Lifestyle Brand Building Tips, Industry Disruption, and Listening to Your Customer
Lifestyle Brand Building Tips, Industry Disruption, and Listening to Your Customer

"We really want to build and grow with the customer, we don't want to be a brand that you grow out of. And so we do so much customer research, we do so much listening, we really go out of our way to learn from the customer so that we can always be evolving and growing." 

- Ariel Kaye

Elizabeth welcomes Ariel Kaye, Founder and CEO of the home lifestyle brand Parachute. Since launching in 2014, Ariel and her small yet nimble team have evolved Parachute from premium bedding in a digitally native brand into a beloved household name in lifestyle with best-selling essential oils and 22 brick-and-mortar locations across the US. Ariel talks with Elizabeth about how she stays in a growth centered positive mindset and more about her original vision to continue creating products that are clean, super premium, and impact the customer’s sleep experience. She talks about how she draws inspiration for Parachute in many facets of life, how her team stays consistent in building community and listening to their customers, and what’s next for the brand including a big announcement in sustainability and climate-neutral certification.



    Elizabeth Stein 00:00
    Hey everyone. I'm Elizabeth Stein, founder and CEO of Purely Elizabeth. And this is Live Purely with Elizabeth, featuring candid conversations about how to thrive on your wellness journey. This week's guest is Ariel Kaye, Founder and CEO of Parachute, a home and lifestyle brand focused on creating a culture committed to wellness and social responsibility. Since launching in 2014, Ariel has evolved Parachute from a small digitally native offering of premium bedding into a beloved lifestyle brand with best-selling essentials for every room in the house, and 22 brick and mortar locations across the country. In today's episode, Ariel shares all about her inspiration for Parachute, and how she took the steps to launch. We talk about where she draws inspiration for this lifestyle brand, how she's created a culture committed to wellness and kindness, recently announcing the brand's dedication to sustainability and Climate Neutral Certification, and how they built community for the digitally native brand. I'm such a huge fan of their products, I absolutely love their robes and their bedding. Keep listening to learn all about Ariel and Parachute. Ariel, welcome to the podcast. I'm so looking forward to the conversation today. As I was preparing to have you on I was thinking you know what, I have robes, I have towels, I have sheets. So I'm a super fan.

    Ariel Kaye 01:28
    Amazing. I love hearing that.

    Elizabeth Stein 01:31
    So let's start with your journey and really what inspired you to start Parachute.

    Ariel Kaye 01:37
    Sure. So my journey is a bit unconventional, although, who knows what that means anymore. I mean my background before Parachute was in advertising and marketing, I was working at a big agency on the strategic side of creative doing a lot of consumer behavior research and what I found myself really most passionate about was how to connect with customers like how to inspire them, how to motivate them, how to build relationships. But separately on the side, I was doing interior design stuff just for fun. I had an interior design blog, I was helping friends decorate their apartments in New York City, and I became a super consumer, you know, I was just shopping all the time. And one of the things that happens when you shop all the time is that you realize what's missing in the market, you see just the lack of innovation, you see that there's products that you wish were different. And so in 2012, I had reached a point in my career in advertising where I wanted to have a bigger impact I was I had a lot of friends join startups and starting companies and I was just admiring their passion, their commitment, their desire to build something, you know, the impact that that was having on them personally. And I wanted that for myself. And so I had one of those AHA moments where I thought, you know, I've got this experience building brands, and I am passionate about that. I love the customer journey. I love building relationships. And I think I have a good sense of what that means. But I'm also obsessed with home and design. And you know, what would it look like to bring those interests together? And you know, 10 years ago, if you ask someone what sheets they had on their bed, they couldn't tell you. And that's a $30 billion category of products that you're using every day that had absolutely no brand, there was only recognition about where to shop for these products. And so for me, in the rise of DTC, it just felt like, whoa, what's going on here? How is this not happening already? And what a huge opportunity to build a relationship with customers and be able to create a value proposition that's pretty powerful, like getting a good night's sleep. So I quit my job, and that was that I was all in.

    Elizabeth Stein 03:47
    Wow. Well, I mean, you're right. It's incredible. That you know, as I was thinking about it, like you really came into the space, creating this brand, where there weren't and also, you know, as I think about my journey, it's like it's pretty easy. Not easy, but way easier, it feels like to get into food, like the barriers to entry. You know, you can make a bag of your granola at home, you can bring it to the farmers market, like it's a much easier entry into the marketplace. I'm super curious to hear for you. Like that moment where you thought, okay, I have this great idea, there's a hole in the marketplace. What did you do? What A what did you do, did you have a business plan and then B like, how did you have the courage to say, okay, there's an opportunity, but I'm gonna go for it?

