Ariel Kaye, Parachute Founder: How Well Are You Sleeping?
Ariel Kaye is the founder and CEO of Parachute — that yummy Venice Beach shop changing the way (and the amount of hours) that you sleep every night. Think you know a thing or two about thread count and fabric breathability? Think again. Ariel’s dialogue around how and why and when you should be sleeping, and what you should be sleeping on, will take your wellness game to the stars. After ten years in the Big Apple, Ariel returned home to sunny, sandy California where she built the first brand to inherently inquire: ‘How well do you sleep at night?’
What has the journey been like to get to where you are today?
I’m from Santa Monica. I grew up here, then lived in New York for ten years. I worked in advertising — I was on the strategic side of creative, doing a lot of big consumer behavior research projects, which I’ve always found super interesting. It’s about understanding what inspires people, what motives them, and how to connect with them. It’s always been really important for me to put the consumer first and understand them — that adds value and does something really interesting. It’s about figuring out meaningful ways to connect.
I’ve always been obsessed with interior design and home decor, so that’s what brought me to Parachute. I had a home blog when I was in grad school and for fun, I started helping friends and family decorate their apartments. I got some of them photographed for various design blogs. It got to a point when I realized that whenever I’d go out and people would ask me what I did, I wanted to say that I was an interior designer instead of working in advertising. I think that was the moment I realized that I was in a place with my career where I didn’t need to keep doing anything I didn’t love.
I had a bunch of friends that were joining early stage startups or starting their own companies at the time. In watching them all of a sudden find their passion and get so inspired by what they were working on, I realized that what was missing in my career was the idea of building something and creating something that had a life of it’s own. This was the end of 2012 — I decided that I wanted to do something much more entrepreneurial and I wanted to work in the home space. I felt that I finally had this opportunity to combine what I was really passionate about and what I had learned and been working on. I realized that there wasn’t really a home brand that I wanted to work for. This was also around the time that direct-to-consumer businesses were picking up — Warby Parker and Everlane had just launched - and I felt like, ‘Wow, there’s this consumer out there that’s just like me and wants really nice things, but doesn’t want to pay an arm and a leg for them, yes isn't going to sacrifice quality, and they want to connect with the brand.’
On the other side of it, I’ve always practiced mindfulness and wellness has always been important to me. I couldn’t believe that there was a brand that had never asked me how I slept at night. Sleep is so essential to everything you do — your health, your happiness, your productivity. Parachute became a merging-of-the-worlds in thinking about wellness and educating customers and helping people sleep better at night.
At Parachute, we’ve created something very easy on the eye — we focus on neutrals and simple fabrics. I think that the bedroom and the bath should be the most relaxing spaces in the home. So that’s really what we try to do — create these beautiful products that speak for themselves but aren’t overwhelming. You’re not going to see big bold prints or crazy colors, which for some people is great, but that’s not what we’re doing. Now we have our first store and we really want it to be a place where people can come hang out. That’s been the most fun about having a store — people come here and they spent thirty for forty minutes wanting to touch everything and ask questions and mix and match fabrics and colors. Then all of the sudden, the space comes alive in a very real way.
What's inspired the Parachute aesthetic?
I’m very inspired by what I like to call a “beach desert chic” look. I grew up steps from the sand, and now, we’re steps from the sand. We do a lot of walk and talk meetings on the beach. If I don’t put my feet in the sand every day, I feel like something is wrong. I grew up going to the desert and Joshua Tree and all of that. The combination of these two have definitely been my inspiration. Our signature bedding is called the Venice — it’s inspired by where this business started. It makes me feel very warm and fuzzy inside.
Why was it important for you to come to LA to start Parachute?
I was at a point in life where I wanted to slow down a little bit, even though I knew that stating a business is the opposite of slowing down. I felt the hustle and energy of NYC - which is amazing - but I grew up by the beach and just felt that I needed to come home, because I knew that I was going to have this roller coaster of a year in starting a business.
I also wanted to be in a space where the sun was shining every day and I could be outside and have fresh air and not be confined to my apartment. There can be very dark periods of time when you’re building a company and trying to do a lot of things by yourself — it can feel lonely and isolating. It was important for me to be in nice weather, even though I was definitely one of those people that said I would never leave New York. At some point, the idea of coming home and being around your family is nicer than a big city life.
What were some of the biggest obstacles you faced while getting the business off the ground?
To be perfectly honest, everything was an obstacle at first. There was nothing that came easy — I was the sole founder and didn’t have a partner, which has its pros and cons. There were a lot of days when I’d have this insane to-do list. It’s during those moments when you’re like, ‘Where do I even begin?!’ because there’s just so much that you want to do.
My background is also not in e-commerce and it’s not in textiles, so I had to learn a lot really quickly. A lot of the inspiration behind this business comes from what I liked aesthetically and what I felt was missing from the market. I remember simple things, like us getting our first shipment of inventory for people who had done pre-orders when all of a sudden, I realized that I hadn’t ordered any boxes. It’s those most basic things that you don’t think about.
I’d say the biggest challenge early on was that I put my savings into this company, but still needed to raise money. When you’re an e-commerce business, you're faced with this crazy Catch 22 where people say, ‘Oh yeah that’s a cool idea, but I need to see progress…’ and you’re like, ‘Well I can’t have progress unless I have money and inventory is really expensive.’ That was certainly a big challenge and it took a lot longer than I expected to be able to get the capital. I had to be really scrappy and creative with how I showed progress during times when there was none to be shown.
