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Ariel Kaye | Founder and CEO of Parachute Home

In this episode, host Julia Hare sits down with Parachute Home Founder and CEO Ariel Kaye. A rising star among the house and home category, Parachute Home makes premium quality home essentials rooted in minimalist décor, a neutral color palette, and natural materials.

The brand, which is in a period of rapid growth, saw almost $150M in revenue in 2021, and is thriving through the power of social media and collaborations with sought-after artists and brands, like Madewell in 2020 and Crate & Barrel in 2021.

In this episode, you’ll hear Ariel’s journey to founding the brand, insights on DTC, branding and influencer strategy, as well as what’s next for the brand as it expands into physical stores.

If you enjoyed this episode, please let us know by subscribing to our channel and giving us a 5 star rating us on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

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Hosted by Julia Hare
Produced by Gabriella Bock
Edited by Chase Atherton

Post Transcript

Julia Hare: Hello and welcome back to another episode of Rethink Retail. I am your host, Julia Hare. And joining me today is Ariel Kaye. She’s the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Parachute Home, a brand just taking the internet and physical world by storm. You guys are amazing. Welcome to the show, Ariel. Ariel Kaye: Thank you. Thanks for having me. Julia Hare: So I found out about Parachute Home a while back, I would say within the last year. And you guys have a ton of amazing social media content. That’s how I found you guys through the influencer channel. But I want to hear about the backstory. Where did you get the idea? What inspired you to start Parachute? Ariel Kaye: Sure. So goes way back to 2012, and really even before that. But my background’s actually in advertising marketing. I spent many years working in New York at big agencies. But separately and on the side, I’ve always been obsessed with home and interior design. And I spent many years having an interior design blog and helping friends decorate their homes for fun and getting them photographed and really was super passionate about hosting and creating comfortable and welcoming spaces. And in that process became a super consumer and was shopping all the time and spending a lot of time in different retail stores and just falling in love with the home category. Ariel Kaye: And in 2012, like I mentioned, I was working at a big agency, really feeling kind of like I was reaching the end of that part of my career and wanting to do something more entrepreneurial, and had one of those aha moments where I thought what if I merged my interest in building brands and connecting with people and really inspiring and motivating customers with my love of home and design? And this was around the time that the first and early D-to-C companies were really gaining momentum. And so I also saw this new shopping channel, a new way of engaging with customers emerging. And I was so inspired and felt it was so relevant to who I was as a consumer. And I decided to go for it. Julia Hare: That’s amazing. And would you say that being at an agency and just that fast-paced lifestyle in New York prepared you for launching your own company? I mean, there’s so much that goes into it. It must have been a lot of big learning curves from sourcing and product, everything. Ariel Kaye: Yeah. I mean, so I had never worked in retail. I had never worked in designing physical products. So there was a huge learning curve. But I do think that the through line for me was just being really passionate about storytelling and really understand how to connect with customers and really what it meant to be a customer-first business. And that’s something that I think has set us up for success and has been a really important part of what has made Parachute what it is today is just our absolute focus on how do we build the best experience? How do we connect with the customer? How do we do so authentically and really staying true to ourselves? Ariel Kaye: You know, there’s a lot of noise in the category. And since I launched, there have been a number of other brands that have launched trying to do similar things. And being focused and being clear on who we are and how we want to operate in the world has definitely, I think, helped the customer see us as a value-driven brand. Julia Hare: And you talked about brand a lot and how important it is. Was that a challenge as you scaled to make sure that you were really, really clear with the vision for all of your team members as to what the brand means and how you present yourselves? Ariel Kaye: Yes and no. I mean, I think I had a very clear idea of what the brand should be in the beginning days. And then as we’ve built a team and as we’ve evolved and as we’ve moved into a number of different categories, we’ve continued to evolve that part of our business collectively and as a team. But the foundation has always remained the same. Ariel Kaye: You know, I think you should grow with your customer. You should grow and evolve as a brand. But for us, it meant that our core business and values were always going to be centered around quality and comfort and authenticity. And so I think as long as we’ve had these similar guardrails that have sustained and continued to be super important to who we are, but we’ve allowed ourselves to also grow