    Ariel Kaye 04:33
    It's a great question because I had no experience in retail. I had no experience in textiles, I had no experience in manufacturing. So really, I was just as as clueless and uninformed and unexperienced as one could possibly be. The idea really came to be at the end of 2012. And at the beginning of 2013, I'd shared with one friend who was like, you can do this and I was like, No, I can't like this is a good idea, but like I couldn't possibly do this. And he said, you're a CEO, and I can see this for you like you got this. And this is a friend who is actually currently on our board, he was one of my first investors. But so in terms of the courage to get there, it really took a person who I admired who I'd seen build businesses, look at me in the eye and say, you got this. And I don't think without that kind of support and conviction around my own skill set that I absolutely did not see for myself, would I have had the courage to take that dive and leave a very comfortable job that was paying the bills and on all the things. But so in 2013, at the beginning of the year, I started working on you know, a business plan, I started putting together the idea of what the brand should look like and feel like in the problem we were trying to solve. And then I quit my job. And I went to Europe, I decided that I needed to manufacture these products in Europe, because all of the the quality and the heritage and the premium products are being manufactured there. And I knew in order to bridge that gap of trust, I had to have that story about quality. So I did a lot of Google searching, I got connected to people who knew people who were in manufacturing in textiles, and I got on a plane and I visited 15 factories around Portugal and Italy, I had a suitcase full of samples of products that I liked, and that I didn't like. And this is something that I think is good, and it's soft, but could we do it this way. And I had these conversations with a number of manufacturers. And it was incredible. I mean, seeing how these products were made, and in the factories and watching a single fiber be woven and go through all these steps to become this beautiful sheet was so incredible, and so inspiring, and absolutely got me from like, this is a great idea to oh my gosh, like this has to happen, like I'm so consumed. And so beyond excited about this opportunity obsessed like I was, I felt like, there was no other option. And so after that trip, I had identified a factory that was willing to work with us. I mean, by the way, I showed up at all these factories and people were like, that's cute, like, what a nice American girl like here with a suitcase full of fabrics like sure.

    Elizabeth Stein 07:18
    And when you say work with us, was it you plus somebody or was it really you?

    Ariel Kaye 07:23
    No, it was just me. Sorry.

    Elizabeth Stein 07:24
    I was just saying cause like you know

    Ariel Kaye 07:26
    No, it's just variable us, you know, became us. I made my first hire three weeks after launching. So but yeah, I mean, with Parachute, I came back and was like, I'm doing this, like I'm doing this, there's no other option. This is a huge opportunity. And I knew that, you know, if it didn't work, I would find my way back into advertising or something else. But I was like I'm giving myself a year. I'm gonna get this business off the ground. And we'll see what happens.

    Elizabeth Stein 07:52
    So had you had a vision at the beginning of what you wanted the first products to be? Was it sheets, was it what was it?

    Ariel Kaye 08:00
    Yeah, so I wanted to start with sheets, because you spend a third of your life in bed. Sleep is such an important part of our life. And this is also around the time where wellness and the wellness movement was really becoming more popular. And sleep was to me that like core of that. And so to be able to talk about, you know, the quality of these products, if you were shopping at a big box retailer 10 years ago, all of the products were coated with synthetics, they were made of toxic materials, they had artificial dyes, they were using things like formaldehyde to create wrinkle resistant. I mean, it was like pretty gross, what was happening, what was on the shelves, and there was no other option. So I wanted to create a product that was clean, that was super premium, that was excessively priced, and that would actually impact your sleep experience. And so that was the value proposition. But the idea for Parachute, from the very beginning, like I look back on my deck that I made in 2013 was always to be a multi category home brand, I knew that retail was going to have to be a key part of the business because at that point, 90% of purchases were made offline. And so I knew for the customer, they would want to shop that way. And so it wasn't part of the initial plan. But it was you know, at some point, we would get to a place where we could open stores. But yeah, I was really focused, I wanted to start focused, I had no capital, you know, as I was getting started, so it had to be small, it had to be tight. I wanted to get that product market fit. And then the plan was to evolve quickly into other categories, of course quickly ends up being a lot longer than you would expect because everything takes longer and all of that but yeah.

    Elizabeth Stein 09:33
    Well I think that your aesthetic is just it's so beautiful and laid back and as you say wellness, like it exudes wellness to me and actually, I was first introduced to your products at I was staying at the Santa Monica Proper and I had a room there and I had done the Surya Spa Panchakarma

    Ariel Kaye 09:56
    I've been dying to do that.

