🚀 Ultimate eCommerce Conversion Rate Optimization Checklist

Learn how the top brands optimize their site for maximum conversion

Get the Checklist ⚡

Founder Stories: Vuori 🧘

Head West Team
Updated February 3, 2024

How Joe Kudla built Vuori from a garage into a $4B+ activewear brand

Vuori's Tech Stack:

Ecommerce: Shopify  (headless implementation) [✅ our recommended eCommerce platform]

Email: Klaviyo [✅ our recommended email marketing platform]

SMS: Attentive [read our guide on SMS marketing platforms]

A/B testing: AB tasty

Analytics: Elevar

Customer support: Kustomer [read our guide on customer support platforms]

CMS: Netlify

Personalization: Nosto

Heat maps: Hotjar

Landing pages: Shogun

Order tracking: Narvar

Site speed: Yottaa

Gift cards: Rise.ai

Back in Stock: Back in Stock

Reviews: Yotpo [read our guide on reviews platforms]

Site search: Algolia

BNPL: Afterpay

Podcast analytics: Spotify Ad Analytics (Podsights)

“Trying to raise capital for an apparel brand... was kind of like starting a band and telling your friends you're going to be the next Rolling Stones. People are like, yeah, good luck.” - Joe Kudla, Vuori founder


Before founding the activewear brand Vuori, Joe Kudla took an unconventional path to entrepreneurship. Joe grew up in the 80s and 90s in an alternative family on a little island called Vashon just off the West coast of Seattle.

His mother studied Native American spirituality in school and worked as a psychologist incorporating spiritual practices like breathwork, drum circles, and vision quests. His father was one of the first licensed acupuncturists and naturopaths in Washington state. While Kudla participated in mainstream activities like sports (football and lacrosse) growing up, he felt his family was quite different from the norm. Kudla felt out of place when his family moved to the affluent Seattle suburb of Bellevue. He escaped to the University of San Diego, majoring in accounting while indulging his passion for surfing and wakeboarding.

Joe Kudla Surfing

His parents had very little money to afford college, but he was able to make it through with scholarships and financial aid.

After graduating college with an accounting degree, Kudla unexpectedly got the opportunity to work as a model in Europe. A woman spotted him getting out of the water after a surfing session in La Jolla and connected him with a modeling agent. He spent two years traveling and working in fashion capitals like Milan and Barcelona. This experience exposed him to the world of apparel and fashion brands and inspired his interest in bringing creative products to life.

When Kudla returned to the US, he started working at Ernst & Young as a CPA while also launching a small contemporary women's clothing line with his girlfriend called Sammy Jo (a combination of his first name and her middle name) out of his garage. The couple would drive up to Los Angeles on the weekends and buy bolts of fabric from the garment district that they would make into clothing back in San Diego with local pattern makers. He did this while still working 40 hours per week as a CPA at E&Y. Although the business never scaled, it gave him valuable hands-on experience in apparel and manufacturing. 

Immediately after shutting down Sammy Jo, Kudla starts a graphic T-shirt company with a graphic designer named Chad. They would put interesting graphics on T-shirts that told the story of humanitarians and environmentalists. They sold the T-shirts in boutiques in San Diego. They called this venture Vuori. Vuori, the name for mountain in Finnish, was chosen as a nod to the mountains the humanitarians and environmentalists were climbing in their professions. Similar to Tom’s shoes, they gave a percentage of sales back to the organizations they featured.

Singer Jason Mraz wearing any early Vuori T-shirt

They were selling in about 25-30 stores around San Diego, but they decided to shutter the business when the Great Financial Crisis of 2007/8 hit, and they weren’t getting the traction they needed to continue. Chad left San Diego to travel the US in an RV, and Joe bought the trademark from him because he still loved the name and brand.

This was the second failure for Joe in the clothing business, and he says it felt like a death in the family. He had poured his energy and savings into it only for it to ultimately fail. 

Kudla went on to start a successful staffing company called Vaco. The business grew to become financially successful employing a couple hundred people across San Diego, but Kudla wasn’t personally fulfilled. He had divorced his first wife and was in a new relationship he describes as toxic. He was partying a lot and drinking too much. 

The Idea

While Joe is still running the first version of Vuori with his business partner Chad, he has a chance encounter at a party that proves pivotal. He meets an executive coach who’s also an intuitive, and she begins to tell him things about his life and upbringing that are all true without knowing him at all. She goes on to tell him that his business will be wildly successful, but it’s not going to be in its current form or with his current business partner. She tells him that he has veered off of his life path. That he was raised a certain way and needs to rediscover that to achieve his goals. 

Soon after, Kudla quit drinking, broke up with his toxic girlfriend, and took his first yoga class. Joe had long struggled with back pain caused by injuries sustained in his lacrosse and football playing days. He was encouraged by a friend to take a yoga class to address the back pain. Joe finds that yoga helps his back, and he also loved the feeling of complete release and relaxation he would get after a yoga class.

Yoga led him to meditation, breathwork and a community of like-minded friends in Encinitas focused on yoga, surfing and wellness. Kudla became close with one person in the community, Chris Miller, a hall of fame skateboarder, who had also started a sustainable action sports brand called Planet Earth which he had sold to K2 Sports. At K2, Chris became the president of their action sports division and launched their Adio skate shoe brand. The pair began talking of starting an activewear brand together.

Kudla and Miller recognized the activewear market was dominated by big mainstream brands like Nike and Adidas that were focused on sports and competition. They had big logos, shiny and reflective details, and baggier fits which identified you as someone going to the gym and competing. With studio fitness booming, people wanted clothing which they could wear to the gym and also hang out after the gym with the community that formed around the class.

