Oh No OV

Bombshell reports detail Austin-based Outdoor Voices' recent 'implosion'

Bombshell reports detail Austin-based Outdoor Voices' 'implosion'

Outdoor Voices leggings
Outdoor Voices is headquartered in East Austin. Outdoor Voices/Facebook

Bombshell reports from the New York Times and BuzzFeed News are painting a dire picture of one of Austin's biggest retail brands. The two reports, published within a day each other, paint a portrait of a company in financial crisis, overseen by inept management, and fighting to stay afloat. They also show the cultural struggle between a female-led company and its increasingly male executive team.

For those who have never rocked a Y'all Y'all Y'all cap, attended a dog jog, or pulled on a pair of dip leggings, here is a quick primer.

Outdoor Voices is a startup athlesiure company headquartered on the east side. Its cobalt blue headquarters, situated on the corner of Chalmers and Cesar Chavez streets, is recognizable by its massive Doing Things HQ sign, sort of a subtle "if you know, you know" thing. 

The company was started in 2014 by Tyler Haney, who, because she is young and female, is frequently grouped in the same entrepreneurial class as Glossier's Emily Weiss and Sophia Amoruso, author of Girlboss and creator of Nasty Gal. For six years, Haney led a large team of mostly women, many of whom were young and largely white, on a mission to disrupt the male-dominated world of sports apparel, according to these articles.

The six-year period was a time of immense growth for the company, including multiple brick-and-mortar stores, millions in funding, and other hallmarks of tech success. It was also, according to the NYT and BuzzFeed News, one of turmoil, overseen by a "visionary" who was also "mercurial" and lacking in management skills.

On February 25, after being ousted as CEO of Outdoor Voices just days earlier, Haney resigned from the company via a Slack message to employees. On March 10, the New York Times published its article detailing the financial and cultural cracks that had formed in the company long before Haney pressed send on her goodbye message.

According to the NYT, Outdoor Voices entered 2020 valued "at just $40 million — down from $110 million in 2018" and far away from its projected $240 million valuation. Despite hiring Mickey Drexler, formerly of Gap, Inc. and J. Crew, as chairman in 2017 (he was also an investor), the company was quickly losing money, something the NYT reporters say was due to both poor business decisions and a culture of spending.

Writes the NYT: "Mr. Drexler’s decades of experience and deep knowledge of the retail industry were expected to help Outdoor Voices make the transition from scrappy start-up to mature business. But his input was not always welcomed at a company built on the vision of its charismatic founder."

Drexler stepped down as Outdoor Voices chairman last summer.

What the NYT glaringly omits, however, is this isn't the first company Drexler has watched lose money. When Drexler stepped down from the role of CEO of J. Crew in 2019, a role he kept for nearly two decades, the retailer was more than $500 million in debt, according to the Business of Fashion

"Drexler, who is 74, is known for his success at building brands like Ann Taylor and Gap Inc. in the 1990s. But over the last few years, he appears to have lost his magic touch," writes Fast Company in a 2019 story about Drexler's departure from J.Crew.

Despite Drexler's intervention, the NYT and BuzzFeed News paint a portrait of a company hemorrhaging money, and both outlets use Outdoor Voices' annual $36,000 Topo Chico bill as an example of the spending. On her Instagram, which was posted after the NYT published its piece, Haney indirectly disputes the characterization of the Topo bill.

"There is an eagerness to label business decisions like purchasing glass bottled water as frivolous rather than ask why this was a smart investment (because it’s part of an environmentally-minded experience that brought people to our events and retail locations which led to significant customer acquisition)."

Both the New York Times and BuzzFeed News largely rely on unnamed sources for their pieces, citing the nondisclosure agreements former Outdoor Voices employees signed after leaving. And while the NYT does categorize Haney as "mercurial" and "spoiled," it doesn't deviate into an airing of grievances the way BuzzFeed News, whose article was published March 11, does.

They both, however, illustrate how even at a women-first company, women aren't always put first. It seems apt that Haney's firing came a few months after the birth of her first child and in the aftermath of her resignation, 15 employees were fired — all of whom were women. 

It's a pattern Haney herself points out in that Instagram response.

"There is an unsettling trend lately to interview ex-employees of female-founded companies and report their claims either at face value or without any context," she writes. "These are trends that will only serve to drive women back out of the board room."