Episode 178
October 9, 2020

Parade: Reimagining a Value Brand

Jack DeFuria joins the show as he talks about founding Parade while in college with his Co-Founder Cami, how Parade approaches their brand, and the pursuit of building America's next great underwear company.

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Jack DeFuria, Chief Digital Officer and Co-Founder of Parade, joins the show as he talks about founding Parade while in college with his co-founder, Cami Téllez, how Parade approaches their brand, and the pursuit of building America’s next great underwear company. 

What is Parade?

  • Parade is a women’s underwear brand focused on ages 18-30.
  • They were able to connect with potential customers in their target market very early on digitally using Facebook groups, sorority group chats, etc. and used other digital tech to promote their brand like setting up a Twitter bot that would reply to any tweet with the hashtag #botcottVS. 
  • Parade has always been ‘community-first’ in their product development strategy - by product being directly shaped by community feedback.

Gen Z: The Psychographic

  • “I think that Gen Z is really more a psychographic than it is a demographic.” - Jack DeFuria
  • Parade’s customers grew up not only on the internet, but on their phones. Their internet was much more spatial, intimate, and focused on self-expression. 
  • On eCommerce growing more spatial and intimate: “We see Instagram as what the shopping mall was to the previous generation.” - Jack DeFuria
  • Parade, being inclusive, features sizes XS through 3XL in every single product and even has changes to the models shown on their website with any given size chosen.
  • Sustainability and social good play a part in maintaining the Gen Z ‘psychographic’ as well: all packaging is compostable and biodegradable, and 1% of profits are donated to Planned Parenthood. 
  • Partners of Parade have included organizations that have similar ways of seeing the world: Feeding America, GLITS, The Loveland Foundation.

Investors and What Parade Has Learned

  • Investors of Parade originally helped craft DTC 1.0: “Working with industry leaders and operators who have done it before has been extremely powerful for us. When we look at our vision for the category and where we see ourselves in the eCommerce landscape, where [our investors] brought categories online for the first time, we see our challenge as reimagining what a value brand looks like and distributing it through the internet.” - Jack DeFuria
  • “One of the most important things [we’ve learned] is the value of authenticity and staying true to who you are, especially during periods of really fast growth.” - Jack DeFuria
  • Hiring new employees and adding to their products during their first year of business and during a global pandemic, Parade has a singular mission to staying authentic and honest with their self-expression. 

Links

Check out Parade’s website

Check out our Nine by Nine report, which features Parade


Have any questions or comments about the show? You can reach out to us at info@futurecommerce.fm or any of our social channels, we love hearing from our listeners!

Brian: [00:01:32] Hello and welcome to Future Commerce, the podcast about what's next in commerce. I'm Brian.

Phillip: [00:01:36] And I'm Phillip. Today, we are joined by Parade Chief Digital Officer and Co-Founder, Jack DeFuria. Jack is someone who I follow on Twitter, but also helms Digital at the brand that we featured very prominently in our Nine by Nine. Jack, welcome to the show.

Brian: [00:01:55] Welcome.

Jack: [00:01:56] Hey, guys, thanks for having me. I'm a big fan.

Phillip: [00:01:58] And I'm a big fan of you. What is Parade? For those who may not know.

Jack: [00:02:04] Parade is women's underwear brand focused on 18 to 30. Started it about two years ago with my Co-Founder, Cami Téllez. Really I think we both grew up in the DTC revolution, working in startups and venture capital in New York. And I think we're both really interested in the power of brands to change cultural narratives and do social good. And I think on the other side of it, we're really interested as product managers to see what does the next generation of eCommerce look and feel like.

Phillip: [00:02:36] Tell us a little bit about yourself. This is your first brand that you've launched?

Jack: [00:02:42] First brand. Worked on a bunch of projects before this across... The first physical brand, too. I have always worked on digital products. So a whole new domain for me.

Phillip: [00:02:54] And you're quite young.

Jack: [00:02:56] Yeah. Cami and I are both twenty three.

Brian: [00:02:59] Wow.

Jack: [00:02:59] We started out while we were in school, raised our pre seed while still pretending to take classes, and Cami dropped out. I was lucky enough to finish a semester early and raised our seed round right after that.

Brian: [00:03:15] That is aggressive. Impressive. Impressive. {laughter}

Phillip: [00:03:19] Very impressive, and it can be both. It can be aggressive and impressive.

Brian: [00:03:22] Yes. Totally.

Phillip: [00:03:23] I just read this book from Eric Jorgensen. It's an e-book called "Career Advice for Uniquely Ambitious People." Jack, one day maybe you can write the foreword for the second edition of a book of that nature. Tell us a little bit about what it's like to launch a brand, raise capital, and sort of finish out school all at the same time. It sounds like you had a lot of plates spinning all at the same time. And how did you even make the connections?

