Outdoor Voices, founded by Parsons Design grad Tyler Haney in 2013, is having a bit of a moment. After a wave of positive coverage for OV’s first big release last fall, GQ declared them “New York’s Coolest Fitness Brand” in May (not bad for a company based in Austin, TX) and the Wall Street Journal just highlighted them in a feature about the resurgence of well-made, classic athletic gear. With an extensive women’s line and a growing men’s department, OV focuses on understated, US-made workout gear that straddles the line between athletic and casual clothing. As Haney put it in an interview last month, “I realized the clothes that I was wearing in my everyday life were minimal, understated, and really good quality. Why couldn’t I find that in activewear? I realized that there was a larger opportunity in the market to counteract that ‘harder, faster, stronger’ outlook and instead approach activity from a much more lighthearted and socially delightful kind of way. That’s really what the brand is about.” Echoing OV’s mission, co-owner and president Andrew Parietti says, “At OV we make core activewear. We utilize the best technical fabrics in the industry to make apparel for recreation. Our form of active is more than just sport performance. It’s about the body, the way it moves, and looking good doing it whether that is jogging, yoga, the gym – hell, even a game of capture the flag.”
Outdoor Voices sent a pair of Runner’s High Shorts and a Flatiron Crew Tee to review, and overall, I was impressed enough with the details and quality (and price!) that I ordered another pair of shorts and I’m planning to pick up some sweats and a hoodie for the cooler fall weather. This is seriously good stuff and exactly the kind of startup I want to see making waves.
The Runner’s High shorts are an 86/14 poly/spandex blend in a pattern reminiscent of 1980’s swimming trunks that OV calls “Shattered” (one of only two non-solids in their entire line). After multiple washes, my size medium pair measure 14” across the waist (unstretched), 5” inseam, 13” front rise, and 13” across the leg opening. I’ve put well over 100 miles into them, plus quite a few hours kayaking and swimming, and they’re impressive. The full-brief compression liner stayed tight and cut down on chafing. The two storage pockets (interior waistband and zippered in the rear) were enough to carry a couple gels and a key. And the fabric wicked sweat really quickly and didn’t constrict my stride. My only minor quibble is with the side pocket bags, which are the same material as the shorts themselves. That makes them sturdy enough to hold keys and a phone while you’re wearing the shorts casually, but it’s extra material I’d rather not have around my hips while I’m running. A lightweight poly or mesh pocket bag would be an improvement, in my opinion.
Since OV’s website says the Runner’s High shorts “double effortlessly as swimming trunks” I packed them as my only shorts on a hot July trip to Devil’s Lake State Park in southern Wisconsin. I put them through their paces trail running, hiking, swimming, and kayaking, and I didn’t regret it once. Plus, I can report that they double effortlessly as marshmallow-toasting, beer-drinking and sandcastle-building shorts as well.
I was impressed enough that I ordered a second pair in Cold Steel. I noticed right away that the solid blue pair felt substantially lighter and less stiff than the shattered pair even though the material mix was identical, so I reached out to OV to find out why. According to Stephanie at OV, the different handfeel is due to how the pattern is screen-printed onto the fabric. I haven’t noticed a difference in performance and the materials & construction are otherwise identical, but it’s worth noting that the patterned pair definitely feel more like swimming trunks.
The Flatiron Crew Tee is a medium-weight mix of 48/44/5/3 nylon/poly/spandex/Xstatic antimicrobial which comes in eight color options (all but one of which is a shade of blue or grey). After multiple washes (cold water, hung to dry), my medium measures 21” across the chest, 8.5” down the top of the sleeve, 27.5” body length, and 20” across the waist. That’s a relatively generous medium, which seems consistent with OV’s focus on comfortable, casual athletic gear, over focused, high-performance running clothing. The fabric is soft and has a really great depth and texture (which doesn’t come through on the website nearly as well as it does in person).
I was happiest running in the Flatiron tee on chillier mornings and evenings, where the weight of the fabric was just enough to keep my core comfortable. On hotter days, however, the fabric absorbed sweat quite a bit faster than it evaporated, and the shirt got wet and heavy relatively quickly. Combined with the relaxed cut, that made it slightly uncomfortable to run in. OV makes the Flatiron tee in three different designs and they just released a tank top in the same fabric, but I’d push them to look into a lighter-weight, faster-wicking fabric to add another option to the line-up.
Overall, Outdoor Voices strikes me as an ambitious company making strides in a niche that very few other small, independent companies are willing to enter. This is workout gear with thoughtful aesthetic design that also stands up to serious miles. The women’s line is quite a bit more creative and extensive than the men’s (in both products and colors), but the recent men’s releases make me really excited to see what they’re going to do next.
Jason Brozek is an ultramarathon runner, lapsed Ironman triathlete, and professor at a small liberal arts college, where he teaches courses on sustainability and international politics.