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“Our performance joggers are the most comfortable pants you will ever own,” reads a description on Vuori’s website, an activewear brand based in Encinitas, California.
It’s a bold claim, but based on the retailer’s 2020 sales results so far, it seems many consumers would agree.
In a recent interview with Business Insider, CEO Joe Kudla said that sales of the brand’s women’s performance jogger pants were up more than 1,000% this year. Vuori is also seeing similar growth for its men’s Ponto performance pants.
Kudla’s company came into 2020 hoping to double its revenue. And as the year comes to a close, Vuori is closer to tripling it, he said.
Kudla describes Vuori, which he founded in 2015, as having an “effortless, casual California aesthetic.” Its products hide features like zip pockets and seams so that they can be worn for different purposes and don’t “identify you as somebody who just left the gym,” he said.
In addition to sweatpants, Vuori sells casual and workout shorts, tops, hoodies, and jackets.
“The color palettes and the prints are sophisticated and easy to throw on, no matter what you’re doing,” he said. “The product is technical, but it performs without looking technical.”
Apparel has been one of the hardest-hit categories in consumer spending so far this year.
While the US Commerce Department reported this week that retail spending increased slightly in October, sales of apparel continued to decline. Apparel sales fell 4.2% in October and have decreased by 30% overall in 2020. Last month’s 0.3% overall growth rate in retail was the smallest reported in six months by the agency.
But for retailers focusing on comfortable clothing, there is plenty of reason for hope.
The NPD Group is forecasting that cozy categories — including sweatshirts, sweatpants, active bottoms, sleepwear, and socks — will account for 31% of total apparel spend this holiday season.
Vuori has been one in a crop of apparel retailers that has overperformed as consumers have opted for comfort while staying home amid the pandemic.
In September, Lululemon reported that its net revenue grew by 2% in the second quarter, despite stores being closed for much of the period. Its online sales grew by 157%. Athleta similarly reported net sales growth in the second quarter despite declines for the rest of Gap Inc.’s portfolio. Its online sales were up 74%.
E-commerce first, but ‘meeting the customer where they’re at’
Vuori came into the pandemic well-positioned, having raised $45 million in funding from Norwest Venture Partners in August 2019.
Kudla said that e-commerce “is hands down the most important channel for any business today.” But, Vuori is getting its products into consumers’ hands in several different ways, including through its own brick-and-mortar stores and wholesale partnerships.
The company had opened five stores before the spring’s pandemic-related shutdowns. Four of those stores are in Southern California, while the last can be found in San Francisco.
Kudla said the pandemic caused Vuori to hit the brakes on a couple of store openings it had planned for this year. Those two stores — one at Santana Row in San Jose and one in Studio City in Los Angeles — are now slated to open in 2021.
Kudla said the company is still “bullish” on brick-and-mortar retail and wants to eventually grow its store base outward from west to east. Vuori additionally has strong wholesale relationships with REI, Nordstrom, and Equinox and stocks its products at about 700 independent specialty retailers around the country.
“We want to meet our customer where they’re shopping. And while we don’t want to sell our products to every wholesale partner out there, if we can find alignment in terms of how the product is showcased on the floor and the way that the story is being told, the way the products are being merchandised, we really love the wholesale channel,” Kudla said.
“Nordstrom and REI can be a place of discovery for a lot of individuals,” he added. “We believe that having that complement to our direct efforts is an advantage over a pure-play DTC brand.”
When it comes to its e-commerce efforts, Vuori has placed a heavy emphasis on its work with influencers.
“From the very beginning, our number one strategy was to get our product in the hands of community influencers, and that strategy is still one of our number one initiatives today,” Kudla said.
Vuori recently announced it has signed on surfer and environmental activist Rob Machado as its first “Investment in Happiness Ambassador,” helping to promote the brand’s commitment to sustainability. Vuori is a Climate Neutral Certified brand and has committed to have 80% of its textiles be comprised of sustainable materials by 2022 (Right now, it’s trending at just above 50%). It’s also committing to reducing the use of plastic in its supply chain by 80% in the same time frame.
Kudla said he believes that Vuori’s “community leadership and standing for causes and supporting organizations that are aligned with our values” have been a factor in its growth this year. The company did not disclose specific sales figures.
Staying connected with customers while not being able to hold community events in-person has been a challenge, though.
Vuori started holding live workout classes on its Instagram account and also started an interview series during the pandemic, featuring guests like Machado, Brooklyn Nets head coach Steven Nash, and singer Jason Mraz.
“I think it’s important that brands are just thinking on their toes and thinking about meeting the customer where they’re at, providing authentic experiences that are relevant to how they’re living their lives,” Kudla said.
“As we know, everybody’s lives got thrown upside down this year. So we had to pivot and adapt quickly.”