Haney’s own experience and vision.
Growing up in Boulder, Colorado, Haney was an active runner. She ran cross country and hurdles through high school, and though she’s not nearly as rigorous today she’s still a regular jogger. She was actually supposed to go to USC for track, but decided that she wanted to go a different direction.
When it came time to decide where to go, she settled on the East Coast, working at a restaurant known as the Border Cafe and rubbing shoulders with the diverse crowd that came through there. Slowly she came to a new realization of what her path would be: design. Haney enrolled in the Parsons School of Design in New York.
While in school, she was thinking about what direction she wanted to go for design. There were buildings she could revamp, clothes she could create, and all sorts of other options. She now had the technical expertise to speak the language of her field, pitch her ideas and create prototypes. But it wasn’t till later in her academic career that she figured it out.
Running had come with her all the way from her early days in Boulder, but it was different now.
“I remember at the end of school, jogging down the West Side Highway,” Haney said in an Entrepreneur interview. “I was going on, like, a 1.2-mile jog — very recreationally paced. I remember thinking about how activity had changed for me, very drastically, as I’d aged. In high school it was all about beating Jenny the hurdler to the left who was always beating me.”
Now it was more of a lifestyle than a competition — staying active for the sake of being active. So why, she wondered, did all the activewear available look more suited for competition than a regular active lifestyle?
Tyler Haney hates the term “athleisure,” noting in one New Yorker interview that it sounds more like something you wear watching TV and thinking about the gym. But that’s the space she wound up playing in.
Growing up, she’d always been something of a tomboy, and that meant Nike T-shirts and sports bras instead of fashion. But those clothes were always designed for some specific activity — not just for generally being active. There was a niche here, she realized.
“Right after school, I [felt] there was a huge opportunity in the activewear space,” Haney explained in one Racked interview. “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.”
With a growing understanding of design that came from her day job at fashion startup incubator Launch Collective, she was learning what it would take to build a new type of garment.
With nightly forays through the Internet studying materials, vendors, sources and more, she was learning what she’d need to create quality athleisure clothing. Finally, she moved back to New York and began to work on something aesthetically pleasing, comfortable, and applicable for general fitness — the foundation of Outdoor Voices.
Something Unique for the Athleisure Industry
The thing that sets Outdoor Voices apart is its focus on recreationally active people rather than professionals. Unlike a lot of athleisure brands, though, it’s focused on active first, not fashion.
Finding that niche between straightforward activewear and regular clothes let Outdoor Voices tap into the huge millennial market, which wanted to be active and were more likely to involve themselves in fitness classes.
When she was designing her prototypes, Haney crafted dozens of kits to send to friends and family. “Wear this,” she’d tell them. “Tell me how it feels, how it moves, what needs work.”
The early returns only reinforced her idea for the company. But when she went to hire a designer, the designer backed out when she realized that Tyler Haney wanted to take on the Lululemons and Nikes of the world.
So Haney decided to do it herself. She found a factory that could both do the technical aspects of her clothing and turn out small production runs. It was a struggle at first, and she used savings to get it going, but slowly the orders began to come in.
And then one day a buyer from J. Crew called …
Tracy Georgiou had seen some of Outdoor Voices’ products in London and wanted to feature them in J. Crew’s “Discover” collection. Haney scraped together money from friends, family and whoever else she could get on board to deliver 11,000 units. And they flew off the shelves.
After that, she began getting funding, leaving samples of her clothing with executives who passed it on to their wives. Outdoor Voices began to build good word of mouth. They soon moved to Austin, headquartering themselves there and anchoring brick and mortar stores, reaching out via e-commerce, and rapidly building themselves into a powerhouse.
Outdoor Voices has managed to carve out a niche in a highly competitive space by focusing on the niche of people who want to be active, but don’t necessarily want something that looks like they’re trying to go to the Olympics.
Based on Haney’s own experience, they were able to grow from nothing into a multimillion dollar business. “Human, not superhuman,” the company says — and that’s carried them to a $100 million valuation. It’s a huge validation of the everyman market strategy the company’s employed.