They saw men in Southern California wearing board shorts (made for surfing) to the gym. The shorts would hang below your knees, had a fixed waistband, and were not great for the sweat and movement of a yoga class.

With yoga booming in popularity, especially among men, they saw an opportunity to launch a brand catering to this underserved demographic. They wanted to create versatile, high-quality apparel for people like themselves pursuing an active, wellness-focused lifestyle. They wanted to make clothes you could wear to the gym, and also, that you would want to wear afterwards rather than rushing to change out of your gym clothes.

In January of 2013, Joe quits his role at the successful staffing agency he founded to go all in on the new idea. People including his parents thought he was crazy at the time. They wondered why he would quit something he had spent 8 years building and was extremely lucrative to start a clothing business after two of his previous clothing businesses had failed.

He doesn’t want to be on his deathbed regretting not pursuing this opportunity which he saw so clearly.

Vuori Coming Soon Landing Page

The launch

Joe and his partner Chris put together a brand deck and a business plan and begin pitching investors - wealthy individuals, financial institutions - anyone who will take a meeting. They got nothing but rejection. Neither of them had a lot of eCommerce or digital marketing experience, and investors didn’t see anything proprietary about their idea or believe that men would spend money on premium clothing. The average Nike shorts cost $52, whereas they planned to use the premium materials employed by brands like Lululemon and price their shorts at $68. 

They had a goal of raising $2M but only ended up raising $400-500k from friends and family. It wasn’t what they wanted, but it was enough to get them started. They teamed up with Rebecca Bray, who Chris knew from his previous apparel company, and she worked nights and weekends on producing the clothing patterns using Joe as the fit model. Progress was slow; early prototypes had shoddy construction and poor fits. The clothes “sucked” according to Joe. But gradually, the duo refined the relaxed aesthetic they sought.

At the time, Joe saw other apparel brands raising truckloads of money. Rhone and Outdoor Voices raised huge sums of money and had famous board members like retailer Mickey Drexler of GAP and J Crew fame who sat on the Outdoor Voices’ board. He worried that those brands would outspend him and beat him to the opportunity he saw. 

The team worked out of a garage that was owned by one of their investors, and Joe didn't take a salary. To save money, Joe dusted off his modeling skills and got in front of the camera as one of the brand’s original clothing models.

It took a year and half before they were ready to launch. They ordered $100k worth of initial inventory - 500 units per color of three initial items which was the manufacturers Minimum Order Quantity.

The Vuori Website in 2015

The initial launch strategy was to go into yoga and fitness studios and sell their product there. They got some initial traction with small independent studios, but the sell through was just okay. The typical customer would buy a pair of their shorts when he had forgotten his own at the office that day. 

At this time, Joe is getting constant rejection from the clothing buyers in these retailers. They just don’t understand the need for premium men’s activewear. There were long doubt filled nights where Chris would talk with his girlfriend and worry that he had thrown away a great job at a company he helped found to pursue a hopeless idea.


A year after their launch, it’s clear the current strategy isn’t working. They realize they need to pivot online and focus on selling Direct-to-Consumer. But it’s a scary proposition. Their capital is dwindling and neither of the founding partners have much experience selling online. 

They find an advertising agency they trust and begin advertising online. The first month they spend $5,000 on ads and make $5,000 in sales. The next month they invest $7,000 into ads and get $8,000 in product sales back. They were testing lots of copy and ad variations to find what messaging resonated with their audience.

One Sunday, while sitting on his couch, Joe pulls up Photoshop and lines up all the different colors and prints of their core short against a white background. Across the top he types “Run, surf, hike, train, travel, chill.” All the things the shorts are good for. It highlighted the versatility of the shorts. That ad started to get amazing traction. Before they knew it, they were putting $10k into ads and getting $20k back. Then they put $20k into ads and got $60k back. They had found their engine of growth. 

Vuori still using the "Run, Hike, Train, Travel, Chill." slogan

This gave them the results and data they needed to take to investors and raise more money. 

The feedback they got from customers was that they loved the versatility of the clothes. That they could wear them to workout but could also wear them before and after a workout. 

A big break came in 2016 from outdoor clothing retailer REI. Joe connected with someone in the marketing department of REI at the retail trade show Outdoor Retailer. To thank the person for their time, Joe left him a bag of Vuori clothes. The marketing person was wearing a Vuori hoodie at REI headquarters when the activewear buyer spotted him in the hallway and asked who made the sweatshirt he was wearing. The marketing person says that it’s made by a small San Diego brand called Vuori and puts the two in touch. REI became the brand's first big wholesale partner.

Vuori at REI

As a test, REI brought Vuori as well as other emerging mens activewear brands and legacy brands into a large floor display in 10 doors in their largest metro markets. The REI buyer called Joe and said that Vuori outperformed all the competition in the test. The next season, Vuori grew from 10 to 70 doors at REI.  

By 2016, Vuori reached $1M in revenue. By 2017, the brand reached profitability, and by 2018, the brand reached $28M in sales. That year, they also expanded their line to include women’s clothing in addition to their mens offering. In 2019, the brand raised a $45M growth equity round from Norwest Venture Partners that valued the company at $200M. In 2021, Vuori raised $400M from Softbank’s Vision Fund in a round that valued the company at $4B. In October of 2023, it was announced that the brand planned to file an IPO as soon as mid 2024. Along the way the company opened 40 physical retail stores.

For Joe Kudla, it’s a dream. From two failed clothing businesses, to owning one of the most popular clothing brands in the world.

Signup for our email ✉️

Receive email updates when we drop a new guide.

Awesome! You're signed up!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.