How a New Active Wear Brand Takes on the Big Guys

Share this:

Active wear company Vuori Clothing may have launched just two years ago, but it has already morphed from its original focus.

The California-based firm started as a brand focused on yoga wear for men, and was (and still is) heavily reliant on using hyper-local marketing efforts to build brand awareness. Former D&G model Joe Kudla founded the company in 2015 at which time Nikki Sakelliou joined as the VP of Marketing.

But then they made some key findings. The first revelation was that men like clothing that is multi-functional, says Sakelliou. “Something has to work for cycling running etc. and not just Yoga,” she says. The second surprise was that women demanded that the company design active wear for them also.

Sakelliou came to Vuori from PrAna Living, which is part of Columbia Sportswear. “I was looking for something different, and my yoga teacher connected me with the founder,” she says. Sakelliou and Kudla spoke before the business got going and then she joined as the first employee. “I never worked with a small company so the idea of starting something new was really exciting,” she says.

Recently, Sakelliou spoke with Street Fight about her challenge in bringing the new brand to market.

When you are up against Adidas and Nike brand recognition must be hard. How do you differentiate yourself?
When we started the business we didn’t have money, so we began with the local communities. The idea was that if we could get the product on to the right people [the local influencers], then we would be successful. We started in Encinitas in southern California, which is a very active city and community.

Right where our office is people are out riding their bikes. It was easy to reach out to the influential people and start a ground swell. We got the product on as many people as we could; the local yoga teacher, SoulCycle staff, and influencers in the community. We knew the clothes would be attractive.

Who is your target customer? 
Usually, in a customer profile, people start with age, but we knew the product could live on anyone from 18 to 60. We started as just a men’s brand. We saw that very few other companies focused on men.

What things have you done in hyperlocal marketing to get potential customers interested? Anything location-based?
We have a thing called “investment in happiness.” We rolled out some marketing initiatives where we pay for everyone’s water for the day at some yoga studios, or at SoulCycle we would pay for shoe rentals. On really hot days, we bring a cooler and hand out popsicles outside of exercise studios. Sometimes we gift people towels for hot yoga.

People love it. It makes us feel good too.

What has worked well?
What worked well was connecting to the community and bringing people ways to connect with the brand that go beyond just a product experience.

We have a couple of retail stores that offer free yoga, free meditation classes, and a monthly art show. These things help bring like-minded people together.

And what hasn’t worked?
One thing that wasn’t so successful was when we first launched. No one else was focused on men’s yoga. While there is certainly an opportunity there, the problem is that most men like multi-functional products. We were too focused on the Yoga part of the messaging.

How does hyperlocal marketing help with brand loyalty?
That’s how we built the brand; by getting the clothes on influencers and crafting a deeper relationship. Even if we can’t be there, our influencers can share something.

What advice do you have for other marketers in the hyperlocal field?
You have to know what your brand values are and then stand behind them. Otherwise, you are just another brand that can come and go.

So what are your brand values?
Well-being, health, and happiness. Our core values all tie back into the investment in happiness. It’s crucial to us that our customers have a genuinely great experience with us, whether that means free returns on a product someone isn’t 110% thrilled with, or getting to know our supporters and fans on a personal level. Our culture is our brand.

What digital tools are you using to get the right people into the right stores?  
We do a lot of social advertising. We get in front of the customer through digital advertising. We look for people who live an active lifestyle, and we have dynamic ads, some videos.

How important is foot traffic for Vuori?
It is incredibly important. Every time they [the customers] are in the store we have an opportunity to connect with the customer and tell them about the product and get feedback. We get to learn what it is that we are doing great and what we need to improve. We listen to what the customer has to say.

Do you run local promos and specials to get people in the right stores?
We organize community events. For example, this past Saturday we had a soiree at our Malibu pop-up shop. Twenty percent of the week’s proceeds from that store will go to a charity to help disabled kids how to surf.

The rag trade is well-known as a fickle world. What makes you think you can survive when other brands struggle?
It comes back to connecting with the customer on a deeper level with this idea of happiness. Then we bring them experiences beyond the products which is much different than other brands, particularly in the fashion world.

What’s the future for Vuori?
I feel anything is possible. We recently launched a small women’s collection. That was based on demand. Our hope is that we can touch a lot of people and help them live a healthier happier life.

Simon Constable is a Street Fight contributor. He has written about business and economics for a wide variety of publications. This interview was edited for length and clarity.