Jack: [00:03:51] Yeah, I think it was really just going out and being unafraid to meet people. When we started fundraising and pitching Parade, we had very little. We had an idea for the brand. We had some VCs around what product strategy could look like. And I think more than that, we had perspective on what the future of DNVB 2.0 might look like. I think for us, that was kind of... It came down to two things. One, Cami and I were always focused on building a brand around self-expression, certainly are not the first DTC brand in the underwear category. And I think when we looked around at both the incumbents and new players in the underwear and laundry space, kind of on one side, you see sexiness, this outdated sense of glamor, and on the other end you see this kind of stripped down black and beige tone approach to what womanhood looks like. Beyond that, I think looking in DTC broadly, there's the trope of the subway brand. And so Cami and I were really excited about how do you build a brand that just totally looks and feels and acts differently than the ones around it? I think the other side of the equation for us was really around digital product and thinking how do we develop digital experiences that can serve as these little rooms on the Internet where she can interact with us and really give her something to share with friends? That's always been a kind of core part of our DNA. When we first launched the business, or rather when we were first thinking about the business opportunity here, we launched a survey to I think like two or three thousand college students across the country that we really just like hacked into every sorority group chat and Facebook group and wherever we could get it. I think it was really a validating moment for us that not only is she ready for a new underwear brand, but that this is something she's really excited about and willing to share with friends.

Brian: [00:06:01] That's really, really interesting, actually. That leads me to questions about sort of your product development strategy. Sounds like you got out there and were able to connect with customers, or potential customers in that target market, really well up front. Has that played into how you develop the product and how you release the product and so on? Talk to me a little bit about that.

Jack: [00:06:25] Yeah. Community has always been a core pillar of both our brand and business strategy. We ran a few of these digital experiences early on that I think helped shape that close connection to our customers. So around the Victoria's Secret fall out we had our first true digital experience called It's No One's Secret Anymore where we just built a Twitter bot that would reply to the hashtag #boycottVS.

Brian: [00:06:52] {laughter}

Jack: [00:06:52] And that was a great way of starting to amass small, small surface area, but some brand awareness and build our waitlist pre launch. It was also a really helpful way of just like having a captive audience who we could ask questions to and get on the phone with. So I think, yeah, [00:07:14] our product development strategy has always been community-first. We've launched a product that has been directly shaped by feedback we've gotten from our community members. Also all of our wear testing happens in our community. And so we've done work both on the development and concept side with our community, but also in testing and future iterations of product that already exists. [00:07:39]

Phillip: [00:07:40] There's sort of a drop model that I've witnessed or seen in that products are sort of constantly being trickled out to a customer. And that kind of keeps the engagement, I would assume. But does that model sort of lend itself to rapid product development and launch rather than having to put together really large collections? Is it totally different or is just the merchandizing and the marketing different to the way that a typical apparel strategy or apparel planning strategy might be executed?

Jack: [00:08:11]  [00:08:11]I think that Gen Z is really more a psychographic than it is a demographic. [00:08:15] You know, we have customers as young as 16, but we also have customers in their twenties and thirties. [00:08:22] And so I think we're Gen Z in our philosophy and how we see the world. [00:08:29] But I don't think it's so cut and dry like that. When we look at our customer, she's the first generation not just to grow up online, but to grow up on her phone. And we think about what does that mean? She grew up on an Internet that was a lot more spatial and intimate and really centered on self-expression. She was the original Tumblr girl. Her view of herself and her view of the world was kind of shaped online and through those moments on her phone. [00:09:01] And we look at eCommerce now evolving into kind of its own spatial and intimate destination online. [00:09:08]Look at Into the Gloss, or Supergreat, or Man Repeller. They're kind of these rooms that you can enter to shop someone else's closet. [00:09:20] And so I think we see Instagram as what the shopping mall was to a previous generation.  [00:09:28]She goes online to hang out with her friends, to learn about the world, to engage with the broader community and really just stand up for things that she cares about. And so we think about reaching her in communities that she finds aspirational and engage her in this kind of intimate closed loop dialog with our community members via these drops.

Brian: [00:09:51] That's really, really interesting. I think the idea that Gen Z is a psychographic is something we wholeheartedly agree with. And I think this is why I think we rated you on the Nine by Nine in the CARLY category, Can't Afford Real Life Yet... It's an interesting category. Actually, I think Parade in particular is very interesting for those that fall into the CARLY category because you have such an interesting price point. And inclusivity seems like such an obvious core tenant of your brand, especially at a time when other DTCs have sort of been criticized for being exclusive with their sizes and other reasons. But like your price points and your ethos and you've talked about self-expression a lot... Talk to me a little bit about those differentiators and what else you're bringing to the table. You mentioned fabric. Kind of give me a picture of how you're setting yourself apart in general.

