Vuori CEO Is Betting That Athleisure Is Here to Stay

January 22, 2019

By Carlo Versano

When Lululemon ($LULU) almost single-handedly pushed the athleisure trend into the mainstream, it seemed a passing fad, at best, that regular consumers would spend upwards of $90 or $100 on workout clothes. But years later, Lulu is going strong and new entrants in the space are betting there's even more runway left in pricey nylon leggings.

Vuori is one of those brands making a big bet that athleisure is not so much a trend as it is the future of casual wear.

CEO Joe Kudla visited Cheddar Tuesday to announce Vuori's new women's line, which takes the company's laid-back, Southern California aesthetic that earned it a cult following among men, and applies it to women's activewear.

"It was only natural that we'd bring that to womens'," Kudla said.

In fact, Vuori took the model pioneered by Lululemon and flipped it. Lulu began as a yoga brand, gained a cult following among upscale urban women, and then branched out into menswear. Kudla said he found that women were buying Vuori's menswear pieces for themselves, a trend he called "encouraging" for the success of its first women's line.

The brand did a successful capsule collection with REI and utilizes an omnichannel approach that puts it in select Nordstrom stores and "point of participation" locations like Equinox health clubs. That's key, Kudla said, to getting the products into the physical hands of customers, who often still want to be able to feel and try on premium athleisure wear before splurging.

The approach has paid off, even with just the men's line. Vuori nearly tripled its year-over-year sales in 2018, and Kudla said he's planning to double that in 2019. The brand recently made a big hire, poaching the former vice president of design at Athleta, Gap's ($GPS) athletic line.

As it expands in an increasingly crowded marketplace ー just about every mass-market retailer now dabbles in some form of athleisure, along with newcomers like Outdoor Voices and stalwarts like Lululemon ー Kudla said it's critical that Vuori maintain its SoCal startup ethos to design and produce clothes that can transition from the gym to the trail to the couch. The brand sits between Lululemon's urban style and Patagonia's outdoor cool, he said.

"We really built product that we wanted to wear," he said.

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