There comes a time in every San Diegan’s life when you are pressed to complete a quick-change in the car, whether it’s the transition from surf to lunch or from running laps to running errands. It usually involves contortionist moves around the steering wheel and a serious trust that the guy in the other car isn’t looking.
Those days are long gone, says Joe Kudla, co-founder of local athletic apparel brand Vuori (pronounced vee-or-ee).
Chatting with me in the newly opened storefront located on the iconic Highway 101 in Encinitas, Kudla is dressed in all-Vuori activewear. He looks ready to either ride a wave or grab a drink, but either way, stylish and relaxed - and not just because he once had a stint as a male model.
That’s the essence of Vuori: built to move in, styled for life. “We’re working with the best performance fabrics on the planet, but then the product has to be designed in a way that transitions so that I can walk out and meet a friend for lunch and I’ll look great,” Kudla said.
The store is just two months old and will celebrate an official grand opening with a community shindig on Saturday (more on that at the end of this story). Prior to having the permanent space, Vuori existed as a pop-up shop down the street, combined with impressive online sales and a growing interest from around the globe. The company actually launched its first product in January 2015, and since then, has been sold everywhere from Fred Segal to REI, CorePower Yoga to luxury resorts like Montage Laguna Beach.
Kudla created the company after growing up as a competitive athlete, playing lacrosse at the University of San Diego and eventually ten years ago, finding yoga as a restorative practice to bring his body back to health. Along the way he met Chris Miller, a professional skateboarder and his current business partner.
“We were surfing together and going to yoga, and we became part of a little community here in North County with people who were surfers, yogis and health practitioners, a really inspiring group,” he said. “When we looked at what to wear to yoga, we felt like we didn’t really have any options. I grew up with Nike and Adidas and these kind of traditional mainstream sports brands, but as a guy who has grown into kind of a surfer living a of a Southern California casual lifestyle, it didn’t feel like there was much out there for us.”
Miller and Kudla shared a similar vision inspired by their very-SoCal lives, integrating yoga, surfing, sport, art and music into one cohesive company. They started kicking the idea around to their peers in 2013, cultivating the brand and its values in 2014, and officially launching the first product for men in 2015.
“We’ll look at yoga and we’ll say, ‘What do we want to wear to yoga? What do our friends want to wear to yoga, and what’s really missing from the market?’ A lot of guys around here wear boardshorts to yoga, so we designed shorts that are made with great performance materials, and we added functional details like locker loops and pockets that have mesh pocket bags so they still drain when you take them in the water,” said Kudla.
The fabrics that compose Vuori’s clothing are just as important as the overall look. Sustainability is key when they’re designing, incorporating recycled plastic bottles, upcycled coconut husks and a blend of algae and wood pulp to create an oh-so-soft shirt described by Kudla as “angel fabric.”
“A lot of our shorts are made with a high content of recycled plastic bottles, which is great because the average short is about 12-15 plastic bottles that we’re taking out of landfills and putting it into something useful like our clothes,” said Kudla. “They’re moisture wicking, quick drying, anti-odor and have great stretch for movement. This shirt that I’m wearing is made of seaweed. It’s a fabric called Sea Cell and it incorporates sustainably harvested wood pulp, seaweed, Pima Cotton and Lycra.”
The origins of Vuori is men’s clothing, but after finding many females asking for their own attire, they started producing women’s printed leggings designed by local artist Daniella Manini. The collaboration went wild, and now the brand has expanded into incorporating full women’s fitness looks, as well.
“The brand appeals to different customers. We do really well at Equinox and we do well at Fred Segal and then at Sun Diego, too. So it’s surf shops, high fashion and gym,” he said.
The exposure seems to be escalating rapidly as well, which Kudla attributes to a mix of his and Miller’s backgrounds (both have had successful entrepreneurial ventures before) and the influential athletes who have connected with the clothing. Vuori has also tapped the top teachers at popular yoga studios to sport the product and spread the word, organically.
“Dylan Werner is probably one of the most popular yogis on social media. Everybody that’s interested in yoga follows Dylan Werner. He adopted the brand very early on and has been a huge supporter of us.” Werner currently has 316,000 followers on Instagram (@dylanwerneryoga).
While the international acclaim is more than welcome, Vuori remains steadfastly focused on community involvement. The storefront actually doubles as a fitness studio, with yoga and bootcamp classes rolling out on Wednesday nights. They’re launching a Vuori Active Club for like-minded locals to meet up. In addition, once every three months, they’ll turn the store into an art show featuring the work of a local artist.
“We use this wall - despite a lot of professional merchandisers telling us we’re crazy - to highlight local or even broader-recognized artists,” Kudla said, pointing to the wall covered in bright beachy paintings. “This is all Erik Skoldberg. Erik’s a friend and actually an investor in the company. So we’re launching our opening with an Erik Skoldberg art show.”
The store is open seven days a week. Price points range from about $68 for a pair of boardshorts up to $120 for a performance hoodie. New products are released in spring and fall collections.
“I’m fortunate to be surrounded by such incredible friends and people that are out doing really cool things in the world and staying active and healthy. Really, this brand is an extension of them and for them. For all of us.”
The Vuori store launch party goes down on Saturday, June 18 from 6 to 10 p.m. with music, tacos, refreshments, art and of course, clothing for sale. Vuori can also be found online at vuoriclothing.com.
625 S. Coast Hwy 101, Encinitas
Michelle Dederko is an editor for DiscoverSD and a multimedia reporter. Her coverage takes her from fashion events to buzzy restaurants, nightclubs, concerts, spas and of course, the beach. Follow her adventures at @michelledederko.