Jack: [00:11:00] Yeah, I think the most important thing, and I think this goes back to Gen Z being a psychographic, not a demographic. I think the most important thing here is to show don't tell. I think inclusivity is super important to us. And all of our products come in XS through 3XL. Every drop. Every color we put on the site. Even when you toggle your size on the product page of our website, photos change to show a model who is closer to your size range. So I think that's just been important to kind of embed in the fabric of the brand, and not to make it the core thing, just build a great brand and make that part of it. Sustainability is really important to us as well. We use recycled materials and all of our products, all of our packaging is compostable and biodegradable. Everything down from the poly mailer to the bags the underwear comes in. And one percent of our profits are donated to Planned Parenthood. We've been able to build a really strong partnership there since before we even launched. And so kind of social good has been an important part of not just our story, but I think what Parade is and our kind of reason for existing. Planned Parenthood has been our partner since day one, but throughout our history, we have partnered with organizations on the ground like Feeding America. We've partnered with GLITS. The Loveland Foundation. We've partnered with a number of organizations that kind of stand for similar ways of seeing the world as Parade.

Phillip: [00:15:09] There's an interesting tie in then to thinking about how... Parade and yourself seem like you're standing at the the dawn of another wave of direct to consumer. And having grown up with brands, in the last 10 years, who had this philosophy of a purpose driven mission for the brand that actually turned out to possibly be more marketing than much of anything else, I'm curious what you've learned from those in your orbit. I know we had spoken before that some of the advisors that you know or some of the folks that made early investments in Parade are of the DTC 1.0 era. What are the things that you've learned from them that help you set yourself up for success to be more authentic than maybe the last generation of DTC has been proven out to be?

Jack: [00:16:13] Yeah, we've been really lucky to work with amazing investors who deeply understand consumer categories and have kind of helped craft DTC 1.0, as you said. Our seed was led by Ben Lerer and Caitlin Strandberg at Lerer Hippeau, and we worked closely with Ellie Wheeler at Greycroft, the folks CASSIUS... Folks who really deeply understand what it takes to build a consumer brand in 2020. We also have investors around the table who have led DTC brands before. Neil from Warby Parker, Neil and Phil from Casper, Jen and Steph from Away, and Andy from Bonobo's. All have been kind of champions of us and helped us kind of shape and reshape and reshape and reshape our strategy as we go. So I think having the perspective of operators in the eCommerce world who really just have done it and kind of have their learnings to share, I think has been extremely helpful. One of our greatest, I think, advantages as a brand. But I think also we have a really strong perspective about what we think this next generation looks like. You can't build a brand on the back of performance marketing in 2020. And so I think workshopping that with industry leaders and operators who have done it before has been extremely powerful for us. [00:17:45] I think when we look at our vision for the category and where we see ourselves in the eCommerce landscape, where Warby Parker and Casper and a lot of the DTC 1.0 brands kind of brought categories online for the first time, we see our challenge as reimagining what a value brand looks like and distributing it through the Internet. [00:18:05] And so that's kind of a unique challenge where I think there's still plenty of room for us to kind of grow and expand there.

Brian: [00:18:15] So we've talked about DTC a lot here. And like you said, you've sort of been making and remaking DTC with advice from the pioneers that came before. But you talk about distributing as sort of a budget brand across digital. I've got to think about other channels. As long as you're talking, I'm thinking, well, like this seems like something that could be brought to the market through other places as well. Do you see DTC as one part of your strategy? Or are you considering other channels? What does that future look like?

Jack: [00:18:55] For sure. We're interested in expanding beyond DTC commerce. I think digital is our DNA. It's what we know best between our social, our community programs, our growth marketing, our digital product. It gives us such a wide platform to tell our story. And we sold over 500,000 pairs now, in our first two weeks, sold in all 50 states. And I don't think launching on any other channel, we'd be able to accomplish this in such a short amount of time. But our goal is really to build the next big American underwear brand. We know that to get there, we need a 360 approach and certainly wouldn't pigeonhole ourselves into a single channel.

Phillip: [00:19:38] So much being said recently, not to be critical of folks who are actually building in the open... I think that's part of the easy criticism to take shots at people who are learning and externalizing their learnings as they go. It looks like they're being blown around every two months chasing something new. But in reality, everyone is constantly evolving and changing their thinking because it's incredibly impressive to sell to all 50 states and half a million pairs and in such a short period of time. I'm curious what you might have learned and taken away from that over the last couple of years.

