As founder and chief executive of The RealReal, Julie Wainwright has created one of the most successful online luxury consignment sites. With sales exceeding an estimated $400 million and a recent injection of a further $50 million in funding, Wainwright believes The RealReal will become a billion dollar business in the next few years.
Wainwright, who graduated from Purdue University, was an early tech entrepreneur and e-commerce pioneer. She headed up Reel.com, an online video site, in 1997 before taking over as chief executive of Pets.com in 1999. A now symbolic case study of the dot.com boom and bust, the site collapsed after going public in 2000, losing $300 million of capital investment. In the wake of its failure, Wainwright was involved with a number of other online start-ups, before launching The RealReal in 2011.
Inspired when she watched a friend spend “$5,000 in 20 minutes” in the consignment section of a store, Wainwright decided to establish an online e-commerce portal for pre-owned luxury and high-end designer goods that customers could trust completely. To achieve this The RealReal has a strict and lengthy process to ensure fakes never make it onto the site. Wainwright realized that while eBay dominated the consignment market online, when it came to reselling luxury fashion goods, curation and authentication were key. Her aim, she told USA Today, was “to take the top end of eBay and the bottom end of Sotheby’s and Christie’s.”
In its first two years, The RealReal sold over 250,000 items, with between 60 to 70 percent of the profit going back to the original owner. Today, The RealReal has over 6 million subscribed members and has raised over $173 million in investment.
Wainwright’s site has shifted attitudes amongst customers in the luxury shopping market, who are willing to buy more now that they understand the true resale value of high-end products. At The RealReal’s core is consumer faith in the company – something that has previously been lacking from the online luxury consignment market.
The San Francisco Business Times recognized Wainwright as one of the most-admired CEOs of the year in 2014, and again in 2017 as one of the most influential women of the year. In 2016, Wainwright accepted the Fashion Group International’s award for Innovation in Retail e-Commerce on behalf of The RealReal and won Springboard Enterprises’ Northstar Award.
She has been included in the Business of Fashion’s BoF500 for both 2016 and 2017, Vanity Fair’s New Establishment list 2017, and Forbes 40 over 40. In 2017, The RealReal received the award for Best-Performing Company in the small-cap category from WWD. In 2018 Wainwright was included in Inc.’s Female Founders 100 list, Entrepreneur’s 50 Most Daring Entrepreneurs and Fast Company’s Most Creative People In Business.
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