    Elizabeth Stein 09:58
    Oh, you have to do it. But so in my mind I have this direct correlation with this like super soothing experience at the hotel and your robe. And so I feel like that just plus the textures and the whole look is so wellness and relaxing and etc. So curious how you think about the vision of design and the brand aesthetic? And was that, has that remained the same? And how do you kind of think about the inspiration today?

    Ariel Kaye 10:32
    So yes, absolutely. I mean, one of the things that I'm truly most proud of is that we have created a new aesthetic in the market. And we see people try to copy it and emulate it. And if it it's authentic to us, it's you know, and of course, in every industry, you see that happening, but we've created this aesthetic that is this very timeless, but perfectly undone, very, like it's a relaxed, casual. It's really cozy, it's designed to be comfortable. And my vision for that early on. And the way that I explained it to people was like, you know, on a Sunday morning, you get back into bed, or you get out of bed, then you grab your cup of coffee and the newspaper or a book and you get back into bed, and you crawl in and you're having you're reading and you're drinking your coffee, and it's just perfectly undone, but still cozy, it's not a mess, but it's casual, and it's comfortable. And it's inviting, and it's welcoming, and it's soothing. And, and that was that was the guiding vision for it was how to create something that is, is just comfortable, you know, it doesn't have to take you 20 minutes to make your bed because you're doing these perfectly tight hospital corners, you know, it's just, it's lived in its real life, you know, and for me, that was what I was, I was I saw missing. And you know, that's not to say that our products don't look great with hospital corners. And if you're that type of person, like I don't know about that. Yeah, but you know, I mean, people, people, you know, like different styles and aesthetics, but we wanted to create these foundational products that really would work with any aesthetic, and do something that was different, you know, there's, there's certainly no shortage of options. But we wanted to create something that really appealed to today's modern shopper. And so the beginning, you know, I was really designing for myself and my friends and our, our team and the people that, you know, were like us that just wanted better products that were out there. We started with a lot of neutrals, and really leaned into more texture for dimension and depth and color and pattern. We've since evolved. And, you know, I think for us as a small nimble team and, and one that's so connected to the customer, because of my background and the way that we've built the business, we really want to build and grow with the customer, we don't want to be a brand that you grow out of. And so we do so much customer research, we do so much listening, we really go out of our way to learn from the customer so that we can always be evolving and growing. But I get my inspiration everywhere I get my inspiration on a hike, I get my inspiration being outside, I get my inspiration, when I order ice cream, and the colors are just like so beautiful together. I mean, I take pictures of everything, and so does our design team and art and going to museums, I mean, there's so many places that are perhaps a little outside the box to seek inspiration, you know, a men's button down shirt, you know, a stripe, like might become a stripe that we use on bedding, you know, I mean, there's, there's things like that, that feel just different. But you know, I think for us, we're so focused on our point of view, we really want people to see our products and think Parachute. And so we're always evolving, but we all are always still trying to do everything through the Parachute lens.

    Elizabeth Stein 13:38
    I love that. I'm curious to hear as far as your inspiration, and all those different sources, like how much of that is innate in you that you're going and doing that? And how much are you consciously saying, hey, I'm gonna go on this trip to x because I need to find inspiration.

    Ariel Kaye 13:55
    I think it's just part of who I am. Like, I'm just always looking for inspiration. And I've always been really inspired by the outdoors. And by art, I would say, you know, I recently just was in Paris a few weeks ago and went to all these museums and you know, I was the person like taking close up pictures of like this corner of a painting because I love the way those colors work together. But my our design team is similar too I mean, we're you know, I am definitely not leading all of our designs at this point. We've got a phenomenal design team. And they're they're similar and you know, they do offsite trips to to to museums or go on walks you know, there's we're always encouraging people to get out of their rooms and their homes and nowadays off the computer and, and look outside, you know, I mean, I remember one season going up to our design area in our office and there was baskets of leaves and foraged sticks and all of these things that the design team had collected, because we were leaning into green tones and natural tones and and that's where we got our colors they were pantone matching to these sticks that they found in the neighborhood, you know, and it was just like, ah this is so inspiring, you know, well, we're doing something that's that feels different or just authentic to who we are as a brand. And, and how we like to, to think about design.

    Elizabeth Stein 15:16
    Yeah, I love that. So touching on brand and communicating with your community, which is certainly a place that as a digitally native brand like that that resonated and made so much sense. What do you think, was really and again, say at the beginning of there are so few home brands, so you came into this space and really created this beautiful, beautiful brand, what do you think made it so successful and resonate with the community? And what tips do you have? Obviously, DTC is different today than when you started? But what tips do you have for launching a brand online? Or it could just be launching a brand today? It doesn't need to be specific.

