Two years ago, when many of his Columbia University peers were busy picking majors, preparing for finals, and running for part-time jobs, Cami TÃ©llez was quietly building a business of many. millions of dollars.
TÃ©llez founded Parade, an intimate goods brand that went directly to consumers while a student at Columbia alongside her business partner Jack DeFuria, who was also an undergraduate at the time, with $ 3.50 in seed funding. millions of dollars. She had studied English and art history for seven semesters before dropping out in January 2020 to become CEO and full-time creative director of Parade.
That risk has paid off: Parade has sold over two million pairs of underwear since launch and is currently valued at $ 140 million, with funding from investors like Neil Blumenthal, Shakira and Karlie Kloss. Parade has found success representing what the traditional underwear market is not. Instead of applying a popular standard of sensuality that relies on supermodels and expensive lingerie, Parade focused on creating comfortable and affordable underwear that celebrates all body types. Parade’s underwear collection goes from $ 8 to $ 15 and comes in sizes XS-3XL, and they recently launched a line of bralettes.
TÃ©llez, 24, grew up in Princeton, New Jersey and Berkeley, Calif. With his parents, who fled their home in Barranquilla, Colombia in 1994 amid civil unrest. She tells CNBC Make it that her parents’ determination has allowed her to lead a fast-growing startup. âI see them as visionaries in pursuit of the American dream and making a better life for themselves,â she says. “Their incredible courage instilled in me a real sense of mission and purpose which has been essential to me in leading Parade.”
The decision to drop out of school was particularly difficult for TÃ©llez, as his parents viewed an Ivy League degree as the ultimate symbol of success in America. âI’m sure other Latinx entrepreneurs understand how difficult it is to pursue entrepreneurship in a culture that values ââpursuing an institutional career path,â she says. But seeing her running a successful business brought them even more joy, and TÃ©llez says they are among her biggest supporters. âMy father once said to me, ‘America is one of the only places in the world where you can fail and that is not the determining factor for a career,’â she shares. “It opened up my opening, allowed me to swing towards the fences and dream bigger as I continued to build Parade.”
Much of the inspiration for Parade came from trips to the mall when TÃ©llez was a teenager, where hot pink thongs and nude briefs were advertised side-by-side by mostly white models. âI felt very far removed from the vision that Victoria’s Secret and other stores had for femininity,â she says. “I’ve always believed that women deserve brands that are as bold and expressive as they are.”
At first, TÃ©llez said investors did not understand the need for a new underwear brand focused on a younger consumer. âBut the strongest part of my pitch was that I was and still am the customer,â she says. “It allows me to predict what the future of the category looks like and to stay abreast of rapidly changing consumer preferences.” With Parade, TÃ©llez hopes to “rewrite the history of American underwear” and become a leading challenger to Victoria’s Secret, Calvin Klein and other major players in the lingerie market.
Instead of dictating what’s cool, Parade took a âbottom-upâ marketing approach by bringing in influencers on Instagram to show how Parade’s underwear fits into their personal styles. The company’s advertising campaigns, which feature young people modeling the styles in bright colors, have attracted a dedicated audience online. Parade has 5,000 brand ambassadors who promote Parade designs on their social media feeds and provide feedback, some in exchange for compensation or a donated product. TÃ©llez also estimates that “tens of thousands” of customers have posted on Parade online.
While TÃ©llez’s passion for creating an inclusive underwear brand is “fundamentally shaped” by her identity as a first-generation American, she notes that being a young, minority entrepreneur is a “sword in the face”. double-edged “. âIt’s hard for investors to compare you to the rest of their portfolio,â she says. “But I think investors are also realizing that they need to keep innovating their perspective on the kind of people who are going to help build the future of different categories.”
2021 has already been an eventful year for Parade. Last month, the company lifted $ 20 million in Series B financing led by Grooves, a private equity firm that also invests in clothing brand Reformation and plant-based dairy company Califia Farms. The funding comes as Parade prepares to open its first physical store in November in New York as well.
At times like these TÃ©llez reflects in the early days of Parade, when they only had five employees packing boxes in a 900 square foot apartment in New York City. âBefore each launch, our entire office would hand-pack over 500 boxes for our community, write notes in each one and drive them to the post office,â she says. “It took each of us and we were working until it was done and no one would complain because they understood it was for the people who cared the most about Parade: our community. Parade even created some corporate value around box – “I like to hire people who understand that we are above nothing, and we like to go into the trenches to serve the mission.”
Although Parade had early success, there is still an extraordinary gap in the financing of venture capital that white entrepreneurs receive compared to their non-white peers. According to an analysis of Crunchbase, Black and Latinx Founders only accounted for 2.4% of total venture capital funding between 2015 and 2020.
TÃ©llez hopes to see more young Latinx entrepreneurs enter the field and make the startup world a “fairer and more equitable playground.” His only advice for future CEOs? âAs you continue to take risks, challenge norms and reinvent the status quo, remember that there is no time to be embarrassed by what you put in the world,â he notes. -she. “We all have lives, there’s no dress rehearsal here.”
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