I Want Your Job: Tyler Haney, Founder And CEO Of Outdoor Voices
Tyler Haney is Miss American Dream: a blonde-haired Boulder native who somehow manages to remain fresh-faced and earnest while building a business empire.
She’s the brains behind Outdoor Voices, a sleek line of activewear named for the voice you’re not supposed to use in grade school classrooms. You probably already know the aesthetic, even if you don’t recognize the brand name: monotone crop tops and leggings, modeled by the coolest women on your Instagram feed. The price point — $50 for a crop top, $95 for color-blocked tights — falls in the price range of luxury retailers like Lululemon.
When Haney and I finally connect over the phone, it’s after weeks of rescheduled rendezvous. Haney’s in Austin, she’s in a meeting, she’s really sorry. And she is really sorry — after all, that’s the endearingly honest image on which she’s built her buzzy label. Each point Haney makes ends emphatically because she’s selling her personal dream to everyone she meets.
Outdoor Voices began in 2012, an idea born of Haney’s childhood in Colorado and her passion for staying active. When the former high school athlete left track behind to attend New York City’s Parsons School of Design, she was disappointed to find her aesthetic didn’t line up with the slogans of brands like Nike. It’s not just “just do it,” in Haney’s eyes, it’s do anything to stay active.
“I’ve always been inspired by the spectacle of the everyday athlete,” she says. “The mom jogging her stroller every day with her two kids in it just to be out there and to get active or someone walking their dog. I want that to be as aspirational as a professional athlete.”
That’s the inspiration behind Outdoor Voices’ mantra, #DoingThings. Take a walk with a friend, swim a lap around the pool. In Haney’s words, “Doing things is better than not doing things.” In the lightening-fast Millennial lifestyle, a meeting might merge into yoga and after work drinks. With Hanley’s outlook, at least you’re on the move and dressed for it.
While studying at Parsons, Haney found her passion in technical fabric, the weaves and wefts that cool a runner down or help her win a marathon. She didn’t want to look like Wonder Woman’s kid sister while out hiking, just a stylish woman with beautiful clothing that fit well. As she drifted further from high school athletics to a casually active lifestyle — a pickup game of basketball here, a yoga class there — Haney looked for a brand that could support her commitment. She couldn’t find one.
“There is a powerful combination between feminine and athletic that is not embodied in a brand,” she remembers thinking. “There’s a real opportunity in the market to flip the competitive positioning of traditional activewear brands on its head and really create this new brand around freeing fitness from performance.”
And so, an ambitious Haney made her first business inquiries. Not one to go small, she reached out to the same mills that create technical fabrics for brands like Under Armour. By the time she graduated from Parsons, Haney had built a five-piece collection.
What started as a niche collection has rapidly expanded. In January, Haney clenched a spot on Forbes’ most recent 30 Under 30 list. She’s raised over $8 million in venture capital and attributes the rise of her brand partially to the seasoned fashion eye of Man Repeller frontrunner Leandra Medine, with whom Outdoor Voices released a limited edition “kit” (OV-speak for a set including leggings, a crop top and basic workout tools) in 2015.
As if that wasn’t enough, canny viewers can spot an Outdoor Voices set on Lena Dunham in the season 5 finale of “Girls.” The pride in Haney’s voice is audible as she muses on Dunham’s influence, wearing the line both on and off set.
“She’s not the first person you think of as an athlete, and that’s perfect,” she explains. “What I’m most interested in doing is featuring and connecting with people who excel in their careers, but also connecting with this common threat of an interest in their wellbeing or an interest in being active.”
Ah, so we’re back to doing things again. The slogan has become a lifestyle for the team at Outdoor Voices. Under Haney’s guidance, they take 2:30 pm Tuesday yoga classes as a staff at New York City’s Sky Ting studio. On Fridays, they hit the basketball court for a tradition known fondly as “OV Dribble Dribble.”
If activity is important to Haney, so is energy — an idea she mentions at least five times during our conversation.
“I’ve been really thoughtful about identifying the people I most admire and then finding ways to surround myself with them,” she says. “I very much believe that you surround yourself with the type of people that you want to be. You can become them.”
Being immersed in this type of work environment keeps Haney fresh and her mental gears turning. As a young CEO, the road hasn’t exactly been a professionally manicured bike path, but more like a bumpy mountain path. She remembers a gaffe early on when she’d attempted to dye a line of pants a deep, rich blue color.
“I was so excited and had already pre-sold to people, like, ‘This sweatpant is fabulous.’ It came back and it was bright, bright, very feminine Barbie color aquamarine,” she laughs.
These days, Haney’s hours are spent far from the factory floor; she’s busy convincing more backers to join her campaign. And in some ways, Haney’s age and innocence are her greatest assets.
“You play your own game, you don’t follow the rules,” she explains. “You definitely run into roadblocks at points, but I think that’s how you really create something new and different from what exists.”
In the next year, Haney aims to take her place as the face of the Outdoor Voices brand. Even then, however, she’s hoping it’s the quality of the pieces and the fabric that sells customers first. Haney tells me about an in-office Slack channel that delivers every customer’s feedback straight to the entire company.
And advice for young, female entrepreneurs like herself? Haney’s got that covered.
“My mom, when I was little, would always tell me, ‘TYB, baby.’ It means try your best,’ and my mom would tell me that whether I was going to school or soccer practice or a slumber party,” she says. “Having some kind of motto or mantra helps get you through the tough times.”
And, until your dream comes true, keep on doing things.