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Voices Over

ashley merrill
You have to at least make the consumer think you’re different, even if you’re not, and Merrill’s approach was uninspiring, according to several employees. Photo: Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Riot Games
Lauren Sherman
March 14, 2024

Just when I think I’m out, Outdoor Voices pulls me back in. After years of covering this small-but-sticky brand, I thought I might be done after boring-and-rich investor Ashley Merrill took over in December. Then, on Tuesday, the majority of the Austin-based activewear label’s corporate staff was fired, leaving about 10 people, mostly in operational capacities, still on payroll. Managers at the 16 stores were told that they would close their doors forever on Sunday. No one received severance. Outdoor Voices will now trade online only. What the hell happened?

As I reported last year, Merrill, who first invested in Outdoor Voices in 2020, bailed the company out in December and then fired president Gabrielle Conforti (whom she had personally installed years earlier) in an effort to reorganize the business. After talking to multiple people (and seeing some documentation), my understanding is that Outdoor Voices was generating more than $60 million in net sales in 2021 and 2022 under Conforti. The first half of 2023 was okay, too. But like most smallish apparel companies, especially ones that have raised several rounds of funding, OV had mounting debts. And things really started to dip during the second half of the year, which is when investor Oakwell sent out that fundraising deck valuing the company at $32 million pre-money.