When Parade CEO Cami Téllez’s parents were in their mid-20s, they fled their home in Baranquilla, Colombia to escape the civil unrest that had taken over the country for decades. Determined to start a better life and build a future for their family, they moved to California and began paving the road to their stability.
Her parents’ undertaking, Cami says, is a core reason she has the grit needed to build her fast-growing, direct-to-consumer startup.
“My parents taught me the power of imagination as they envisioned a new life for themselves here in the U.S. and fought for the American dream,” Cami tells Latina. “The work of a founder is that of imagination for a better future for our category, whether it be more equitable, diverse, sustainable, and I feel strongly that without the self-determinism of my parents I wouldn’t be here today.”
Today, Cami, 23, is the co-founder and CEO of Parade, a million-dollar underwear company that has sold over 1 million pairs of underwear in under two years. Her rapid success with Parade recently earned her a spot on the 2021 Forbes 30 Under 30. With funding from investors like Shakira, Karlie Kloss, Jen Rubio and Neil Blumenthal, Parade has raised over $20 million in venture capital since its launch in 2019. The company is valued at $70 million by Maveron Ventures, founded by former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz.
The idea for Parade came to co-founder Jack DeFuria and Cami in 2018, when she was still a student at Columbia University. To her family, an Ivy league degree was the epitome of success in America, Cami says, but seeing her pursue her passion and open a business made them even more proud.
Cami was not new to the VC world — she had been gaining experience at VC firms since high school — and she had a sense of what it would take to launch a business. In order to fully dedicate herself to launching Parade, Cami dropped out of college. “I have always been hugely optimistic about the potential of the American dream and about our ability as entrepreneurs to ultimately make a contribution,” Cami says. “I did not want to wait to make a contribution.”
Through Parade, Cami aims to “rewrite the American underwear story” by offering size inclusivity — with underwear and bralettes that range from XS to 3XL — and stripping the harmful stereotypes that plague the $13 billion dollar underwear industry.
“The voice of the customer was completely missing,” Cami says. “I think the greatest reward of all is to be able to redeem a category for the customer that has done wrong to so many people by forcing one standard of sexiness and excluding people with different body types.”
While thankful for her early success with Parade, Cami notes there’s still a long way to go when it comes to equity in venture capital funding. Between 2015 and 2020, Black and Latinx founders raised over $15 billion but still only represented 2.4 percent of total venture capital funding.
“When I look sideways, I don’t really have peers of my age that are of immigrant descent and I wonder to myself how my experience might be different if I did,” Cami says. “Would it have been easier, would it have been faster? Would it have been less lonely?”
For her dose of inspiration from Latina leaders, Cami looks toward Colombian journalist and editor-in-chief of Elle Magazine Nina Garcia, the world’s top-paid actress Sofia Vergara, and Latinx hair-care brand Ceremonia founder Babba Rivera. In a written statement to Latina, key investor Shakira shared her support for Cami and Parade.
“When I first learned about Parade, I was a fan of the company and their products and was interested in coming in as an investor. Then I found out that the founder, Cami, had roots from my hometown! I’ve been so impressed with how much Parade has grown this last year,” Shakira says. “I’m proud to be investing in another Latin entrepreneur who is representing the next generation of young, diverse minds that are disrupting the old guard with a fresh take on the apparel industry that appeals to the savvy consumers of today.”
Cami is also hopeful to see more young entrepreneurs and Latinx founders break into the field to build a more just and equitable startup world.
“I’m excited to see more Latinx people start to take risks and challenge the norms and come out to reinvent the status quo,” Cami says. “I’m looking forward to meeting them and building a community alongside them.”