Around a decade ago, when many DTC darlings were launching, the retail landscape looked much different than it does today. E-commerce and social media weren't as sophisticated as they are now, and larger retailers and brands were "los[ing] their way trying to appeal to more and more people," according to Katie Thomas, who leads the Kearney Consumer Institute, a think tank at consulting firm Kearney.
The past decade has led several companies in the inaugural class of DTC brands to have great success, including through IPOs, acquisitions or investments from big names in the industry. Others, however, haven't been as fortunate. Custom menswear brand J. Hilburn, for example, last year filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, while other brands have shuttered entirely. From IPOs and acquisitions to C-suite shuffling, here's a look at where five early DTC players ended up:
- Casper aimed to disrupt the way consumers purchase mattresses through its bed-in-a-box model. Since its founding in 2014, the brand has expanded beyond mattresses into other categories like dog beds, CBD gummies and a smart nightlight. Casper has formed partnerships with over 25 retailers, including Target, Nordstrom, Costco, Sam's Club, Bed Bath & Beyond and Mattress Warehouse. As of September, the brand operated 72 retail stores. And in March of 2019, Casper reached a $1.1 billion valuation following a funding round. In early 2020, before the pandemic was fully realized in the U.S., Casper filed for an initial public offering. Before making its public debut in February of that year, the brand cut its share price from an initial range of $17 to $19 a share to a range of $12 to $13 a share. Despite high hopes for the brand, Casper's stock price hit an all-time low of $3.18 a share less than two months after going public and has yet to return to its opening share price.
- Bonobos was founded in 2007 as a result of not being able to find pants that fit. Since its launch, the DTC brand has expanded into shirts and suits. And the brand caught the attention of the biggest retailer in the world. About a decade after entering the market, Walmart acquired the brand for $310 million in cash -- and brought on co-founder Andy Dunn to oversee the retail giant's collection of digitally native brands. However, in 2019, Dunn announced he would be leaving his role at Walmart.
- Warby Parker -- whose success spurred phrases like "The Warby Parker of X" -- made its public debut via direct listing in September amid a slew of DTC brands entering the public markets. Since its founding in 2010, the brand has expanded beyond simply selling eyewear to offering contact lenses and eye exams. Like many DTC brands that have gone public in recent years, though, Warby Parker has struggled with profitability. While its sales have grown, the brand has either reported losses or broken even every year since fiscal 2018, with a $55.9 million net loss in 2020.
- Allbirds: Tim Brown, a New Zealand native, was curious why merino wool was essentially nonexistent in the footwear industry. And thus, Allbirds was born. Together with Joey Zwillinger, the pair founded the brand in 2015. Over the years, Allbirds has expanded beyond its wool sneakers into products like performance footwear, apparel and an activewear line. Sustainability has remained a key focus for Allbirds -- which is a certified B Corp -- from using recycled packaging to displaying the carbon footprint of its products. Since going public, the brand has revealed it too struggles to make money, nearly doubling its net loss year over year in its most recent quarter to $13.8 million.
- Away broke into the market in 2016 with the goal of creating "thoughtful products designed to make travel more seamless," and around two years later, the company said it had reached profitability -- somewhat of a rarity in the direct-to-consumer space. But the company's culture has come under fire. In an article published by The Verge in 2019, former employees described a "culture of intimidation and constant surveillance" that reportedly involved co-founder and then-CEO Steph Korey, who was "infamous for tearing into people on Slack." Days later, the brand announced Stuart Haselden, Lululemon's former chief operating officer, would be taking the helm and Korey would be stepping into an executive chairman role. However, about a month later Away announced Haselden and Korey would become co-CEOs of the company. To further complicate things, Korey officially stepped down from the co-CEO role in October 2020, positioning Haselden at the helm -- that is, until he too stepped down in February this year. Co-founder Jen Rubio is now the brand's chief executive officer. The brand, which centers around travel, suffered when the pandemic took hold, reporting a 90% decline in sales in April 2020, though it was able to raise $35 million in funding later that year. And last month, Away named its first chief operating officer and chief digital officer.