and evolve with our customer as we’re always listening and looking to improve the experience both on and offline and with our products. Julia Hare: That’s right. I like how you compared it to the guardrails for the brand and what it means. I have in our research, you started out around 2014 going D-to-C. What was the turning point when you decided this is it, we’re going to open a store? Ariel Kaye: You know, I always knew retail would be a part of the business. One of the things that I had learned early on and even before I launched Parachute and doing research about the home category was that this was a category, and again, we’re talking in 2010, ’11, ’12, where 90% of these purchases were made offline. So there wasn’t a big digital component to textiles and buying sheets online. People went to stores. They went to big box retailers to buy these products. There wasn’t a brand really apart from some of the super high-end brands and retailers that were really owning brand. It was like you would go to big box retailer and you would find a product that was there. And most people when I asked what do you have on your bed could tell me what store they went to, but they couldn’t what brand they actually purchased. Ariel Kaye: And so I knew that there would be lots of customers who wanted to touch and feel the product, that wanted to see it firsthand, and so in an effort to be where our customers were I knew that it would be critical to our success to be able to create that physical space and to rethink the way that these products are purchased in store because most of the retail experiences were really old school. They were big, big retailers with floor-to-stack ceilings of products. And it wasn’t very appealing… Julia Hare: Yeah. Ariel Kaye: … to me. And so I thought what if we did it differently and created beautiful spaces with beautiful products that felt like a home? We could really inspire the customer and create a connection. Julia Hare: I think we’re both envisioning the same store when you walk in and people are sticking their hand into the sides of the… Ariel Kaye: Yeah. Julia Hare: … linens to feel them, and they’re all over the place. So I definitely get the sense of the curated experience and how that’s evolved with your brand. Did the pandemic impact you guys in a significant way? I mean, how has it been the last three years for you? Ariel Kaye: Sure. I mean, so the pandemic affected us in a number of ways. You know, March 2020 shook us all, the whole world. There was a lot of uncertainty. We had to think about what the business would look like if it went in a number of different directions, which was an exercise that we had never done before to that extent. We had to make some tough decisions in order to protect the business. But then home just became the center of everything and everyone. So we quickly saw an acceleration in our business and a real demand for our products as people were spending all of this time at home wanting to refresh their spaces, wanted to create a more beautiful, comfortable space when they realized that were going to be confined within those four walls for quite some time. Ariel Kaye: We did have to close all of our stores for many months, like everyone. And that was certainly challenging. We were able to introduce services like our virtual styling consultation program, which became really successful. We actually launched that in the fall of 2019, but we were able to ramp it up now that our stores were closed. And that was a great way to connect with customers. Ariel Kaye: We did feel some pressure in our supply chain, but we were really fortunate that it didn’t really affect much of our product launches or product development. It was more in our 3PLs and just getting people to work was really hard. But we did okay. I mean, we all things considered, there was this kind of dual thing that happened with the acceleration of home as a category and also people being forced to shop online. Julia Hare: Yeah. Ariel Kaye: And I think a lot of people who had normally just gone to their local big box store to buy these products were all of a sudden online thinking maybe there’s another brand that would be better suited for me. And so we were able to really grow and be really nimble and resourceful and make things happen. Julia Hare: And the virtual styling is really interesting. Is that still have some stickiness with your customers? Ariel Kaye: Oh, yeah. Julia Hare: Yeah. Ariel Kaye: Yeah. Absolutely. We’ve been investing quite a bit into that program as well as our trade program, which connects our brand with interior designers. But yes, absolutely. We love that program. It’s a program that we see continuing forever. And even with our really aggressive retail rollout plans, we’ll never be everywhere. And so it’s a nice opportunity for people who want some additional one-on-one support or help or just want to talk through potential styling options and get feedback. And we create these really beautiful shoppable lookbooks that we share with the folks that make appointments and go through the virtual styling consultation program. And it’s been really successful and a great way for customers to get to know us better and to get that high-touch experience that you otherwise would only get in store. Julia Hare: Absolutely. And is that across a lot of your products for the home? And is it free? Ariel Kaye: It is free. Yeah. Julia Hare: Cool. Ariel Kaye: So anyone can make an appointment. And