Solomon Liou (WG’10) wants you to look tres chic with revolutionary online jeans brand Parke New York. The newest addition to the growing lineup of Wharton-founded startups looking to disrupt the online retail space through niche offerings, Parke New York combines cutting-edge technology, tasteful design and premium fabrics to shake up the world of denim. Following Parke’s successful Kickstarter campaign, we sat down with Solomon to learn more.
Wharton Journal: Tell us about Parke. What does “technologically advanced” jeans mean?
Solomon Liou: Parke is a new vertically-integrated, online denim brand. We offer luxury apparel that combines artisan craftsmanship, high-quality fabrics, and exceptional fit. Selling directly to customers online, we’re also able to offer our products at 50% less than traditional brands.
For our Kickstarter campaign, we launched our first line of premium jeans that feature a unique selvedge stretch fabric. “Technologically advanced” refers to the technology in the fabric, which uses multiple stretch components in core-spun stretch yarns to increase durability, comfort, and fit. It’s taken us a year of development to perfect these jeans, which are targeted to compete in the $300 segment of selvedge denim. We offer ours for $145 at www.Parke.com.
WJ: Why selvedge denim?
SL: I started with selvedge denim because it’s a product category that I’m personally passionate about. Selvedge refers to the way the denim is woven, using antique-style shuttle looms. High quality selvedge is known to be more dense and durable. It’s more expensive to produce, but I wanted to create premium jeans using the highest quality fabric.
WJ: So how does a Wharton MBA grad with a digital advertising background end up starting an online denim company?
SL: I had always appreciated fashion, but it’s definitely by chance that I got into this industry. A couple of years ago, I had worn out my favorite pair of jeans. When I went shopping for new ones, it was difficult to find high-quality jeans at an affordable price. So I learned to make my own jeans as a hobby, and soon enough, other friends were asking me to make jeans for them. It quickly evolved from there.
My professional background is in product development and design in the technology world. It was actually a very fluid transition to apply design principles from the online world into the development of physical goods. Additionally, I had run large-scale ecommerce websites in the past, so it was clear to me that selling direct to consumers online provided a disruptive business model and distribution channel.
WJ: You’ve been raising crowdfunding for Parke through Kickstarter. How is this going?
SL: Crowdfunding has been an incredible experience. Our goal was to use Kickstarter to test out initial demand and fund our first production run. We set a goal for $50,000, and nearly doubled that goal in 30 days. We sold over $90,000 worth of jeans, which is a new record for a crowd-funded denim company. This week, we’re actually going to launch a profile on Fundable.com, which is a crowdfunding platform for equity financing. We’ve received significant investor interest from Kickstarter already, so crowdfunding for equity financing naturally makes sense for us.
WJ: What opportunities in online retail excite you the most?
SL: There’s a lot of opportunity that exists right now in the online retail & fashion world. I’m most excited about vertically-integrated online brands like Everlane, Frank & Oak, Bonobos, etc. There are certain aspects of these companies that are fundamentally different to traditional apparel companies. It is incredibly challenging and complex to execute, but there is no doubt in my mind that there will be several billion dollar companies that will emerge over the next decade from this growing wave of startups.
WJ: Tell us about the scene in NYC. WHat has it been like running a retail startup in the Big Apple?
SL: New York is a great place to be if you’re a fashion-tech startup. The fashion and media industry is centered here, and the tech startup scene in general is thriving. This is the fourth NY startup that I’ve been a part of over the past decade – now is a better time than ever for entrepreneurs here.
WJ: Any advice for aspiring Wharton MBA entrepreneurs?
SL: Find a frontier and go for it.