Outdoor Voices Founder Ty Haney Has Moved On. Mostly.

Three years after her dramatic exit as CEO, she still has some things she’d like to say.

Photo: Hugo Yu
Photo: Hugo Yu

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In March, Ty Haney was scrolling through Instagram when she was served an ad for Outdoor Voices, the beloved-by-millennials athleisure company she founded in 2013. She had unfollowed the brand in 2020 shortly after her protracted exit as CEO, which began when she was on maternity leave and concluded with a smattering of stories that accused her of being terrible at the job. In the years since, Haney had attempted to scrub all traces of OV from her life — an effort that included purging “a hoarder’s amount” of her own pastel workout gear. The ad alarmed her: It was for a polo dress she had debuted with Vogue in 2018, but now she beheld “a bastardized version with seams everywhere,” she says. “Yikes!” she typed into the comments. “Y’all have lost your way …” She hit POST and felt a thrill of something she now describes as “punk rock.”

“It just irritates me when I see it pop up on social,” Haney says. “It’s like — what the fuck is going on here?” She hadn’t touched OV in three years (these days, she works out in old T-shirts), but the sponsored posts continued to torment her. One featured several new, what Haney calls “confusing” versions of the brand’s signature exercise dress. (“The future is not bright for the OG Exercise dress 😥,” she commented.) Another was for a blue sports bra and leggings. The workout set was part of the brand’s TechSweat line, made of a material that, according to Haney, was designed to stretch in a particular way. But the leggings in the ad had a misplaced front panel; the striations, instead of going from left to right, stretched from top to bottom. “The fabric is going in the wrong direction on the front panel of those leggings,” she pointed out in the comments. “TechSweat stretches with the lines horizontal.”

“It’s kind of sickening to see how low it’s gotten,” she tells me over lunch in August. “I feel sad for it.” To her, OV’s products have become haphazard. She cites with horror the “20 different styles of exercise dress” and a recent Disney collaboration “that just looks so goofy.” We’re at the Crosby Bar in Soho — the very place where, in 2015, she raised $7 million for Outdoor Voices. She’s wearing a satin skirt, an oversize button-up, and many rings, one of which is etched with the word SEX, which she recommends, along with bananas, for stress relief. She seems stressed today; she arrived somewhat out of breath and 20 minutes late after customer calls ran long, greeting me with a perfunctory hug and rigid smile.

Haney lives in Tucson, Arizona, but she’s in town recruiting clients for the two brands she launched in 2021 shortly after leaving OV: Joggy, a line of CBD energy supplements, and TYB (Try Your Best), a web3 product for companies and brand loyalists that she calls “the new, modern way of doing membership.” She insists she has moved on from the events of 2020, at one point citing a quote printed on an early OV tee: DON’T GO BACK; YOU’RE NOT LOOKING THAT WAY. Still, since then she has discussed her ousting in cryptic interviews and Instagram captions, dropping hints about how she was wronged and who wronged her, though never naming names. “It felt important to me not to rehash details but to set the record straight,” she explains brusquely. “I’m a Libra. I only feel reconciled when things are fair.”

In 2018, OV was a sensation. On Instagram, ambassadors and fans shared photos of themselves hiking, running, and walking their dogs in color-blocked leggings and exercise dresses, hashtagged with the brand’s “Doing Things” slogan. Haney, OV’s bubbly blonde mascot, had earned nearly $65 million in venture funding, and the company had a valuation of $110 million. Along with entrepreneurs like Emily Weiss of Glossier and Audrey Gelman of The Wing, she was a symbol of a new era in commerce: woman-led, venture-backed companies that shilled charmingly designed products for the serious, but not too serious, young woman. It was something of a surprise to OV fans when, in early 2020, Haney abruptly stepped down as CEO after a thin financing round that valued the brand at only $40 million. In the weeks that followed, articles with testimony from ex-employees described Haney as an incompetent and tyrannical leader who belittled those who disagreed with her.

“I’m not a monster, as I’ve been characterized,” she says today. “Behind the scenes, I was being pushed out.” The coup began with the appointment of Mickey Drexler, the former Gap CEO, as chairman in 2017. (“Almost like the babysitter, in a sense,” Haney mutters.) She describes in a rush what happened next: Things were fine at first — Drexler flew her around in his private jet, after all — but they began to butt heads. Haney grows agitated when she describes a Frank Ocean collaboration “that never saw the light of day.” The then-75-year-old Drexler “threw a fit” about it, she says. “He simply did not get who this guy was.” Over the next few years, she claims, Drexler began turning OV’s board and team against her. When reached for comment about this period, Drexler said, “My role as chairman was to represent the board and investors. As we saw the numbers declining, of course, I asked questions about revenues and profitability … My track record speaks for itself. I’m a demanding boss with high standards.” (OV, however, did not respond to a request for comment).

“I own my mistakes and have publicly,” Haney says over lunch. Still, for the next week she would continue to furnish me with evidence: evasive texts from board members, screenshots with OV’s financials (which she says were misreported), Instagram DMs from people defending her against the bad press. One image is annotated and the name of a certain journalist circled — someone she believes to have been in cahoots with Drexler. The impression is of someone trying to solve a mystery, or at least get some closure. “I may be oversharing, but cathartic to get it out,” she later wrote in a lengthy email. “I can’t describe it any other way than kind of like what I imagine losing a child is like. A significant period of grief.”

Haney’s two new business ventures seem to be her way of productively exorcising her OV demons. One critique of OV during her tenure concerned the brand’s sizing, which only went up to an XL. She’s relieved she no longer has to deal with it — Joggy is one size fits all, just “a little cute gummy.” As CEO, she also felt pressure to use targeted ads to acquire customers. It didn’t work, Haney explains: OV’s marketing strategy was based on stores, community events, and ambassadors. The point of TYB is to make companies less reliant on ad platforms to attract customers. TYB users can complete “challenges” (such as product testing) in exchange for things like discounts. And brands, meanwhile, can grow an audience on a platform that isn’t Instagram.

Three years after Haney was replaced as CEO, OV is profitable with 17 stores across the U.S. Fans say they haven’t seen a change in quality; there are more sizes and styles than ever. But it’s possible that OV, along with other “Wing era” brands, is simply not cool anymore. As one woman I spoke to put it, wearing OV today is a little basic: “Like, there she goes, carrying her OV tote full of Glossier on her way to Jack’s Wife Freda.” She still wears the brand and is in a pair of OV shorts when we talk, though “I just wish they didn’t say DOING THINGS on them.”

Haney says she would be more willing to support her old brand if she were to make “a nice check at some point,” but her remaining equity in the company has been diluted. (At OV’s peak valuation in 2018, she might have earned millions from selling; now, she says, she would make around $90,000.) Still, she fantasizes about one day buying the brand back. After lunch, I ask if she’ll check out the nearby OV store with me. “Right now?” she asks, eyes popping. I say I just want her impressions, and she agrees (“I guess”) before saying she would prefer not to. “I have the heebie-jeebies,” she says, shuddering. “I don’t want it to touch me.”

Outdoor Voices Founder Ty Haney Has Moved On. Mostly.