it can be a call, or most people do a Zoom so that we can actually see pictures of their home or see their home while we’re discussing. Sometimes people send pictures ahead of time. And yeah, I mean, I have done a number of the styling consultations myself. And some people want to focus solely on the bedroom. Some people are interested in getting our input on art or on decor or things that we actually don’t even carry. They just want our expertise. And so it’s been great to see people who appreciate our aesthetic and the way that we style pictures beyond the products we carry and want our opinions. Ariel Kaye: But yeah, there’s no kind of limitations to what those conversations need to be about. You know, obviously, there’s only so many products in our assortment that we can recommend. But we’re always looking to be helpful. And I know that our styling consultations, we’ll pull in other products that we think could be helpful and effective in the space and make sense. So it’s a great program. It’s worth a shot and just having a fun conversation. I’ve had a number of friends have a really great time talking to our styling consults and stylists. Julia Hare: Yes. It sounds like a great service. I mean, I’m thinking about it for myself now that I [crosstalk 00:12:21]. Ariel Kaye: Yeah, totally. You should check it out. Julia Hare: It sounds cool. I mean, there were a lot of small companies that I know tried to make a whole business out of just styling virtual design. I don’t think most of them have been very successful. But I can totally see how as an add-on service for a brand like Parachute, it just aligns really well and adds a lot of value for the customer because it’s hard to make these choices. [inaudible 00:12:44]. Ariel Kaye: Yeah. Yeah, like I said, we have people who have never purchased from us before. We also have people that have come into the store or bought a bunch of products online and just want our input on how to actually style it once it’s in the home. And yeah, it’s been a really fun program to see grow. Julia Hare: And how to mix and match. Ariel Kaye: Yeah, exactly. Mix and match fabrics and colors. Julia Hare: Or karate chop the pillow. Are you a pillow karate chopper? Ariel Kaye: I appreciate a karate chop. Julia Hare: So I know there was a lot of debate online about that recently that I saw. But I wanted to ask you because D-to-C has been a hot topic. I mean, a lot of people would argue even that D-to-C’s always been around. It’s just a different way of positioning, I guess, that business model. But Casper mattress is one in a similar space as you guys. And they really struggled. I think in 2020, they had a 90 million loss. So they’re still operating, I believe, at a loss today. Did that intimidate you at all when you were first starting? Or have other D-to-C players influenced your strategy or have you focused on your own? Ariel Kaye: I think we really focus on our own. I mean, Casper, I think there’s a number of different types of brands. You know, there are certain brands that focus on one singular product, like a mattress, and they do that great and they sell a lot of mattresses. We’ve taken a different approach to becoming a lifestyle brand. We now have eight-plus categories that we’re in. We’ve introduced over six in the past three years. We’re looking more at the breadth and depth in owning the whole home from an assortment perspective. Ariel Kaye: And so there are such different businesses. I mean, I think D-to-C is, there’s brands that are D-to-C that are constantly discounting and that’s their acquisition tool and they’re always on sale. And we don’t discount. We discount twice a year, but you’ll never see us on sale at any other point. You know, I think there are a number of ways that people build businesses and they create different types of models and things that are successful. And so we spend most of our time focusing on continuing to do what we do because it seems to be working. But we’re obviously, we’re aware of what’s happening with other companies. It’s a huge, huge category. So there’s room for many players to be successful. And the awareness to the home category in general benefits all of us. Julia Hare: And speaking of awareness, we mentioned earlier the presence you have on social media is pretty impressive. I took a look recently. I think it was well over half a million Instagram followers. How has that strategy come into play? Do you guys sit down, do you have a team that sits down and thinks about the different influencer tiers, like nano, micro, macro, that you work with, or has it been more organic than that? Ariel Kaye: It’s been both. I mean, we have influencers that reach out to us that want to partner together. And we also are reaching out to people that we think could be a good fit and introducing them to the brand and finding ways to work together. I think we’ve seen varying success across all tiers, whether it’s a micro influencer or someone that’s a much larger influencer. I think our strategy today has geared towards less of those people who have many millions of followers and more people that have really cultivated engaged communities. You know, we work on an affiliate model with most of our investor, or investors, our influencers and are always looking to build longer- term relationships. Ariel Kaye: So there was a time where influencers where you would have a three-post relationship and you’d pay for these posts and it felt very much like