As founder and chief executive of The Real Real, Julie Wainwright has created one of the most successful online luxury consignment sites. With sales exceeding an estimated $100 million, a recent injection of a further $40 million in funding and a collaboration with Neiman Marcus , Wainwright believes The Real Real will become a billion dollar business in the next five 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 Real Real 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 Real Real has a strict and lengthy process to ensure fakes never make it onto the site. Wainwright realised 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 Real Real sold over 250,000 items, with between 60 to 70 percent of the profit going back to the original owner. Today, The Real Real has over 3 million subscribed members and shifts around 20,000 luxury items each month, with around 55 percent of sales coming from mobile devices. The company has raised over $83 million in investment, including a $40 million series D round in April 2015.
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 Real Real’s core is consumer faith in the company – something that has previously been lacking from the online luxury consignment market.