Finding value with The RealReal founder

The List 2022 honoree Julie Wainwright answers “20 Questions”
By Lottie Watts
Published Sep 29, 2021

The RealReal Founder and CEO Julie Wainwright is one of the dynamic leaders on The List of People Shaping Retail’s Future 2022 who will be celebrated at the NRF Foundation Honors. She reveals how her childhood experience shaped the company she founded, the driving force behind the success of online resale for authenticated luxury and more.

The List 2022 honoree Julie Wainwright answers “20 Questions” from the NRF Foundation.

Here are a few questions, along with Wainwright’s answers (watch the video above for all “20 Questions”):

What experience helped you the most in retail?

The RealReal is a little different. We actually embrace the circular economy, and my experience was really growing up, where my father would take me to the dump on the weekend and look for things of value people had discarded.

He was an artist, so he would then recreate those things. He would take them home where a cog in a wheel would become a chandelier. A discarded pew from a church would become recovered and refurbished, and then end up in a bar in our house. My experience in looking for beautiful things that may have been discarded really set me up well for The RealReal and honoring things of value.

What do you do to stand out?

As a company, The RealReal absolutely stands out, and we did it by honoring the legacy of the beautiful things we sell. We have a deep respect for the brands and the integrity of the products they sell. Our goal was to create a great brand experience in The RealReal that honors these luxury goods and extends their life.

What innovations are you most proud of?

The RealReal revolutionized the resale space for luxury goods. That in and of itself created a cultural change in the U.S. We have always been omnichannel as soon as we opened our first retail store about four years ago and we did it in a way that was revolutionary at the time.

And then, we’ve added a sustainability calculator. What this does is calculates the positive impact of buying previously owned things on the environment. We worked with data scientists to understand the positive impact of the circular economy and to see if we could quantify it in a way that was scientifically proven. The sustainability calculator is on all of our products, and anyone that sells gets a complete count of all the carbon they’ve been offset by recirculating their goods.

What does the future of retail look like?

Omnichannel – but it’s more than that. The future of retail looks like a differentiated experience than what it was before. It’s not just goods on the shelf. It’s involvement with the customer. It’s helping them understand why they should shop there. It’s an experience when they walk in the door.

It is everchanging and it really should be creating joy. The future of retail can be bright, but it does need to change, and this is a great time to embrace that change. People are hungry to get back in stores and experience a really good retail experience.

What career advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?

When I was 20 years old, I was studying pharmacy at Purdue University. When I changed my major to business, I had no idea how exciting it would be. I just knew I loved both the science and the art of business, so what I would say is continue to embrace change and be fearless.

The NRF Foundation connects people to an industry that’s a great place to start and a great place to grow. Since 2015, the NRF Foundation Honors has raised the funds to continue to provide programs and resources to help people build better lives and stronger communities. Join us in New York City and be a part of the story of how retail builds extraordinary careers.

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