Outdoor Voices abruptly closed all its stores and laid off most of its workforce—while its chairwoman posted cat memes

Outdoor Voices was a direct-to-consumer darling once valued at $110 million—but the activewear brand has had a long fall from its glory days. Years of executive reshuffles and acquisition rumors culminated in a very public meltdown earlier this month, when the company closed all its retail locations and abruptly laid off most of its workforce. Outdoor Voices is now reportedly on the verge of bankruptcy.

Former employees told Fortune they are furious over the company’s lack of communication about the store closures, as well as chair Ashley Merrill’s behavior, which included posting Instagram memes shortly after laying off dozens of workers.

The actions were “a slap to the face,” one former Outdoor Voices worker told Fortune.

On Monday, March 11, the company laid off an estimated 80% of its corporate workforce, including the entire HR, brand, and design teams, three former employees told Fortune. The following day, it told staff it would close all 16 of its stores and sell exclusively online, leaving all retail employees out of a job with five days’ notice. The people estimate there are now fewer than 15 employees left at the company.

The former staffers expressed anger over a lack of communication from management, particularly Merrill. They noted that O.V.’s abrupt store closures echo those that happened at her previous venture. Prior to investing in and effectively taking over O.V., Merrill was the founder and CEO of sleepwear brand Lunya, which filed for bankruptcy and quietly shuttered most of its stores in June 2023.

The laid-off employees said the only communication they had received from Outdoor Voices since March 12 were a group Slack message confirming the closures, and a “standard” mass email with final pay dates and a PDF attachment about unemployment. The email was sent by Lunya’s people and culture director, the sources said. 

Outdoor Voices and Ashley Merrill did not respond to Fortune’s requests for comment.

“A slap to the face”

Three former retail employees told Fortune they were notified of the store closures on March 12. Managers of O.V.’s stores each received a phone call with the news from the company’s vice president of retail—who was later laid off as well, less than two months into the job.

“It hit everyone by surprise,” a former Houston-based sales associate told Fortune. “It was kind of like a slap to the face, honestly.”

All retail employees were asked to keep working until Sunday, the sources said, on their regular pay scale, with no offer of severance or PTO payouts. One former store manager said she was offered a $500 incentive to keep working throughout the week, but hourly employees at her store were not offered the money.

“It’s honestly kind of an insulting amount of money,” the former manager told Fortune. “But when you’re about to be unemployed, $500 is $500.”

Between Wednesday and Sunday, all Outdoor Voices locations held “blowout” sales. Employees at multiple stores put handwritten notes on the storefront windows requesting donations to employees’ Venmo accounts, and expressing discontent with Merrill’s management. Merrill “has not told anyone a reason why she chose to do this and was posting cat memes on her Instagram the day everyone was told,” a note at O.V.’s Minneapolis store read. 

Screenshots reviewed by Fortune show Merrill had reshared two videos featuring cats on her Instagram story on March 13—the morning after the store closures were announced. In one video, an energetic kitten licks a sleepy-looking counterpart, alongside the caption “There are two types of people in the morning. Which one are you?” The second video shows a cat pushing a kitten into a cardboard box. “When you’re trying to be patient with your kid but also have f—king limits,” the caption read.

Following the store closure announcement, former O.V. employees and customers flooded Merrill’s Instagram with comments, seeking answers. Merrill then restricted comments on her account. The ex-employees then turned to Lunya’s Instagram, where comments were soon disabled as well. As of March 24, comments on Outdoor Voices’ Instagram are also disabled.

“I think that’s kind of a sign of cowardice,” the former sales associate said. “You should at least own up to what you did.”

Former Outdoor Voices employees at the Houston store put up handwritten signs on the windows, addressing shoppers trying to get a piece of the closing sale.

Double implosion

Founded by Ty Haney in 2013, Outdoor Voices rode the wave of the 2010s direct-to-consumer boom, epitomized by such buzzy brands as Warby Parker and Everlane. It cultivated a loyal following with its bold aesthetic and laid-back approach to fitness. By 2018, Outdoor Voices was valued at $110 million. But an “implosion” came in 2020, according to the New York Times, when Haney was pushed out after clashing with executives, and a string of departures followed. The brand’s valuation fell to $40 million that year. 

In June 2020, Merrill joined Outdoor Voices as its board chair after her venture capital firm NaHCO3 made an investment of an undisclosed size in the company. Merrill serves as principal at the firm alongside her husband, Marc Merrill, the co-founder and former co-CEO of Riot Games.

“As someone who has tried to run a business with an eye toward profitability, I’m looking to help O.V. make that transition,” Merrill told Fortune at the time. O.V. named former Urban Outfitters president Gabrielle Conforti CEO in 2021. In June 2023, Merrill’s sleepwear business, Lunya, filed for bankruptcy. It had seven stores at one point—its website now lists only two.

O.V. kicked off another fundraising round in late 2023, and Merrill ended up putting more money in. She then fired Conforti in December 2023, according to Puck. Since then, Merrill has been “running the business,” according to Puck, and effectively serving as CEO, according to the former employees who spoke to Fortune. She brought in several Lunya executives to serve as consultants while ushering in a brand refresh.

“[Merrill] kept having meetings with us and telling us how great everything was,” one former store manager said. “So for this to happen, especially so quickly out of nowhere, it just felt like she had kind of blindsided us.”

Some employees and customers saw Merrill’s rebrand as antithetical to the brand’s founding ethos of inclusion. A former Houston-based store manager recalls a virtual meeting in early 2024 in which Merrill urged employees to cater the brand to older, wealthier customers, and suggested lowering the discounts O.V. offered to health care workers, fitness instructors, and students.

According to the former manager’s account of the same call, an employee asked Merrill if she had seen recent comments on O.V.’s Instagram—referring to comments that criticized a recent O.V. campaign over a lack of racial and size diversity. Merrill said the shoot was put together last-minute, and those were the only models they could find. Merrill also became “defensive” and pointed out she didn’t see any older women on the website, according to the former manager.

Blue tags, red flags

The three former employees told Fortune they saw signs in the past year that made them question O.V.’s stability as a business, including high staff turnover, late lease payments, and failed vendor payments. Two days prior to the store closure announcements, the Houston-based sales associate was told by a former contractor that Outdoor Voices was a “sinking ship.”

“I knew something was gonna happen,” one former store manager said. “I didn’t think it was going to be this year, but I had a feeling.”

Outdoor Voices plans to file for bankruptcy in the coming weeks via an Assignment for the Benefit of Creditors, several former employees told Sourcing Journal. O.V. is on the verge of joining the growing list of fallen DTC stars like SmileDirect Club, Blue Apron, and Casper. These once-booming brands, built on loyal online followings and quirky branding, have proven unable to sustain themselves on hype alone.

Even if O.V. gets back on its feet financially, former employees say it will be hard for the brand to build back the cult following it once had. Retail employees said loyal customers were quick to sweep up O.V.’s signature skorts for 75% off during the closing sales—but many promised they would never purchase from the company again.

“A lot of them are also frustrated with the company,” a former store manager said. “Yes, they were shopping with us because it was, like, $8 for a $90 jacket. But a lot of them said they would never shop with the brand again after hearing what they’ve done.”

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