Julie Wainwright – The RealReal
I love pretty clothes and shoes, but I don’t have the budget for Chanel or Prada or Gucci. I’d only given The RealReal website, and its high-end apparel, a cursory glance. “Take a harder look,” Julie Wainwright encouraged me. “Not all our brands are luxury, and I bet we recirculate some of the lines you do buy.”
Julie hasn’t changed. The 62-year-old is still energetic, confident, beautiful, and whip-smart. And dresses in heels every day. Just like a few decades ago when we lived together in the sorority house at Purdue. Back then, we all knew Julie would go on to do great things—and do them well.
Almost ten years ago, Julie founded The RealReal, an online marketplace for authenticated luxury consignment. Featuring pre-owned designer apparel for men and women, handbags, shoes, accessories, and home furnishings, The RealReal takes goods built to last and gives them a second—and a third— life.
In-house gemologists, watchmakers, and brand experts inspect the hardware and stitching on each bracelet, timepiece, and cocktail dress to determine quality and authenticity. The company’s millions of customers can shop with assurance that what they’re buying isn’t a knockoff.
In 2010, while browsing a Silicon Valley designer consignment shop with a friend—with its attractive displays and attentive customer service—Julie was surprised her high-powered companion purchased pre-owned dresses and jackets.
And her wheels began to turn.
Why not a company where women (and men) make a little money and find a happy home for items they no longer need? “I love luxury goods, but it is bigger than that. It satisfies people to recirculate their things and help the environment,” says Julie.
Because of the demise of her internet pet business—pets.com and its famous sock puppet—in 2000, Julie plunged forward with “everything to win and nothing to lose.”
When Julie pitched her concept to investors, almost all men, they didn’t get it. But she never wavered from her vision. “I didn’t want to be another eBay. I insisted high-end, female shoppers are accustomed to service. You can’t simply throw technology at them and think you are going to make your business model work,” she says.
To those prospective venture capitalists, she stressed her new company would make the consignment process easy for clients. They’d handle all the little details so sellers wouldn’t have to.
“Whenever somebody does something that isn’t standard, it is a lot easier to say no, it won’t work, than to think about how it will work”, says Julie. Naysayers laughed off her idea.
They aren’t laughing now. In its initial public offering last year, The RealReal raised $300 million. After 40 years of “lots more wins than losses” in the California tech industry, Julie never second-guessed herself.
“We had to start somewhere,” says Julie. Reaching out to fashion stylists, Julie and company set up an affiliate program, which encouraged those stylists to recommend the site. Through direct mail campaigns and daily sales with small amounts of inventory, TheRealReal brought in $10 million in its first six months.
“I knew we were going to be big,” she laughs.
When she’s not traveling to Milan or London to consult with brands or speak at conferences or check out European trends, Julie splits her time between New York and northern California. In these days of COVID, her legwork to meet and greet brands is paying off with “amazing outreach” from those she visited last year.
A typical day at the office? “We all dress up. It’s part of the fun,” she smiles. Not surprisingly, seventy percent of her wardrobe, and almost all jewelry, is from The RealReal. “Like everyone here, I mix high and low,” she says. With heels, of course.
After we disconnected from Zoom, I pulled up The Real Real website. I still longed for the black wool Rag and Bone blazer I’d spotted in a store last winter. A classic style I’d wear again and again with jeans on an airplane or out to dinner. But I couldn’t justify the $650 price tag.
The site is easy to navigate. Items in your size pop up on the screen, along with a description of the condition of the garment. For some, the tags are still attached.
And there it was. According to the write-up, “excellent condition, no sign of wear.” $82 later, including the shipping, my coveted blazer is on its way to me. I can’t wait!
Photos provided by The RealReal
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