Why All the Warby Parker Clones Are Now Imploding
How venture capital became the most dangerous thing to happen to now-troubled DTCs like Outdoor Voices, Harry’s, and Casper
Even if you don’t know who Ty Haney is, if you’ve spent any time on Instagram you probably know her company by osmosis. Outdoor Voices, with its millennial branding and muted pastel athleisure-wear, is social-media bait. Searching the company’s hashtag, #DoingThings, surfaces images of young women, including Haney, breezily baring their midriffs while walking their dogs, hiking, or doing yoga, dressed in Outdoor Voices’ color-blocked leggings, skorts, and sports bras.
Haney, who co-founded the company in 2012 at the age of 24, found herself in charge of what appeared to be a rocket ship. Within four years, she raised $64 million in venture funding for her direct-to-consumer (DTC) startup, a then-newish breed of e-commerce company created in the image of Warby Parker—aiming to design a better version of an everyday product, selling it directly to consumers at a lower price, thereby retaining tight control over marketing, customer service, and a data feedback loop that would eventually enable it to usurp market share from legacy competitors. In Haney’s case, those competitors would be giants like Nike and Lululemon. She managed to woo J.Crew retail legend Mickey Drexler to be chairman of her board, and when she relocated Outdoor Voices from New York to Austin in 2017, she quickly became the face of the city’s hot, emerging startup scene, landing on the cover of Inc. magazine and the subject of a 10,000-word New Yorker profile. By all accounts, everything seemed perfect.
Until a few weeks ago, when a very different picture emerged of Outdoor Voices. The Business of Fashion reported that for all of the startup’s apparent growth and cachet — including 11 stores in cities like Los Angeles and Nashville — the company “continues to lose money on customer acquisition.” According to BoF, Outdoor Voices was hemorrhaging up to $2 million…