The bursting of my D2C dream bubble

The Business of Fashion reported on the stepping down of Ty Haney, Outdoor voices CEO, a few days ago, and of all the CEO step-downs that I have paid attention to since starting my internship, this one has hurt the most.

I discovered Outdoor Voices in 2016 via an Instagram ad and instantly fell in love with the brand and its message. As someone who never got into lululemon and never really understood the hype behind it, it felt as if Outdoor Voices was made for me.

What drew me to the brand was what drew all of OV’s loyal customers to the brand, which was their distinct colors, shapes, and the impressive marketing strategy behind it all. Once that first OV ad showed up on my feed, I can confidently say that one has popped up at least two or three times per week ever since then. The images posted on their Instagram feed have always been beautiful, have emphasized how to use the products for recreation, and have emphasized showing women of all sizes wearing the products.

For me, the brighter colors appealed more than the neutrals of lululemon, and I was never into athleisure the way that lululemon customers are. I’ve never needed my workout clothes to function as work clothes and for the short time that I was really into athleisure, I was doing it for the fashion potential rather than the comfort. Lululemon is probably the clothing brand that is closest to having items for any occasion (working out, walking, hiking, going to work, shopping for groceries, etc.), minus formal events. Something about the brand, though, has never appealed to me.

That’s why hearing about OV not performing well financially hurts so much, and it really puts a damper on all of the hype surrounding the D2C industry, which is what I have grown up with and come into my spending power surrounded with. D2C has been the buzz for as long as I can remember, so it’s hard to think about the brands that you have loved for a few years not performing well compared to a few huge retailers in their categories. I always tell people that I have a few brands that would I die for, those of which are Everlane, Allbirds, Glossier, and Outdoor Voices, and when the activewear department of your wardrobe takes a hit, it hurts.

Today, I’ve thought a lot about why this is happening to some D2C brands and not others. I read a couple of articles about this OV news, and while it makes sense that you can’t reach profitability without your operations being as efficient as your marketing, it’s still hard to understand when D2C is pretty much all you’ve known in your adult life.

On campus, you regularly will see students wearing the blue baseball cap and canvas tote bag that Outdoor Voices is known for, but I realized that I’ve never seen it on someone who doesn’t look like a college student. I can also guess that people within about five years of my age were disproportionately targeted with social media ads, which means that you get a couple of milennials but a whole lot of Gen Z’ers who don’t have disposable income and probably only own the baseball cap and bag that comes with from Outdoor Voices, which in the long-term is not a very sustainable business strategy because we won’t have that kind of disposable income for awhile.

The last concept of OV that I always loved was the message that yes, you can wear the products just for athleisure, but there’s more depth to the products and the brand, which is something that I’ve always felt that lululemon lacked. OV products are meant to be used for intense gym workouts or strenuous hikes as well as more casual forms of exercise because you feel good about getting out there and participating in recreational activities and you get to wear products that aren’t as commonly seen as lululemon. I’ve always loved the initial concept of the brand that Ty Haney has talked about in interviews for years where she was running in what seemed like olympic-level apparel when it definitely didn’t have to be, there just weren’t any other options.

In the end, there are a lot of problems regarding customer acquisition for OV. Sure, with their initial funding they got me and others like me good and got us devoted to the brand, but anyone outside of this small demographic probably doesn’t even know of the brand. Their ads feature a diverse group of females, but a diverse group of people within a very small age range. They also have an entire men’s line but there are essentially no men in their ads. While I subscribe to the OV idea and lifestyle, having the loyalty of 21 y/o’s with limited disposable income is not a profitable nor sustainable customer acquisition to have.

Lastly, did you know that you can subscribe to the Business of Fashion for free as a student? How did I not know that? All you have to do is head to the BoF Professional page, look at the different memberships, and then click the line below the three types to set up a student account!

Published by Emma Irwin

Emma Irwin is a passionate student of the retail industry. Freshly graduated from the University of Minnesota with a B.S. in Retail Merchandising, she will be pursuing an M.S. in Apparel Studies with a concentration in Retail and Consumer Studies in fall 2020. Career ambitions include writing a formal research paper, becoming a retail writer and reporter, and maybe being a CEO someday.

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