    Ariel Kaye 15:59
    So I think we were first to market. So that certainly helped, you know, this was launched in 2014. There were no other bedding, DTC brands, at all. This was before Casper, I mean, this was this was early days of home and anything happening in home. So certainly that helped. But first to market doesn't always equate to success, you know, I mean, but if it's too early. Yeah, exactly. You could be too early, it could be you know, it could the customer could not be ready for that. But I think for us, it was really all about having a clear point of view. And one that didn't waver over the years, I from day one, prioritize building a relationship with the customer over the transaction, I prioritize inspiring and educating so that the customer purchases with confidence over being overly selly, and overly pushy and overly like, buy, buy, buy. We also made a decision in the early days to not discount to not be a discount brand to not lean on marketing gimmicks and tricks and cut corners in order just to get more sales. And I think that paid off. I mean, we today do two sales a year for Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Memorial Day. And that's a choice that we made many years ago, because it's basically parody in the industry. But we don't discount. And if you go to most sites these days, I mean, you are getting thrown discounts left and right. And I think there's something that degrades a brand when you discount, or you just train customers to wait for a discount and to not shop. And that's just kind of the cycle that you're on. But really again, to go back to what I started by saying I think it was about having a clear point of view, like this is who we are, and we're not wavering. And we're not trying to reinvent ourselves, we're not getting distracted by the noise or what other brands are doing. We're really staying true to who we are. And that builds trust. And I think the thing that I knew, from my experience in advertising, from my experience, working with customers, and really thinking about the customer relationship, I knew that having a quality product, of course, is important. If you want people to keep coming back, it has to be good people have to love it. But I think building that trust might even be more important. You know, it's just if people want to shop, and today, especially with their values, they want to shop because they see a brand that sees them or is listening to them or is catering to their needs. And, and so I think being really focused and patient, you know, when we were getting started started, it was the time in the industry, where like go go go scale, scale, scale, build as fast as possible, raise as much money like all of these things were really that was the rhetoric and like, and we kind of we went our own way. I mean, we raised very little money compared to our competitors, we decided that we wanted to go slow and steady and we wanted to build trust without diluting the brand or the product. And so I think, you know, at times, I got pushback from investors, I was asked why I was taking that approach, but it just felt so right to me. And I had to just stick to my values there. And it did pay off and I'm so proud of that. I wanted to build a healthy business with healthy economics that was going to stand the test of time and that my grandchildren would be shopping from and, and building a brand does not happen overnight. And I think part of my experience with with building larger or working with larger brands made that very clear to me and allowed me to focus on the things that I felt were were most important versus what everyone else was telling me all the time.

    Elizabeth Stein 19:38
    Which that's super hard to do. I mean it's super hard to hear outsiders investors, other people in your circle saying to to go the path of, hey, here's what the rest of the market is doing and really listening to your yourself to say I'm going to build this differently. And I guess I mean, you have the experience but how much was that just sort of like listening to your intuition? And how much

    Ariel Kaye 20:03
    It was a lot of yeah, a lot of listening to my intuition. I mean, I think I also, you know, I started the brand at a time where it did feel like I could learn from other people's missteps, or I saw people raising a lot of money, I just, I just knew that I had to trust my gut on some of these things. And I really did believe it would pay off. And certainly I had investors say that they didn't want to invest in the business, because my goal was not to grow as fast as possible, my goal, my goal was to grow healthy, like in a healthy way, and to be thoughtful about the customer. And that that experience, and ultimately, I found the right partners, you know, I think I mean, that was so critical to my success early on, especially because I had no experience. So I was like, who can help me with this, who can help me with that, like, I don't know what I'm doing. But I also had to, had to filter that information that I was receiving from my community to know to say, okay, this feels right, that doesn't, that's interesting. Maybe that's better information or suggestions applied for later, you know, I think you have to, you have to also get information, but then also trust your gut.

    Elizabeth Stein 21:14
    Was that a more formalized network that you had where those mentors, advisors or friends, what did that look like?

