If you had to make a list of some of the fastest-growing industries in the United States, activewear would undoubtedly be on it.
It's a field that is made up of a few different categories: athletic clothing, swimwear, yoga items and footwear, to name a few. According to one recent study, the industry was worth about $354 million in 2020. By as soon as 2026, that number is expected to grow by an impressive 25%.
Yes, some of this can be attributed to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. People suddenly found themselves stuck in their homes and were looking for any opportunity to get outdoors; physical fitness was just as good as any. But there's also been an increasing trend over the last decade of people taking more accountability in terms of their health and well-being, and an entire industry has benefited during the process.
It's also an incredibly competitive marketplace, with new organizations cropping up all the time. At this point, you'd think that there wasn't room for new companies and that every possible niche had already been exploited.
You'd think that, but you'd be wrong.
Flashing back to 2015, entrepreneur Joe Kudla decided to create a new company based on a significant gap that he saw in the activewear industry.
Roughly 10 years prior, he was experiencing significant back pain, and after trying a variety of different methods for relief, he ended up turning to yoga to ease his pain. The issues themselves stemmed from a lifetime of playing everything from football to lacrosse. Even after his problems were resolved, he still found that he loved yoga on a conceptual level.
Around the same time, he watched other activewear companies like Lululemon become enormously successful, but there was a catch. Almost all of these brands catered mainly to women, as that is who was seen to be the primary audience. Some of them offered yoga clothing for men, but to him it always came off as an afterthought.
With that simple realization, an idea was born.
Joe Kudla got to work on the organization that would eventually become Vuori. It was inspired not only to give men similar options to those that had always been available to women, but also by where he lived in Southern California. The place where he was living at the time was a big beach community, and he wanted to bring a "surf-inspired DNA" into the world of performance clothing.
Kudla had a hunch that he had identified a woefully underserved part of the activewear marketplace... and he was absolutely right. After a somewhat slow start in 2015, the company became profitable just two years later in 2017. Earlier in 2021, the company was able to raise $400 million from the Vision Fund, which valued the company at an incredible $4 billion at the same time.
All this from someone who ultimately just wanted to be more comfortable while practicing yoga.
Consistency Begets Results
As stated, when Vuori originally launched in 2015, it got off to something of a slower start than Joe Kudla and his other team members were expecting. All the while, they doubled down on the original idea – soliciting as much feedback as possible from potential customers as to what they wanted and needed, while using that insight to fuel the direction of the company as much as possible.
During that period, they learned something interesting; a lot of women were buying Vuori's products that were aimed at men. They wanted something that was comfortable and sophisticated, and they didn't much care how they got it. That realization, coupled with an emphasis on the Vuori message of positivity and healthiness, saw the company make just as big an impact with women as it did with men.
Because of this, Vuori launched the female-driven side of its business in 2018. The response to both directions has been significant.
Right around that same time, Vuori began partnering with various retail outlets to stock its clothing. One of the largest – REI – began an initial test run, stocking the company's clothing in 30 of its stores. After an overwhelming success, Vuori was soon expanded to all of their locations. Nordstrom and Equinox soon followed suit.
What was once a small business based in California soon became a company with national recognition and availability.
As stated, Vuori recently received $400 million in funding, essentially to "execute on its growth strategy."
Joe Kudla, on the other hand, sees things a bit differently.
Even given all the uncertainty going on in the world right now with just about every industry you can name having been disrupted, Kudla insists that Vuori doesn't actually need the money it just raised. It's doing perfectly fine on its own. In early 2020 as the pandemic was still beginning to take hold, Vuori had around 100 employees. Today, it has 450 employees. By as soon as 2024, Kudla anticipates that this number will have climbed to approximately 1,000.
He indicated that the majority of the funds being raised were going to reward those people who became shareholders early – the people who could see the same vision that he could and who believed in the company from the time of its initial launch.
Having said that, some money is planned to go back into the business. Kudla wants to invest in Vuori's infrastructure and technology – strategic moves that will allow it to better serve its customers nationwide. He also wants to continue to develop a veritable "Murderer's Row" of executive team members – something that will allow him to secure the future of the company he worked so hard to build from the ground up.
All of this is very impressive, especially given the fact that the company was founded because one man wanted to be more comfortable doing yoga. It also underlines the value inherent in a good idea, regardless of where that idea may come from.
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