Can you speak more to this dialogue that Parachute has going about the importance of sleep?
A lot of my big aha moments were during this time when people really started investing in themselves — people began taking the time to care for themselves and care about what they put on their body in a new way. They started caring more about working out and realizing that everything they use in their life makes an impact on their health. And when you don’t get a good night of sleep, it throws everything off.
Your bed is such an important place. When I started thinking about that from a brand perspective, I realized that there were no brands that I could relate to. I only had this Bed Bath and Beyond kind of experience of going to a department store to buy things, but that was a brandless experience. I couldn’t believe that a brand had never asked me how I sleep at night.
What we’ve tried to do is hang our hat on this idea that sleep is really important and that it plays such an important role in your life. But then, also, educating people and shifting the conversation to what really matters when it comes to buying these products. People need to know what to look for. There are things like thread count that people talk about — they think that determines quality, but it’s doesn't. We’ve tried to shift the dialogue to focus more on the caliber of the fabric and the fibers and how they’re woven — making sure there’s no toxic chemicals or artificial dyes throughout the entire process. We’re educating people about that — you can say that you have organic cotton, but there’s an entire manufacturing process that can be covered in silicone or formaldehyde or all these things that you definitely don’t want to sleep on.
Can you talk about your process for creating fabrics and why it's so unique?
We have two different types of fabrics that are made out of long-staple Egyptian cotton, which are percale and sateen — both are made in Italy. They’re made out of the same fibers, so it’s just the actual weaving process that changes whether it’s percale or sateen. We don’t use any toxic chemicals or synthetic dyes on any products across the board. They’re all Oeko-Tex certified, which is the highest certification to ensure that there are no chemicals.
Something else we’ve had to educate our customers on is silicone — when you buy products that are coated in silicone, they might feel insanely soft right out of the bag, but after five or six washes, those coatings start to dissipate and begin pilling until the fabric is virtually unrecognizable. We’ve chosen to go the alternative route, which is truly having the most pure fibers that will continue to get better and better. That’s really what you want. You want things that wear well — things that get softer. Of course we want people to love it from the moment they first sleep in it, but we also want them to know that it will continue to get better and better.
We also offer 100% linen bedding — it’s made in Portugal. Linen’s not made out of cotton — it’s made out of flax, so you’re working with an entirely different plant. Our garments are washed again to give some extra breaking-in and softness. It’s washed similarly to the way that jeans are washed and produced. Linen is the kind of fabric that a lot of people think about for warmer months, but it’s really great year around. Most people also think about it as this thin, airy material — it is airy and the weaving is a bit wider so you get that breathable feel, but it’s actually a much thicker fabric than percale and sateen.
We also have other products, like our seasonal bedding, that we introduce a few times a year. My favorite — even though I shouldn’t pick favorites, but I just can’t help it — is our quilt collection. I obviously love our bedding, but I’m just obsessed with these quilts right now. They’re linen on one side and percale on the back — they’re the most soft, dreamy things. My boyfriend and I fight over it. We now have two on the bed so we can each have our own, because that becomes a battle.
What are some of your healthy life hacks as an entrepreneur?
Balance is really important. You hear about so many entrepreneurs burning out and hitting a wall because it all becomes too much. For me, it’s really easy to get overwhelmed with work. I try to set limitations and to have that balance — whether it’s making sure I work out regularly, or that I’m taking that yoga class, or making the decision to not respond to emails after 10pm. One thing I swear by is keeping the blue light out of the bedroom as much as possible to help me sleep. I think everyone struggles with that, but it’s really important to me. Investing in an alarm clock is so important just because it gets you away from having your phone in the bedroom, and I sleep better knowing it’s not there. Plus, it's comforting to know that you can’t wake up and reach for it in the middle of the night. That significantly changes the way that you sleep.
Something my mom taught me when I was younger was to cleanse the day away so you get into bed feeling cleansed, so I try to take a warm shower every night. I don’t necessarily wash my hair, but to have even two seconds to rinse off really relaxes my body. I think it gives my body that cue that it’s time to get ready for bed — this was especially true when I was running around NYC — it’s so nice to cleanse the day off and get into bed feeling like you’re present and that it’s time to rest. Not eating late at night certainly helps, as well, but that's another tricky one to follow.
What's your idea of legacy?
It was hard to build this business, so I hope that my children will be proud of that. Having a brand that has purpose in impacting people’s lives in a positive way is so important to me. One organization that’s really important to me, and that we have a partnership with, is Nothing but Nets — they provide life-saving malaria nets in Africa. I think about how many of those we’ve donated, and it’s tremendous. We’re providing our customers with a great night’s sleep, and they are as well — they’re keeping people safe. Being an aware and responsible business is a really powerful and important element for me with Parachute.
Also, for every customer who says, ‘This is the best night of sleep I’ve ever had! I didn’t know that I could ever have this experience’ — that never gets old. It makes me feel all the feelings — that inspires our entire team and keeps us going. I want to build a business that stays around for a long time and continues to impact people. I want to continue to think of ways to make even bigger differences.