PHOTOGRAPHY BY BETH GARRABRANT
Birdwatching, gardening, water aerobics, skydiving, fly-fishing, walking the dog … These are all examples of Doing Things, the credo on which Austin-based activewear company Outdoor Voices was built. Founded in 2014 by Parsons School of Design graduate Ty Haney to create what she calls “technical apparel for recreation,” OV has emerged as the visionary alternative to both the harder, better, faster, stronger behemoth sportswear brands and the bougie, black leggings–led athleisure labels. OV has garnered a loyal fan base (who have used #doingthings 150,000 times on Instagram) by positing that working out is an everyday activity that doesn’t necessarily have to involve a gym membership, barre class, or personal best. If you’re moving and breaking a sweat, you’re Doing Things.
The OV motto comes naturally to Haney, 30, who grew up in the recreational mecca of Boulder, Colorado. “Every day you’re hiking or biking or roping in the kayak to go down the river,” she says. She was also a high school athlete, running cross-country and playing basketball and soccer, but found it challenging to keep her activity level up after moving to New York City to study business at Parsons. “I realized there were likely a lot of people in a similar position, who had either grown up as a competitive athlete and always had teammates or a coach to keep them accountable,” she says, “or had never been active because they were intimidated by performance-oriented sports as a young kid.”
This epiphany led her to create Outdoor Voices; she opened the first store in Austin in 2014 after becoming enamored of Barton Springs pool and the city’s outdoorsy leanings. The company quickly gained popularity for producing pieces that fall somewhere between fashion and performance. “I really wanted to get away from overly shiny spandex that felt super-synthetic and almost disposable,” Haney says. She developed OV’s signature Textured Compression fabric, paneled construction, and high-waisted-bottom-with-a-crop-top silhouette to look and feel good on a variety of body types (Lena Dunham, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Frank Ocean have all worn OV). The brand’s latest innovation is The Exercise Dress, a lightweight stretch minidress with built-in liner shorts that you can wear while running a trail or sipping a latte. (The design team’s inspirations include a Brutalist London art installation, vintage Patagonia ads, and Mariel Hemingway in Personal Best.)
OV has certainly found a niche. The company has raised close to $60 million in venture capital, witnessed annual triple-digit growth, brought on former J.Crew CEO Mickey Drexler as its chairman, and opened nine retail locations across the U.S. The experiential brick-and-mortar stores act as hubs for an enthusiastically engaged community, hosting activities such as Pilates classes and the popular “dog jog.”
All of this has earned Haney superstar entrepreneur status, but despite her youthful breakthrough, success didn’t come automatically. “There were a lot of people who, when I walked into investor meetings, said, ‘Oh, we already have Nike and Under Armour—there’s no space for others,’” she recalls. Brushing off the rejections, she sent outfits to the women in the offices of (mostly male) potential investors—and to the men’s wives. “And then the women would be like, ‘Wow, I love this!’ Go figure that somebody who actually understands bounce management is making better products for women.”
Such triumph, Haney says, “requires what a number of us in my peer group call ‘beast mode.’ It’s not for the faint of heart. I’ve been lucky to grow up with a group of women that have started companies in different spaces but at a similar age and stage, like Emily [Weiss] from Glossier, Audrey [Gelman] from The Wing, Whitney [Wolfe Herd] from Bumble, and Jen [Rubio] from Away. We’re all of the same generation and have been able to compare notes. We’re trailblazers in some regard, which is exciting and fun and new—but it is hard as hell.”
While Haney is in beast mode, her company is in serious growth mode. More stores are on the way, including flagships in NYC’s Flatiron District (this month) and Austin. Next up is the launch of OV Outdoors, and in the spring the brand is expanding its handful of men’s styles by unveiling a full line in a bid to conquer the menswear market. Haney’s ultimate goals are to make OV the number one recreation brand and to “get the world moving,” boosting endorphins and fostering community along the way. “We’re not building the next Nike,” she says. “We’re building the next OV. We’re very much creating our own rules to the game.”