New Underwear Brand Parade Wants to Make a Cultural Impact With Creative Basics

"We want to build the next big underwear company in the world and rewrite the American underwear story."
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Photo: Courtesy of Parade 

Photo: Courtesy of Parade 

Mall visits in the early-to-mid 2000s were marked by the smell of freshly baked Auntie Anne's pretzels and stopping by Victoria's Secret. Even if your middle school crowd didn't frequent the glitter-heavy lingerie shop, the store's images of scantily clad, angel-winged models in the windows were nearly impossible to miss. 

It was these antiquated images and stereotypes of "sexy" women wearing lacy lingerie that prompted 22-year-old Cami Tellez to launch a new direct-to-consumer underwear label called Parade in October. 

Tellez came up with the idea while in enrolled at Columbia University. At the time, she was studying English and Art History, while working in venture capital and startups on the side. She met her co-founder Jack DeFuria in New York's tech world, and then dropped out of school in January to build Parade full time. 

"We were both drawn to the opportunity brands have to make a cultural impact on Gen Z," Tellez explains over the phone. She was also eager to create a new kind of undergarment that doesn't put boundaries on womanhood, as so many brands have in the past.

"Women and femme-identifying people are freewheeling, creative and expressive people," says Tellez. "At Parade, we're focused on telling a new kind of underwear story at the intersection of bold color, dynamic design and sustainable fabric innovation." 

Tellez believes everyone has an underwear story – "it's connective tissue between your body, which is political and identity-driven," she says. For this reason, she is adamant about revolutionizing the category, which is already undergoing a much-needed period of change. 

Photo: Courtesy of Parade 

Photo: Courtesy of Parade 

Victoria's Secret was once considered the top women's brand in the U.S., but the lingerie giant lost market share from 31.7% in 2013 to 24% in 2018, according to a Coresight Research report. In that time, a slew of digitally native brands cropped up to challenge its narrow definition of beauty and to replace its bedazzled, barely-there wares with products focused on fit and comfort. 

Parade is the latest undergarment label to do so with a trio of essential styles: a thong, a cheeky and a boyshort. All the silhouettes come in a range of cheery colors — think a lemon-y yellow and a millennial lilac — and wallet-friendly price points, at just $9 a pair. 

"We call Parade's product 'creative basics' — expressive underwear in soft, sustainable fabrics for sizes XS-3X," says Tellez. "The design of the first collection was inspired by the movement lines of our logo, which mimics the same lines on a body." 

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Engineered with sport-inspired stretch, the styles are ultra-light and feature mesh detailing. The breathable fabric is made from a recycled knit called Re:Play, which is crafted from pre-consumer waste created during the process of producing virgin nylon. This fabric is also certified by Global Recycle Standard and Oeko-Tex Standard 100 to ensure that it's free from harmful chemicals.

In addition to Parade's commitment to eco conscious textiles, the brand has a Sedex Certified supply chain, meaning it upholds the highest standards of ethical manufacturing. The underwear itself is made in China at a factory that Tellez describes as "incredibly advanced," and is then shipped in compostable packaging that's made of wood cellulose and cornstarch. 

Photo: Courtesy of Parade 

Photo: Courtesy of Parade 

By the time the brand launched on Oct. 21, it had already developed an impressive cult-like following with a 70,000-person waitlist.

"We believe a category as emotional and personal as underwear should start from the ground up, so we started by building a community before we even launched," explains Tellez, who, prior to the site's debut, reached out to people who inspire her and embody the joyous and expressive spirit of Parade. This resulted in establishing a network of "Parade Friends" who are spread out across 75 college campuses and in more than 50 cities. "They care deeply about sustainability and sex education and help us co-create the fabric of the brand and tell us where to go next." 

Parade is in constant communication with its consumers as well. The company uses texting for customer service, instant ordering and crowdsourcing product feedback. On top of that, the brand engages with other organizations that support sex education. Prior to launching, Parade donated over $12,000 to Planned Parenthood of New York City, and moving forward, it will donate 1% all sales to Planned Parenthood across the nation.

Right now, Tellez and her team are working on perfecting Parade's first drop of undies in preparation for the second. Ultimately, Parade aims to be a positive and powerful force in the intimates space. 

"We want to build the next big underwear company in the world and rewrite the American underwear story," says Tellez. "I believe that brands write cultural scripts and can tell people how to act. I want all the people who grow up going to the mall and seeing supermodels blown up on storefronts to come of age in a new world: one of radical self-expression and inclusivity." 

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