This college dropout’s $200 million business is changing the way Gen Z shop for underwear

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Artwork by Ryan Melgar

Seaten in the well-decorated living room of her New York apartment, Cami Tellez, 25, is over the moon. In just under four years, she’s taken her alternative and sustainable underwear brand to a $200 million valuation, with total sales expected to hit $70 million this year.

Tellez officially founded Parade in 2018 at just 21 years old, but the motivation to launch the brand ignited years earlier. The daughter of Colombian immigrants, Tellez recalls going to her local mall in New Jersey and being disappointed by the sexy, skimpy underwear and busty models from brands like Victoria’s Secret.

“For a long time, the arc of American womanhood has been very much tied to the underwear brands that dominate at any given age,” she says. “I think it’s fair to say that the incumbents of the underwear category created a generation of body dysmorphia and failed to connect emotionally with women.”

After attending seven semesters at Columbia University, Tellez dropped out to co-found her own sustainable and inclusive underwear brand alongside fellow undergrad Jack DeFuria. Today, the company has sold 4 million pairs of underwear to more than 500,000 customers — selling a pair of underwear every three seconds, Tellez says. Although the brand primarily sells directly to consumers through its website, Parade announced this summer that it would launch in 25 Urban Outfitters stores with an exclusive, limited-time collection.

By August, Parade had raised over $50 million in total funding from investors including Stripes, Maveron and Lerer Hippeau. Tellez attributes much of the company’s recent success and new clothing lines to the onset of the pandemic. At the end of 2021, Parade launched its very first loungewear collection, as well as a “SuperSoft” line aimed at customer comfort.

“I really believe in the massive casualization of clothing, especially for Gen Z,” Tellez says. “For us, Covid has actually accelerated the growth of our business and it’s made our customers think more carefully about what they wear closest to their body and how they think about comfort, durability and to how they buy with their values. .”

Speaking of values, Tellez is constantly striving to make Parade not only profitable, but good for the environment. It plans to be climate positive by 2025 by diverting 100% of business and factory waste from landfills. Currently, Parade products are made from 80% to 95% recycled materials, with the goal of reaching 100% by 2023 by switching to bio-based and renewable sources for elastane and spandex.

Tellez customers seem to buy it. Despite competing with traditional brands like Gap and Victoria’s Secret, she says Parade recently captured 1% of the total market share of underwear shoppers aged 18-35.

“Some of the top consumer funds in the world have chosen Parade as the brand they want to champion in this space because, at the end of the day, they know I know the customer better than anyone,” Tellez says. “We know fame is fleeting and community is forever.”

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