In a time when scores of gym wear brands seem to pop up out of nothing more than a barrage of sponsored social media posts, the quieter success stories are increasingly rare. Born out of a garage in California that’s freezing in winter and far too hot in summer, premium active wear brand Vuori has done it the right way: connecting with real people, serving the communities it’s built and stitching innovation into the seams of each product it releases.
Joe Kudla, the founder and CEO of Vuori (Finnish for ‘mountain’) has guided the company from that pokey garage to a recent $4 billion valuation, with their emphasis on the versatility, sustainability and subtlety of their sports-lifestyle apparel striking a chord with the modern gym-goer in the US.
With roots now being planted here in the UK, we spoke to Kudla and found out how a serious injury and doubling-down on his health and fitness turned into the biggest brand you’re about to start wearing.
Men’s Health: Where did you grow up and what were you into when you were young?
Joe Kudla: I grew up on Vashon Island in the State of Washington, just outside of Seattle. We had very similar weather to London, actually. It was a very rural, small town. We had one little blinking light, so no stoplights on the entire island. I just grew up in the woods and playing in the forest, pretty much. It was an idyllic childhood.
I was a really shy kid and I kind of struggled socially a little bit. Sports were my way out of that and that’s how I built a lot of confidence. I remember the first time I played American football at recess in preschool, I just fell in love with it. I always played sports, from that point forward. I had a lot of learning difficulties as a kid, I had a hard time studying and I was very fidgety. I didn’t like being in a seat in school and just always wanted to be physical in my body: football, soccer, baseball, basketball. But then as I got older, I really started to focus on American football and lacrosse.
As sports go, those are very physical…
When I really think about connecting all the dots of my life, I got some injuries from playing football. It was never diagnosed, but I have some curvature in my spine. So, I was probably not a great candidate for playing running back. I dealt with some back pain in my junior year of high school and then, in a game, I slipped a disc in my back. From that point forward, my relationship with my back has been one I’ve had to be conscientious with. I’ve had to connect the dots. I realise now that high-inflammation foods put pressure, oddly, on my organs and my back. And that can lead to a slip if I’m not careful. Whereas if I eat clean and then I follow kind