Ahead of the Game
How Tyler Haney’s Outdoor Voices is Helping Austin
by Hannah Morrow
Photographs by Aaron Pinkston
“Do you want to talk in Sand Dune?”
On first meeting, Ty Haney resembles a Brandy Melville fever dream: blond hair, plain white T-shirt, denim skirt, ankle socks peeking over beige sneakers. Moments before, she had introduced herself as Ty in the cool-girl range of a lower-register voice, offering a hand decorated with a gold bracelet and scarlet polish. There is no discernible makeup (or need for it) on her face.
Upon the question, she turns a shoulder to look out the window. It’s raining.
“Yeah, I guess a walk is out of the question.”
Sand Dune, named after the Colorado national park, is a comfy side room at the marketing and design offices of Outdoor Voices, a local activewear company with a cult following. The office is one of three buildings on the lot that make up the company’s headquarters on East 2nd Street. Outside, the buildings aren’t marked by any major signage. Local architect Will Fox, who heads store design for the brand, designed the offices’ interiors in a similarly minimal palette of neutral floors, walls and wood accents. Color is reserved for racks of sample garments, a few rugs, and pops of the brand’s signature “Deep Sea” blue.
In Sand Dune, we perch on a wide Deep Sea-cushioned bench. It quickly becomes apparent why Haney would’ve preferred a walk — she’s more comfortable in motion. She sits on one foot and then the other, sticking a leg out, stretching an arm overhead, leaning back on her hands. The 29-year-old has been kinetic her whole life, with unbound energy and ambition. In 2014, she hit her stride in the founding of Outdoor Voices.
Haney grew up “doing things,” a philosophy the company would later adopt as its mission and motto. She was raised in Boulder, Colorado, near the base of the Flatirons, an area famous for its hiking and climbing. It’s a classically Colorado place that begs plein air amusement.
“The thing with living in Austin is that I miss the mountains. But Boulder is different; when you’re on the trail, people are going as fast as possible,” says Haney. “They’re really trying to get somewhere. They’re competing.”
As a Boulder kid and then teenager, she fit right in, taking part in all the verbs. Hike, throw, kick, ride, sprint. Colleges came calling, particularly based on her prowess on horseback and running hurdles. But Haney felt inclined to choose a different path. She owes a longtime interest in design to the family business, a small screen-printing and embroidery shop. A career in design intrigued Haney enough to forgo collegiate sports, instead moving to Boston for a gap year, and then on to New York to enroll at Parsons School of Design.
Haney studied design and management, learning the practical skills of a fashion designer and the big-picture building blocks of creative enterprise. Outside of class, she continued to spend time alfresco, running as a physical and mental release. Her stride had slowed since high school track meets and scurrying up Boulder’s Chautauqua Trailhead, but two things hadn’t changed: her love for recreation and her own workout clothes.
One afternoon, Haney jogged down the West Side Highway. Outfitted in shiny black spandex and high-tech performance fabric, she pondered a disconnect between the activity and the gear. Ten-minute miles don’t need relay race uniforms, and people are less likely to exercise if they’re intimidated or self-conscious. She spent most of 2013 pursuing this idea, researching technical textiles and redesigning a few key pieces until they were deemed perfect by friends and family.
By 2014, Haney had created OV’s original “kit,” a term used to describe each released set: a compression top, leggings, a jogger pant, and two tops. The kit was successful in a tryout at J. Crew, online and in stores. The momentum led to the launch of the company’s own retail site, where word-of-mouth has brought, and continues to bring, e-commerce prosperity.
Also in 2014, Haney made her inaugural visit to Texas to attend the Formula One race. She had resigned to the “Texas is a desert” fallacy (only partly erroneous). Though, as it does, Austin lured her in with fitness-friendly greenery and a high quality of life.
“I was like, ‘Holy shit, this is the fountain of youth,’” says Haney. “I decided based on a spiritual feeling that this was the home for OV. Lady Bird Lake is people jogging with strollers, walking their dogs, going fast, going slow, but out there every day. Exercise or activity as a routine perfectly fits with what the mission of OV is.”
