How One Small Company Found Its Opening and Disrupted an Entire Industry in the Process

If you had to make a list of some of the fastest-growing industries in the United States, activewear would undoubtedly be on it.

It’s a field that is made up of a few different categories: athletic clothing, swimwear, yoga items and footwear, to name a few. According to one recent study, the industry was worth about $354 million in 2020. By as soon as 2026, that number is expected to grow by an impressive 25%.

Some of this growth can be attributed to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. People suddenly found themselves stuck in their homes and were looking for any opportunity to get outdoors, so many turned to physical fitness. But over the last decade, there’s also been an increasing trend of people taking more accountability in terms of their health and well-being, and an entire industry has benefited in the process.

It’s also an incredibly competitive marketplace, with new organizations cropping up all the time. You may think there isn’t room for new companies and that every possible niche has already been explored, but Vuori proved otherwise.

Founding Vuori

In 2015, entrepreneur Joe Kudla decided to create a new company based on a significant gap he saw in the activewear industry.

Roughly 10 years prior, he was experiencing considerable back pain, and after trying a variety of different methods for relief, he turned to yoga to ease his pain. His back issues stemmed from a lifetime of playing sports such as football and lacrosse. But even after his problems were resolved, he found that he still loved yoga on a conceptual level.

Around the same time, he watched other activewear companies like Lululemon become enormously successful, but there was a catch. Almost all of these brands catered mainly to women, since that’s who was generally thought of as the primary audience. Some of them offered yoga clothing for men, but to Kudla, it always seemed like an afterthought.

With that simple realization, an idea was born.

Joe Kudla got to work on the organization that would eventually become Vuori. It was inspired not only by the idea of giving men similar options to those that had always been available to women, but also by where he lived in Southern California. His home at the time was a big beach community, and he wanted to bring surf culture into the world of performance clothing.

Kudla had a hunch that he had identified a woefully underserved part of the activewear marketplace, and he was absolutely right. After a somewhat slow start in 2015, the company became profitable just two years later in 2017. In 2021, the company was able to raise $400 million from the Vision Fund, which valued the company at an incredible $4 billion.

Consistency Begets Results

As previously stated, when Vuori originally launched in 2015, it got off to a slower start than Joe Kudla and his other team members expected. However, they doubled down on the original idea by soliciting as much feedback as possible from potential customers as to what they wanted and needed, while using that insight to fuel the direction of the company.

During that period, they learned something interesting—a lot of women were buying Vuori’s products that were aimed toward men. They wanted something that was comfortable and sophisticated, and they didn’t much care how they got it. That realization, coupled with an emphasis on the Vuori message of positivity and healthiness, saw the company make just as big of an impact with women as it did with men. As a result, Vuori launched the female-driven side of its business in 2018. The response to both collections has been significant.

Around the same time, Vuori began partnering with various retail outlets to stock its clothing. One of the largest, REI, began an initial test run by stocking the company’s clothing in 30 of its stores. After an overwhelming success, Vuori was soon expanded to all of their locations. Nordstrom and Equinox soon followed suit. What began as a small business based in California soon became a company with national recognition and availability.

When Vuori received $400 million in funding to “execute on its growth strategy,” Joe Kudla saw things a bit differently. Despite all the uncertainty in the world due to COVID-19’s disruption of nearly every industry, Kudla insists that Vuori doesn’t actually need the money it has raised—it’s doing perfectly fine on its own. In early 2020, as the pandemic was still beginning to take hold, Vuori had around 100 employees. Today, it has 450 employees. By as soon as 2024, Kudla anticipates that this number will climb to approximately 1,000.

He indicated that the majority of the funds being raised were going to reward those people who became shareholders early—those who shared his vision and believed in the company since its initial launch.

That being said, some money is planned to go back into the business. Kudla wants to invest in Vuori’s infrastructure and technology—strategic moves that will allow it to better serve its customers nationwide. He also wants to continue developing a “Murderers’ Row” of executive team members in order to secure the future of the company he worked so hard to build from the ground up.

All of Vuori’s success is very impressive, especially given the fact that the company was founded because one man wanted to be more comfortable while practicing yoga. It also underlines the value inherent in a good idea, regardless of where that idea may come from.