Q&A   //   February 27, 2024

Vuori’s 2024 playbook includes expansion in Asia & more new products than ever before

Like its namesake that means “mountain” in Finnish, Vuori is reaching peak after peak.

Now in its tenth year, the California athleisure brand is opening 20 new stores in 2024, expanding its presence in China and Korea and upping its advertising ambitions after a successful Super Bowl campaign. It’s getting ready to launch the biggest batch of new products in its history, founder Joe Kudla told Modern Retail. And, it’s preparing to take on more investors by filing for an IPO as soon as this summer, sources told Bloomberg.

Kudla started Vuori in 2015 in his garage. By 2017, the business was profitable, and by 2021, Vuori had scored a $400 million investment from SoftBank Vision Fund 2 at a valuation of $4 billion. Originally online-only, Vuori used the funding to plunge headfirst into brick-and-mortar and opened stores in major markets like New York City, San Francisco and Nashville. It opened its first store in London in 2022, as well as a pop-up in Shanghai in 2023. Within the U.S., Vuori is in the process of opening 100 new brick-and-mortar stores by 2026. Today, the business is approximately 75% direct-to-consumer and 25% wholesale, the latter through accounts with Nordstrom, REI, Selfridges and others.

While it only carried men’s clothing at first, Vuori is 50/50 women’s and men’s today, with an assortment spanning from joggers to leggings to hoodies. Vuori is mainly known for its performance wear and loungewear, but the company is now branching out into dressier styles like trousers, as well as new fabric blends and more outerwear. After experimenting with different styles and materials, “2024 will mark the most newness that we’ve ever brought to market since our inception,” Kudla said.

Kudla spoke with Modern Retail about Vuori’s past decade in business, as well as its plans for growth for 2024. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How have trends changed in the 10 years since you founded Vuori?
When we started, it was all about fitness. And still, fitness is one of the largest end uses of Vuori that our customers come to us for. But we saw during the pandemic the rise of lounge. Everybody wanted to be comfortable, they were at home [and] they needed to be able to jump on a Zoom call. They were looking for product that was professional, yet very comfortable, and Vuori really addressed that need. So we saw a wave of dynamic growth through the pandemic.

As we’ve come out of the pandemic, we’ve seen that people still want to be comfortable, but they’re returning to their daily lives. They’re traveling. They’re investing a lot in experiences… We have continued to see a lot of demand in our lounge business, but the customer is definitely voting for more elevated, more sophisticated looks, more relaxed fits. We’re seeing that influence of the ’90s start to impact our customer. And so we’re able to translate those fabrics that our customer has grown to love into a variety of different shapes and sizes and fits.

One example is, we just launched the Elevation Trouser, which is a technical knit fabric that we actually use in one of our leggings. It’s part of our DreamKnit family. But we interpret it in a zip-fly trouser with a relaxed fit and pleated front. It’s a fan favorite. So I would just say shirt jackets, anything with that relaxed oversized look and feel is really working well right now.

What else do you have coming down the line in terms of product development?
This year is all about building off of all of the foundations that we’ve established in the business. We’re known for our fabric and our textile innovation at Vuori. We’ve built these incredible fabric foundations. And so, 2024 will mark the most newness that we’ve ever brought to market since our inception.

There are a lot of new products coming, but a lot of them are anchored in these foundations of fabrics and styles. So, we’ll be iterating a lot off of our core to bring customers those fabrics that they trust and love in new styles and silhouettes. Then, we’re doing a lot this fall to winterize and globalize our assortment. We’ve got some amazing outerwear that we’re really excited about.

Last year, we launched our first big innovation out of our innovation pipeline in our team that’s based overseas. We developed a fabric called Vuori BlissBlend, which our customers have just absolutely embraced. It’s something we’re very proud of… The textile can stretch two times that of normal spandex or elastane without losing its integrity and its hold. So, no matter what your body shape is, the fabric just conforms to your body in a really unique way. Our customers love the fabric, so we’re going to be launching some more styles in that fabric.

As you’re rolling out more products, you’re also rolling out more stores. Where do your plans for expansion stand at the moment?
In 2023, we opened 25 stores in the U.S. with additional stores abroad. This year, we are going to open 20 stores in the U.S. with a couple additional stores abroad.

In the Northeast, a couple years ago, we opened our first store in Soho [New York City]. Late last year, we opened the Upper East Side, and that’s performing really well. We’ll open our third store in Manhattan this year in Flatiron, which we can’t wait for. King of Prussia is coming soon in Pennsylvania. [And] Short Hills, New Jersey.

We’re building on the momentum we have in Chicago with the Midwest… And we’re expanding with more stores in the Southeast and then continuing to build in the Southwest. Arizona has been a great market for us. We’re going to open our second store in Scottsdale this year. And we’re going to be opening in Long Beach [California], as well. Our first permanent store in Shanghai will open late this spring, which we are really excited about.

Do you plan to expand more in Asia, specifically?
In China, our business is off to a great start. It’s very early, and we have very little brand awareness and a lot of work to do, but we’ve been investing in starting to build our social channels and build awareness in the market. We opened our first pop-up in China [in 2023]. It’s off to a great start, and that pop-up will convert to a permanent store in May. So yes, we are actively looking for our second location in China.

We have a great partner, the Shinsegae Group, in Korea. We opened our first store in Korea last year and we will be looking to open our second store in Korea this year, as well. So, Asia has been great for the brand and we’re excited to continue expansion.

I will say that the brand has been resonating globally. We have great wholesale partnerships in the U.K. with Selfridges and Harrods… along with a strategic partnership with Barry’s Bootcamp in the U.K. We’re just seeing really great traction in the U.K., as well as Asia. Those are really the two big markets that we’re focused on at the moment.

Regarding wholesale, how is that portion of the business performing, and are you planning on bringing on any more partners this year?
We’re keeping our partner base very tight. But we love our wholesale business. We’re very proud of it. We built it at a time when wholesale was a dirty word. There was a lot of energy that was moving into kind of these pure-play direct businesses. A lot of investment dollars didn’t love the wholesale model. But that turned out to be a bit of a flawed strategy. And you’re seeing a lot of those more direct businesses starting to embrace wholesale.

We really embraced it from our early days. I think part of it [was] just our nature. We were scrappy, we were underfunded, we were started in a garage and we really had to find ways to reach our customer in unique ways. And wholesale provided that opportunity.

We love our wholesale business. Our largest partners are Nordstrom, REI and Equinox. And then, we sell to what we perceive to be the top accounts within a variety of distribution channels including outdoor, fitness, surf and action sports and even golf and resort. We work with and pick our partners very particularly across these different historic siloed channels of distribution. I would also say run specialty has been a really important channel for us.