The brand’s first brick-and-mortar opened here in October 2014 at what Mickey Drexler, OV investor and former J. Crew CEO, dubbed “the worst retail location in the world.” The 800-square-foot Blanco Street bungalow, which remains the company’s flagship store, is a sharp right off West 6th, a block into the more residential area of Clarksville. “There’s not parking. It’s not a shopping spot,” says Haney, “but we love it.”
Since the Blanco store, Haney grew her team and opened pop-ups in Aspen, Dallas, SoHo, and Los Angeles. All were so successful that the shops never closed, instead just taking root and transforming into regular retail locations.
In addition to more stores on the ground, high-profile exposure came when celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, Lena Dunham, and Oprah Winfrey began sporting the brand. This particular trio also proved that OV was onto something with their friendly approach to wellness. Paltrow, Dunham, and Winfrey all range in age and size, but each could feel comfortable and get active in the apparel. Outdoor Voices, whose billboards and social media feature more diversely-shaped models, is working toward improving their plus-size fit and availability in future kits.
Over the past year, almost all of the nearly 80 HQ staff have moved to Austin full-time. The decision to leave one of the world’s apparel-design capitals was a gamble. But now, as an underdog competitor in the fitness-apparel market, OV has nested in Austin, with Haney hoping the move attracts more like-minded, high-caliber creative talent.
“I was worried that it might be difficult to get talent in design and product down here, but with everything that’s happening in Austin and everyone moving here, it’s an easy place to attract good talent,” says Haney. “I think being outside of New York has helped tremendously, because a lot of the companies start to feel and look the same. You’re stacked on top of each other. Having the space to play and the ability to put blinders on and create the rules to our own game is awesome.”
Haney makes it clear that Outdoor Voices is not about a trophy-chasing lifestyle. “Human, not superhuman,” she insists. OV is the song that makes you run faster for the joy of it. It invites you to Zumba and doesn’t make fun of you for getting too into it. It brings the snacks on the hike. “We want OV to have this optimistic, energetic vibe to it so that people feel good after their interaction with us,” she says. “It’s all about friendship first and connections
with the team that permeate out.”
OV takes extra steps to give its staff and customers opportunities to play. Weekly games of basketball knockout and kickball and classes at Ballet Austin are favored by Haney. The brand sponsors a “Joggers Club,” dog jogs, and park cleanups and collaborates on yoga meetups and spin classes around town. “When we think of what OV is going to mean over time to people, it should be kind of a resource for recreation,” says Haney. “Austin is a great playground for all those diverse activities and supports the lifestyle big-time.”
Haney herself moved here full-time only seven months ago, an uncharacteristically static commitment for a girl who likes movement. To celebrate, OV is poised to open another location, on Lake Austin Boulevard, in early 2019. The brand currently has six stores across the nation, with six more opening in the next year.
It’s also expanding its product lines, with running shorts, skorts, and a shoe collaboration with Hoka One One, which was released in April. OV will come out with its first swim kit over Memorial Day. Tennis gear will arrive later this summer, followed by a club for hikers in September and ski garb in the winter.
If this sounds like a lot, it is. But Haney is motivated by both her competitive nature and the company’s $34 million in Series C funding, which was announced in March (Outdoor Voices has raised $57 million in total in the past four years). “The goal is to build the number-one digital recreation brand,” she says. “The idea around doing things comes to life around our stores and with customers all over the world doing different things.”
At our photo shoot, Haney continues to move. In front of the camera, she pulses in a stretch, swings her arms, tilts her head. She bobs to David Bowie and sways to Frank Ocean. On location in Pease Park, we happen upon an acquaintance walking her dog, sporting — what else — leggings by Outdoor Voices. Haney smiles warmly, first at the fluff-ball pooch, who resembles her own Havapoo, then at the woman. She extends a hand and introduces herself as Ty. Another win for OV.