LOS ANGELES, United States — In the latest, in what’s fast becoming a long line of shock moves, Tyler Haney founder of athleisure brand Outdoor Voices has returned to its helm less than 6 months since her controversial departure.
The news follows the closure of a new funding round from NaHCO3, the investment management platform of fashion and retail entrepreneur Ashley Merrill — the terms of which have not been disclosed.
In conjunction with the equity investment, Merrill, the founder of direct-to-consumer loungewear brand Lunya — who had already been involved with the business in an unknown capacity for some months — has officially joined Outdoor Voices’ Board of Directors as Chairwoman.
“I have been a long-time customer and fan of Outdoor Voices’ brand and mission to ‘Get the World Moving’,” said Merrill of the move.
Adding: “I am thrilled to be joining Team OV and look forward to bringing my experiences at Lunya to help build a healthy, sustainable business that drives value for our team, customers, and community.”
According to Outdoor Voices, a formal search led by the board is still underway to identify a permanent CEO with proven experience in scaling and growing retail companies. However, according to Business of Fashion, Haney is back at the brand working on creative projects and collaborations, mirroring a role that was originally planned before she left the company.
Despite Phillip Niels, a partner at investment firm Oakwell Capital and a member of the Outdoor Voices board telling BoF that Haney’s ongoing presence at the company was no secret, her involvement could be viewed as problematic. Public struggles had marred the brand’s image of late, with Haney reported to have made a catalogue of errors, as well as butting heads with investors. In fact, the business is said to have suffered losses of $2 million per month in 2019.
Haney, however, disputes negative accounts of her approach. Following her contentious ousting, she took to Instagram to set things straight, writing:
“At OV, my playbook was different than what had been done before and this was intentional. I believed in zigging when others zagged and we built a beautiful, strong #doingthings community with a powerful mindset that moves people by doing so.
“This approach was uncomfortable for some, especially those who had done it one way for a long time and I understand and appreciate that. I certainly wish I was more equipped for the trials and tribulations of being a manager of people. I led with conviction and our playbook was working. Then things changed. And because I stood up for myself, my vision, Team OV, and early investors I am no longer with the Company I started and am labelled ‘difficult’ and ‘mercurial.’ I have experienced both gender and generational differences firsthand and these have been very tough to navigate.
“I am unable to tell my story in full because of documents I was required to sign when being removed from my position at OV while on maternity leave. However, in response to what continues to be a one-sided narrative and one in which I am not able to defend myself, I am proud to have strong conviction in my vision and my legacy.”
Ex-board chairman and retail veteran Millard “Mickey” Drexler, with whom she is said to have had a tumultuous relationship, has now departed the company himself, which may have helped to smooth things over. But is it too little, too late?
The retail industry has been severely challenged by the economic impact of COVID-19, and while Outdoor Voices has demonstrated resiliency and been able to stay top of mind with its community and customers — according to the brand — existing challenges rooted in the brand failing to create enough products that resonate with a mainstream audience still need to be addressed.
A recently launched collaboration with cycling brand Rapha has helped to increase the brand’s online community engagement and target a wider audience. Merrill’s experience as the founder of a business generating $50 million in annual sales, meanwhile, should help to calm the nerves of stakeholders.
If top-level alignment can be achieved, the startup could fulfil its potential for long-term success.