    Ariel Kaye 21:21
    It was a bit of both. So when I started the brand, I joined an accelerator program called Launchpad, which is no longer around. But I was able through that program to raise a little bit of capital, which allowed me to buy my first batch of inventory. But it also introduced me to a number of mentors, and advisors and expertise in different fields, like marketing, or operations or finance and, and so I definitely built relationships in the early days through that experience. And then as I evolved the brand, and I did take on capital, I had a board and my board was really helpful. And I got very lucky with really thoughtful, supportive kind people on the board that I really trusted and could be vulnerable with. But I would say probably the people that have been most impactful for me are other founders, and other people that are either at similar stages that I am or have been doing it longer, or people that are really getting started. I mean, you learn from everyone, you know, it's a really reciprocal experience to be talking about your business talking about what's working, what's not working. And so one of the things that I found that was so exciting was that I found that people were really generous with their time, you know, founders and entrepreneurs like to help other entrepreneurs. And I think for me, getting comfortable asking for help, or asking for time, or saying I've two questions, can I get 20 minutes, I was so surprised by how many people were gracious and eager to help and to take the call to answer the email. And it's something that I try to pay forward as often as I can.

    Elizabeth Stein 22:56
    Yeah, I think that's been like such a wonderful thing about this community of people who just want to help and, and be there. I definitely saw that.

    Ariel Kaye 23:05
    It's so reciprocal. I never, you know, we have a mentorship program that we started at Parachute and I find that the conversations that I have with people, no matter the stage, no matter where they are in their journey, they it always helps me too you know, and I think that in the early days, I was so scared to ask for help and scared to be needy, or to take real important time or be vulnerable, or be honest, you know, and once I got over that it was just such an amazing relief. And also, I learned so much and was able to get so much out of those conversations.

    Elizabeth Stein 23:42
    That's great. What what would you say are maybe some of the top lessons that you have learned personally or professionally over the last nine years that have really, yeah, I mean, it certainly I know, I feel like a different person today than than I did at the beginning.

    Ariel Kaye 23:59
    Oh, my gosh, I mean, nothing. There's nothing more transformative than starting a business. Yeah. So I think there's a few things that I've learned and things that I constantly come back to not sweating the small stuff. And that extends to kind of focusing on progress, not perfection, which can be challenging when you're type A and like to have things perfect all the time or don't want to put anything in the world that doesn't feel exactly to the tee what what you envision it, but it's really helped me embrace a test and learn mentality, it's helped me realize that I can be my own worst enemy and I can get in my own way. And I have to really allow things to evolve and be natural. I think recently, you know, remembering that there's no finish line, you know, you start a business and you prioritize it, you put everything into it. And I think early on, I had this expectation that there would be these moments, these milestones that would, that would lead to some sort of finish line, some ending and, and it's just being embracing the fact that that's just not true. There is no finish line, you know, there are milestones, and there are things to celebrate along the way. But building a business is an ongoing process. And just when you think something's gonna happen, there's a curveball, and you know, it just you have to embrace just the evolving nature of it all. And that's, that's been an important lesson for me to really just come to terms.

    Elizabeth Stein 25:33
    How have you learned..or is your personality the one that like deals with those ups and downs, like you're an even keeled person or has that been a challenge to, to figure out how to really deal with that? Like for you personally, and then for you how to deal with that with your team? Because those are definitely two different things, yet clearly very intertwined.

    Ariel Kaye 25:54
    It's a good question, because depending on the challenge, I think I can navigate them in various different ways. I would consider myself resilient, although I sort of hate that word. And what it implies almost nine years in, there's been so many ups and downs. I mean, it's a roller coaster, you know.

    Elizabeth Stein 26:15
    It's the nature of business.

    Ariel Kaye 26:17
    Yeah, exactly. You experience ups and downs, in the course of 30 seconds, sometimes, you know, it's like you can feel on top of the world, and you can feel like the world's about to end in a matter of moments. And so, in some ways, I'm just used to it, you know, I expect there to be highs and lows. But there's certain things that are really challenging, and that can feel really, really hard. And as a sole founder, I feel a lot of pressure and I internalize that pressure, and I feel a lot of responsibility. And I would never want that to change. But sometimes it weighs really hard. And so being a founder can be really lonely and isolating. And so having a community of people, whether it's other founders, mentors, family, friends, therapist, executive coaches, to turn to, to talk things through to get better perspective, or just to help process what's going on is is really helpful. You know, I also have an incredible executive team, which I trust implicitly. And so that's been really valuable, especially as we've gotten to a stage where problems feel bigger and feel more challenging. But there's also a part of me, and maybe it's a little masochistic that like, loves problems, you know, I started this business because I like to solve problems, like, I like challenges. And I think when you can shift your mindset out of like, this is happening to me, or this is happening to us, or like, this is just so hard, and get into the, oh my gosh, what an exciting opportunity to be able to solve this problem and to grow and to learn and remind myself that this journey is not stagnant, it's exciting, and I get to flex new muscles. And then it's energizing, you know, and so I think

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