Julie Wainwright Julie Wainwright is the founder of a luxury consignment site called The RealReal that has an estimated value of $300 million and growing. (Photo courtesy of Marco della Cava, USA Today)

From Pets to Prada

Alumna Julie Wainwright defines success in e-commerce

The road to the top for technology industry veteran and brand manager Julie Wainwright bears a similarity to the Pacific Coast Highway, which snakes along California’s coast near her San Francisco Bay Area home and business.

Consisting of twists and turns, the journey can at times be smooth — but around the bend, landslides can block forward progress. For Wainwright (BSIM ’79) her landslide came on Nov. 8, 2000 when she had to lay off her staff and close the wildly successful Pets.com. The dot.com bubble had burst.

But the plucky entrepreneur turned adversity into triumph by harnessing a passion for fashion to create a multimillion-dollar luxury consignment site called The RealReal. Forbes has estimated the value of the company at $300 million and growing.

Finding a niche

While selling items on the Web is nothing new, Wainwright has differentiated The RealReal from other players like Ebay, ThredUP and Poshmark.

“The RealReal is authenticated luxury resale,” Wainwright says.  “We employ nearly 20 gemologists and watch experts, brand authenticators and art curators who inspect every item before we put the item on sale.  We warehouse all items and offer the consumer a full customer service experience.”

She says the company addresses the high end of the market for luxury products that range from Hermes, Chanel, Prada, Cartier and Rolex to fine art by Matisse, Picasso and Jeff Koons, for example. Due to the previously owned nature of those items, buyers pay considerably less than original retail.

According to a 2014 report from global management firm Bain & Company, personal luxury goods generated $73.7 billion in sales — creating a huge opportunity for Wainwright.

“We are a sustainable company,” Wainwright says.  “Over 90 percent of our items come from individual homes.  We only take items that are gently used and have a solid resale value.”

Strong foundation for success

Wainwright started out at Purdue in pre-pharmacy before changing to business. She was particularly inspired by classes on entrepreneurship. 

“Those classes coupled with finance, accounting, consumer psychology and statistics provided the foundation for my success. Adding art classes gave me a creative outlet that greatly influenced me.  As Andy Warhol said, 'Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.'”

Being a successful woman in a world dominated by male CEOs can be daunting, but Wainwright offers this advice for young women: “Don’t let others define your success or your life. Recognize the obstacles are real, but don’t get sidetracked by others’ agendas.

“Krannert is being redefined and is creating an exciting entrepreneurial ecosystem,” she says. “This energy and focus will lead to true innovation.”