What started as a surprisingly balmy morning in Austin has quickly turned into another summer scorcher. Tyler Haney and I sit on the steps adjacent to Outdoor Voices’ flagship store, her dog Bowie in tow. I am regretting my decision to wear jeans to this interview, as I wipe the first drip of sweat from my brow in attempt to manage some semblance of composure.
Haney, however, is barely glistening. She is chipper, greeting passersby with a smile and light banter as they mosey through the Clarksville neighborhood. This store—and her four others around the country—is intentionally located in a residential neighborhood to make it as convenient and welcoming as possible. You shouldn’t have to go out of your way to get there, she says; you should be drawn to pop in a couple times a week.
To no surprise, it’s also the way she wants her customers to think about physical activity. “I always think about people who live the OV lifestyle as being ready to crack a smile, or all about activity for fun rather than the pressure to perform,” she says. “We talk about building a brand that approaches activity with moderation and ease and humor and delight.”
What kind of fearless leader would Haney be if her lifestyle didn’t reflect that? One thing is certain: she wouldn’t be the warm ray of sunshine everyone knows her to be.
“I have to work out every day, otherwise I’m not as focused or clear or nice of a person,” she admits.
Mental clarity is the major benefit of Haney’s daily exercise routine—her toned abs are just a bonus. Twice a week she logs three miles (typically on the trail around Lady Bird Lake), and on the daily, she takes Bowie for a walk. Haney is partial to Pilates and swimming, and will drop into an energizing dance class called “Moves” during her frequent business trips to New York City.
“For me it’s really about balance and variety, but routine in the sense that I always do three miles. I always go to the same Pilates studio.” Haney says. “This different thing every day is the routine.”
Her regimen is anything but monotonous. She always jogs alone, using it as a time of kinetic meditation. Dancing, on the other hand, elicits an adrenaline high that’s unparalleled. Everything in between—hiking, Pilates, and beyond—adds an element of social engagement.
“The outdoors is a key part of the way I stay inspired to be active as well as making activity social. Either going with friends or bringing friends along with me. That’s a key way to add consistency,” Haney says. Life hack, noted.
It was at this point that I was beginning to wonder how Haney has outwardly mastered the chaos of internally running through a neverending to-do list, while seemingly staying in the present with me. It would be easy to chalk it up to age and assume that being a 28-year-old CEO is tied to some degree of naiveté. Haney is grounded, though, and wise beyond her years.
Outdoor Voices grew out of this very wisdom. Haney identified a “white space” within the market that was ripe for the taking. Some investors only saw the naïveté. The common response to her ambitious plans: “Yeah, right.”
“I’ve always said that we’re building the next great active wear brand. Nike and Under Armour and Lululemon—those are big brands. Investors at first would say there’s no space for this. It was laughable that we wanted to go up against these big established brands,” Haney says.
Haney took hold of that proverbial white space, colored it with an array of navy and gray, and called it recreation wear. Then, she took it to the internet, where still to this day, OV attributes to 70 percent of sales.
Over the last three years, Outdoor Voices has proven that it has sticking power. Through traction, Haney and her team have been able to make a case for where the brand and product resonate.
“I really wanted to get away from shiny black spandex. I couldn’t stand that everything was black and neon. That was intentional—to sit far away from the Nike legging. I wanted to show people that you can work out in gray,” Haney says.
As OV has grown, they’ve rolled out even more colors that were once a rarity in active wear lines. Haney was unafraid of pastel pinks, cactus greens, and pale blues because she was confident in the integrity of the material. Not only do they hide visible signs of sweat, but they also don’t highlight imperfections on the skin. They’re made for everyone.
Femininity meets athleticism by way of neutral palettes and minimalist design. And although most of OV’s sales are generated largely by a younger millennial female crowd, the menswear line shouldn’t be overlooked. Its men’s clothing ditches the macho vibe and goes straight for what most people want to be: approachable. Haney says come October, customers can expect a much more robust men’s line. There are obvious similarities from an aesthetic standpoint, but men’s is more activity specific. The women’s kits are fitting for a wide range of recreation, whereas the men’s capsules will have more of a tech focus, specifically geared toward running, training, or cycling.
The more Haney references the industry’s big brands, it becomes increasingly apparent to me how fired up she is about bringing her brand to that level. She wants to take them on, yet in true OV fashion, she doesn’t want them to be directly competing. After all, Outdoor Voices is dressing a completely different demographic.
“I’ve always said that I want this brand to be friends with Nike, but support a different group of people. I love the idea and notion of traditional sponsorship. We wouldn’t sponsor athletes, though. It’s like, Nike would sponsor the athletic program, but how do we sponsor the rest of the student body—the daily exerciser at UT?”
In part, this is where the Outdoor Voices “doing things” mantra came from. Doing things, is better than not doing things, Haney says matter-of-factly. Daily recreation doesn’t have to include heavy weights, PRs, or a finish line. It’s about showing up and freeing fitness from performance.
The way Haney sees it, the other brands are about being there first, while OV is about being there more frequently. The notion of daily recreation isn’t focused on the length or intensity of your workout, but instead, the fact that you’ve arrived and you’re ready to move. (And move with joy!)
“They’re focused on athletes and we’re focused on exercisers. It’s a little bit nuanced but when I started OV I remember thinking, ‘I bet there are so many people who want to be more active, but the connotations of being an athlete can be intimidating,’” says Haney. Outdoor Voices has coolly convinced shoppers to ease into recreational activity by pivoting from imagery of musclebound elites to nontraditional models.
That doesn’t mean Haney is shying away from celebrities. When Lena Dunham (who is widely known for being unapologetically proud of her size 22 frame) donned a full Outdoor Voices kit while jogging in a scene on her show, Girls, Haney felt like the OV brand was finally widening the aperture of people who wore the clothes.
“Lena is a good example of what Nike and Under Armour have not done. She wasn’t the traditionally fit person and having her represent the brand showed people who weren’t comfortable wearing spandex that yes, they can wear it,” Haney says, beaming with pride.
Despite having a handful of major influencers dressing head-to-toe in the clothes, Haney stresses the importance of preserving the warmth and friendliness that OV has held since its inception. Haney is inviting and upbeat—an embodiment of the Outdoor Voices brand—but I do catch her wince for a second.
I heard you don’t like the word athleisure.
“Everything I make is meant to sweat in. It’s really truly rooted in activity. Athleisure to me is to-and-from wear, or brunch wear, which gives me the heebie-jeebies. It’s hard to build a brand like a Nike or Under Armour when you’re not focused on an activity someone is doing,” she explains.
“It takes a certain level of dedication to actually get up and go exercise.”
Still, Haney is understanding. Considering how comfortable the clothes are, she can see why people would want to dress in OV for a trip to the grocery store. However, to grow in a way that impacts as many people as Nike, the brand must be focused on the portion of time that is spent exercising. That’s why the emphasis is on recreation.
“Recreation for me is really the lens through which we make exercise appealing. That’s the way we package it—for people to do it more often.”
The business is still very young, and the rate of growth isn’t expected to slow anytime soon. With two stores in New York, one in Austin, Dallas, and the newest Aspen store blasting through sales records, OV is making its mark. Haney bounces back and forth between Austin and New York, where her corporate team is split. She’s currently in the process of consolidating the company headquarters in one city and rooting down in East Austin.
“We’re really focused on going to places that have a lot of recreational electricity, where people are out there moving and already know this way of life,” Haney says. No doubt about it, with Outdoor Voices settling in Austin, the brand is sure to add some spark to the city.