Building a challenger brand with Tyler Haney

Richard Branson was recently joined by three of America's most exciting, young entrepreneurs for Virgin Atlantic’s Business is an Adventure event in Boston. We caught up with one of them, Tyler Haney, founder & CEO of Outdoor Voices, to learn more about her experience of building a challenger brand with an energetic community around it...

What you can learn by reading this article:

  • How to build a brand capable of taking on some of the world’s most well-known companies
  • How to establish an active community around your business
  • How to create a company that lives its message

Outdoor Voices is a company that provides technical clothing for recreation, but its message extends far beyond that. In Tyler’s words, "it’s about making activity more human, rather than superhuman".

Outdoor Voices grew out of Tyler's love of being active. Growing up in Boulder, Colorado, it's part of everyday life; "the mountains are right there, and it’s all super active, people are biking, swimming and hiking and that’s your way of being social, it’s what you do with your friends," she says.

"Early on I was very focused on why I liked activity and realised that what I loved about it was the joy of it rather than the pressure to be really good. I looked around and couldn’t see a brand that embodied that, stripping the performance, pressure and competition away," she continues.

In high school, Tyler was an athlete - and a good one too - preparing to go to college to run hurdles. But instead she took a year off and decided to complete a business degree at Parsons School of Design in New York. This would become her first critical step towards establishing Outdoor Voices. "When I stopped playing competitive sports, the meaning of activity changed and I wanted to create something to help me be active on a daily basis. It needed to be something that felt freeing, that approached activity differently," Tyler says.

Her College degree allowed Tyler to explore different technical fibres, finding a fabric that worked for her ambition; "one that functions in sweaty environments but I can then go on wearing it in my day and I don’t look like a 'Gym clown'," Tyler explains.

Developing the clothing initially just for herself, the business began to grow as her friends also wanted to wear it, followed by a growing customer base of people who found out about the brand. As her business expanded, she created what became Outdoor Voices, which recently opened flagship store in New York.

Outdoor Voices is more than just a business, explains Tyler. "We have this saying, 'doing things'. It comes from 'doing things is better than not doing things' and that getting out there and having fun with friends outlasts a win" she says. The community around Outdoor Voices is devoted to inspiring everyone to get active, regardless of athletic ability. Tyler explains, "#Doingthings is beautiful in that it’s not telling you 'here’s the activity, go do it'; it’s about giving people the tools to show what activity means to them. Whether it’s people biking with friends, or going on a dog-walk, this is the Outdoor Voices community."

Tyler’s ultimate aim is to grow this community worldwide, "the mission is to create a global community and platform to make it easy for people to experience daily recreation. There are so many people who want to move more but don’t necessarily know how to make it easy for themselves," she explains.

This message was embodied by Lena Dunham, the first celebrity to wear Outdoor Voices, who wore it on the set of ‘Girls’ when she was learning to jog as someone who had never been an athlete or involved in sports. "That was exactly the opportunity and experience we want to inspire" Tyler comments. 


A photo posted by Lena Dunham (@lenadunham) on


This community starts right at the core of the company, the office. "We do a bunch of activities together,” Tyler explains. "There are people who are really good, and people who have never done it but that’s the beauty of this level playing field, it doesn’t matter. We play basketball, soccer and go to yoga as a team. We have to live it," She continues.

Outdoor Voices also run dog-walks and running clubs out of their retail stores to encourage members of the public to get involved in their mission. One of the biggest challenges Tyler faces in creating an active wear brand is taking on some of the world’s most well-known brands, from Nike to Under Armour. "Early on, people were like 'are you crazy? Those are the biggest brands in the world!' and for me I’ve undoubtedly never lost focus on this idea that we will be the next Nike, but completely around recreation, activity for fun," Tyler says.

Outdoor Voices also faces competition from the world of 'athleisure' (athletic-looking clothes that are worn to appear athletic but are not used for actual exercise). "There are a lot of brands that are coming into the space that don’t have a functional product and aren’t really rooted in anything that does good for the world. They make you look sporty but aren’t a platform for anything," Tyler explains. "We maintain that everything we make is meant to sweat in" She continues.

On taking on this competition, Tyler’s attitude towards business is one that reflects her entrepreneurial spirit. "I feel very strongly that there’s no playbook and so you’re very much creating the rules to your own game. Over time, you have to become comfortable with that."


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