Jack: [00:20:10] Yeah, I mean, it's a great question. We've learned so much in the 11 and a half months that Parade has been in business. I couldn't even begin to share all of everything that we've learned. [00:20:25] I'd say one of the most important things that I'm reminded of constantly, internally as a team and across all of our marketing, is the value of authenticity and staying really true to who you are, especially during periods of really fast growth. Feel [00:20:46] really lucky for all of that and the contributions of everybody on our team to kind of get us to that place. But I think one of the hardest parts is always like just checking yourself, staying true to your mission as a brand, your vision for the category, and kind of in the heat of the moment always coming back to that. So not as much a single learning. There have been so many things. But I think one of the most important lessons is to hold really true there.

Phillip: [00:21:18] This book I'm reading right now is The Almanack of Naval Ravikant, and it talks a lot, in Naval's own words, about first principles and having courage in your convictions. Not being afraid to speak your mind and not being afraid to stick to your gut, even when other people disagree with you. And that's something that I've struggled with. And it's so inspiring to hear someone else building a brand through COVID no less, to basically say one of the learnings is really just to have courage in your convictions and stick to the plan and keep the course. Because it's so... It seems so fraught right now in the world and certainly could be difficult, I'm sure, to build a brand. Of course eCommerce isn't going anywhere. Brian, you had a couple of questions around...

Brian: [00:22:25] Actually, I'm curious. So we've learned some things about the last 12 months. What about the next 12 to 18 months? What do you expect to have to overcome ahead here? Because we're still in the midst of COVID. There's an election coming up. There's all kinds of things that are going to change things. The world is going to change yet again coming up here. So tell me what's ahead.

Jack: [00:22:48] Yeah, I mean, we're looking ahead. It'll be our second year of business as of October 21st, which is going to be really exciting to kind of celebrate our one year. But looking into our second year, we're expanding the team. We've added a ton of people through COVID. Felt really fortunate to be able to be in the position that we're in. But I think continuing to expand the team in the right ways, I think we're really intentional about every person we bring on to Parade, and we feel like truly every person at the company has a really unique contribution that makes the brand what we have become. So I think continuing to expand and expanding in the right areas of the business at the right moment is definitely a challenge. And onboarding and keeping folks driving towards the same mission and vision, I think, is definitely top of mind for me right now going into our second year. We have big plans for product expansion through 2021. And so we are excited for what that looks like. We're going into some new categories and kind of developing our fabric platform approach beyond our two core platforms we have live today. I'm really excited there. I think, not to come back to the point of authenticity, but I think it's really important. [00:24:15] I think going into the second year where the stakes are much higher, there's more product on the site, there's just a wide range of things that folks are working on. I think getting super clear around what is it that Parade is seeking to accomplish, how are we driving towards this vision of a brand that's fundamentally driven by self-expression and is kind of building the next big American brand, and how do we kind of keep ourselves honest and focused on on that singular mission with everything else going on, both inside the company and all of the exciting plans we have as a team, but also to your point, we're still in the midst of a global pandemic... And [00:25:01] certainly there's no shortage of curveballs that the world is throwing at us today.

Brian: [00:25:11] Staying authentic to a singular vision. I like the sound of that. Might be the show title right there.

Jack: [00:25:22] Love it.

Phillip: [00:25:22] And it begs to be said, because if you haven't checked out YourParade.com right now, which is the eCommerce store, it begs to be said that it seems like you're building an ardent fan base. And I think that you've really widened the aperture. You've expanded the scope of the people to whom Parade could be really meaningful and category defining. Just from a body inclusively in size, inclusive in perspective alone, I think that you have set yourself up for a very long and successful run. It's been amazing to have you on the show, Jack. Any last thoughts?

Jack: [00:26:08] I mean, no, it's been it's been great to chat. Love the show and excited for everything coming in in 2021 for all of us.

Brian: [00:26:21] Us, too.

Phillip: [00:26:21] Yeah. And so are we. Well, we are all excited. I'm not sure it's... There's also nervous excitement, too, Jack. {laughter} Well, thank you for listening. If you want to support the show, one of the ways you can do that is to go leave us a rating on iTunes. We will accept nothing less than a five star. And the other way you could support us is go to YourParade.com and support Jack and Cami. Love what they're building and love that they can be part of our show and share the story. That's it. Remember, we have the power to shape the future, and we do that through commerce. The future of commerce is what you make of it, and we want to help you shape that future. Thanks for listening to Future Commerce.

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