In 2015, Joe Kudla launched a business based on a gap he saw in the activewear marketplace. And in just three years, his small business has turned into a multi-million dollar empire in its own right.
Vuori Founder Joe Kudla
When you look at Joe Kudla, you can easily see how he had an early start to his career as a model. But when you speak to Joe Kudla, you find yourself talking to a very smart entrepreneur. Having grown up in Southern California’s surf culture, Kudla is no typical “surfer dude.” After spending two years living in Milan and traveling for his modeling career, Kudla took his early roots in fashion and used that knowledge to create Vuori, an activewear brand that seamlessly marries performance and style—and one that has made a legitimate name for itself among the Lululemons of the world.
So how did the Vuori brand come to fruition? In an exclusive chat with us, Kudla told us about how he saw a major gap in the marketplace for men’s yoga gear. “About 10 years ago I got into yoga to heal my back. I spent a lifetime beating [my body] up, playing football and lacrosse and team sports.” After falling in love with yoga, he saw the Lululemon brand take off in a big way, but found that men’s was really an afterthought for the brand.
That’s when Kudla came up with the idea of Vuori. Inspired by the community where he lived and the beaches of Southern California, he created what he felt was a “new take on activewear, bringing in an almost surf-inspired DNA into performance.”
Launched in 2015, Vuori got off to a slower start than Kudla and his team would have liked. “I think like a lot of smart companies, we tried to pay attention to what our customers were telling us and let them lead us,” he says. And what the customers were telling Vuori was that a lot of women were buying the brand’s men’s products. With a focus on “effortless, easy to wear, sophisticated color stories… and a brand message of optimism and healthy, active living,” the brand was really resonating with women. So in 2018, Vuori launched its women’s business, after a year of dabbling and testing silhouettes.
As expected, the response has been tremendous. One of the brand’s biggest retail partners, REI, took Vuori from an initial test run of 30 doors to all REI doors. Along with Nordstrom and Equinox, these retail partnerships have taken a small California-based brand national.
So what’s next for Vuori? While Kudla had to stay mum on the brand’s major plans, you can definitely expect big things in the future. Kudla plans to open more standalone Vuori stores and expand beyond California, where Vuori’s three current retail locations reside. He also hinted at some great things in line for the womenswear line and is in talks with like-minded brands for exclusive partnerships.
Kudla also recently hired Sarah Carlson, the former VP of Design at Athleta, someone who “built Athleta to what it is today,” he says. “She’s an incredible talent and thought leader in the space, and we’re thrilled to have her on board.”
When I asked Kudla who has inspired him, it came as no surprise that he named Steve Jobs as an influence. Jobs’ story of making Apple the behemoth it is today is inspiring for anyone, but what Kudla did note was that he didn’t always agree with how Jobs carried himself. And when you spend some time with Kudla you can see why he would say that. He’s very smart and business-minded, but his attitude is more laid back and carefree—a sign of the free-spirited surfer dude within.