We’re Jess & Olivia, the co-founders of Pareto….and total retail nerds. We love to reflect, question, and discuss all things retail. We have a lot to share with you (besides great product), but we thought we’d begin with why we started Pareto.
Our love for the retail industry goes way back. Jess even grew up in what they call the “mall mecca” of the US, northern New Jersey. What started as summer jobs as store associates turned into the beginning of our careers. We began our professional lives working in-house and then as consultants for some of the best apparel brands in the world, learning the ins and outs of merchandising, marketing, manufacturing, store operations, and more. We loved how relatable the industry was to everyone – we all visit stores, we all buy products, we all are consumers.
Over time, we started to feel disenchanted with the industry that we thought we’d work in forever. The entire industry is centered on one word – more.
More product, more often.
And for what? We noticed that this focus on more is actually creating a lose, lose, lose situation. For brands. For consumers. For the environment.
For brands, the constant focus on more leads to overly complex businesses that are proving hard to operate profitably over the long run.
In our professional lives, this was our day-to-day. To meet unrealistic revenue growth expectations from investors, brands are forced to sell more product than ever before. Achieving this level of growth is extremely costly. Brands need to coordinate eight or more seasons of new product launches per year to ensure constant “newness” for the customer to buy. Brands need to create supply chains that prioritize developing their product as quickly as possible, for as low of cost as possible. Brands need to manage distributing this inventory to an ever-growing store footprint across the country. Brands need to invest in planning endless promotional games to move through this inventory before the next launch arrives. All of these actions create a cost structure that is challenging to operate profitably (just look at Brandless’s halt of all business operations, Outdoor Voices losing $2 million per month despite strong sales, Casper’s lackluster IPO). To top it all off, these actions result in less thoughtful product on the market. More time is spent managing all of the supporting activities and less time is spent on purposeful product development. The New York Times did a great piece on the unraveling of the industry.
For consumers, the constant focus on more leads to closets filled with thoughtless clothing that is rarely worn.
We saw this in the data, in our own closets, and in our friends’ closets. According to the Business of Fashion and McKinsey’s 2019 State of Fashion report, the average person buys 60% more clothing today compared to 15 years ago, yet the average lifespan of each piece has decreased by half. After sitting in the closets of friends, family, and total strangers, we found that women wear 20% of their closets, 80% of the time. The rest of their closets are rarely, if ever, touched. What makes it even worse is that consumers are wasting time and money in the process. With more, yet less thoughtful clothing in the market, consumers spend countless hours sifting through racks of merchandise only to waste money on items that are “good enough for now.” After a few wears (according to The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, it is merely 7-10 wears), most pieces find their way to the landfill.
For the environment, the constant focus on more makes it challenging to truly address the industry’s social and environmental impact. (We don’t believe in bombarding you with alarming statistics to make you care. However, if you are looking for an educational overview of the industry’s challenges on this dimension, check out the documentary The True Cost.)
While many apparel brands are discussing “sustainability,” it's usually related to how their clothing is made – the supply chain and the labor practices. But the social and environmental impact of the industry is driven by more than just how clothing is made; it is also driven by the quantity of clothing made. At the end of the day, every new piece of clothing consumes resources, even when made in a “more sustainable way.” Patagonia’s founder, Yvon Chouinard, has been a long-standing inspiration for us on this principle (his book is a great read to learn more).
How can the retail industry continue to operate this way when all three major stakeholders are losing?
We’ve set out to build something better – an apparel brand we are excited to work for, a brand we want to buy from, and a brand that can make a true impact on sustainability.
At Pareto, we challenge this need for more. One piece at a time, we make the best version of the clothing you actually wear. We’re here to show the world that great wardrobes and great brands can be built from fewer, more purposeful pieces.
We want to hear from you in the comments below! What percent of your closet do you wear on a regular basis? What makes you end up with clothing in your closet that you rarely wear - the hard to resist sale, the “good enough for now” mentality, the one-time special event?