an ad and it was very transactional. And I think both consumers and creators are moving into more of a model where they’re working with brands that they really love and can talk about really authentically and they want to support and they also care about and the values are aligned. And it creates for better content. It creates a longer-term relationship. And that’s where we see the most opportunity and the best results. Julia Hare: That makes sense. That’s a good observation to share too with other retailers who are listening because it definitely is an important change that’s happened in the influencer space. And it sounds like you are working with these influencers who really curate your products as part of their content and their feeds and [inaudible 00:17:44]. Ariel Kaye: Yeah. I mean, they have to make sense in their own home. Julia Hare: Yeah. Ariel Kaye: You know, I think there were times where we were like, oh, this person has so many followers and they have a great community. But they weren’t our customer. You know? You know, I think that we’ve now gotten to a place where we’ve been able to really work with such incredible creators who bring our products to life in their homes so authentically, and it’s been amazing to watch. So I think we’ve definitely taken more of the quality over quantity approach and just focused on people who, yeah would be probably purchasing our products anyway. You know? Julia Hare: No, some of the posts I follow, I think her name’s Ashley Hosmer. Ariel Kaye: Hosmer. Yeah, she’s the best. Julia Hare: Hosmer. Oh, okay, you know of her. Yeah. So I mean… Ariel Kaye: Of course. Julia Hare: Amazing. I want to just jump into her bed whenever she shares picture. Ariel Kaye: I know. And she’s been one of the best influencers for us to work with and we have a relation, I have a relationship with her on Instagram. I’m always so blown away by how she styles our products. And she’s created so much incredible content and it’s been such a reciprocal relationship for us both. And that’s the best of the best. You know, you find people who were fans ahead of time and then find ways to work together and really, yeah create something really special. And then audiences really appreciate that. And it feels so authentic and it doesn’t feel like an ad and it feels like you’re just getting a glimpse into someone’s home and what inspires them. And it’s really just the best. Julia Hare: Yeah. And it is, I mean, in a way it’s not an ad when it is an authentic fit… Ariel Kaye: Exactly. Julia Hare: … for the creator and the brand. So it’s amazing. I did notice, I mean, Parachute has a pretty strong breadth of assortment in the home category. I think I could argue that you’re very well known. One of the first things that comes to mind is quality linen, quality bedding. Was that strategic? Is that your core where you started? Or what would you say the connection is? Ariel Kaye: Sure. So we started with sheets, linen came second. It was in the second fabrication, or I guess third technology. I launched with percale and sateen. But yes, it was very intentional to start with bedding. I really looked at the home category and realized that there wasn’t really a textile-first business. And I felt so passionately that these are the products that we touch and use every day. They are the most intimate part of our home. They are so beautiful. And they really can create such an incredible impact in your space, yet most people were considering them somewhat of an afterthought. So I was very excited to introduce our brand to people through this category and build trust within the bedroom and the sleep experience and then expand into other categories. But yeah, it’s been, bedding is where we started. It’s something that will always be a big part of our business. Julia Hare: Yeah, that’s exciting. I mean, my brother-in-law says anything you put your weight on, chairs, furniture, your bed, that you should invest more in those areas. Ariel Kaye: I love that. Julia Hare: Yeah. What’s next for Parachute? Do you have anything that you can share on the horizon with the listeners? Ariel Kaye: Sure. So we are opening, we’ve got 15 stores today and we’re opening another 15 this year. So chances are we might be in your neighborhood soon. We are also real excited about, we launched our first real furniture collection last fall, and we are introducing more furniture this year. So that’s something that we’re very excited about. But yeah, we’ve got some really interesting collabs coming up that will be really fun. Can’t say a ton there, but we’ve got one with a top, top interior designer coming in April. So yeah, stay tuned. But lots of things happening this year. Julia Hare: Very cool. It sounds like it. And I’m super excited for the physical store expansion. That will be really cool. I can’t wait to check you guys out in person finally. Ariel Kaye: Yeah. Julia Hare: And thank you. Ariel Kaye, Founder and CEO Parachute Home. If you’re listening, please go check them out. They’re amazing. Follow them on Instagram. And Ariel, if someone wanted to reach out to you directly, could they do that through LinkedIn or what’s the best way to reach you? Ariel Kaye: You know, I am never on LinkedIn, but if they wanted to chat via Instagram, my DMs. My Instagram is arielkaye. That might be the best way to do it. Julia Hare: Perfect. All right. Well, thanks for coming on the show and I hope to have you on again soon. Ariel Kaye: Thank you.