On California’s picturesque coast, Montecito has gained a reputation as an exclusive enclave of entrepreneurs. Media mogul Oprah Winfrey, former Google chief executive officer Eric Schmidt and Lucky Brand cofounder Gene Montesano all have found respite there, some 90 miles north of Los Angeles’ hustle and bustle.
Another pair of local businessmen marked their start in the apparel industry from their high school’s parking lot. Using their car as an early outpost of their growing retail empire, Raan and Shea Parton sold graphic T-shirts, printed with high-minded phrases such as “global citizen” and “defend tomorrow,” under the label Apolis to their teen peers. Born three years apart with the same blonde hair and blue eyes, the Parton brothers represented quintessential Southern Californians who played water polo for their high school and surfed competitively under the sponsored banners of Oakley, Nixon, O’Neill and Arnett.
“It gave us the ability to travel a ton,” said Raan Parton, 35, who serves as Apolis’ creative director. One stop during a break from college was in San Sebastián, Spain, where he discovered a clothing brand called Loreak Mendian.
“It was the first product where there was an artistic approach, textiles from Europe and Japan, organic denim left outside three months to bleach. The world we had grown up in was removed from the process of the actual garments,” he recalled. “It was an artful approach.…There was a motive behind it.”
Almost 20 years following their mobile mercantilism and a period of shipping orders out of Shea Parton’s college dorm room in San Diego, the brothers have found “passion with a purpose” in Apolis, now based in L.A. with a staff of 30 and sales totaling less than $20 million. They preside over flagships in Los Angeles and New York, a collaboration with Freak’s Store to make clothes out of cotton grown in tsunami-ravaged Fukushima, Japan, and a global network of artisans, including a women’s co-op in rural Bangladesh that has sewn more than 200,000 jute bags carried by customers in Zurich; New Zealand’s Waiheke Island; Lubbock, Tex., and other locales. They buck traditional retail practices, avoiding redline discounts, skipping runway presentations and curtailing the wholesale business for their men’s apparel. Some have initiated talks on Apolis boutiques in Japan and France, perhaps in 2018.
With his wife, Lindsay, Raan also operates a multibrand chain called Alchemy Works, which carries fashion and home brands such as Janessa Leone and JFM and hosts Warby Parker’s showrooms, in Los Angeles and Newport Beach. Another L.A. spot and an expansion to Denver are slated for this year.
Advocates of nurturing relationships and encouraging transparency, Apolis has been certified as a B corporation — meaning it needs to pass rigid requirements for environmental, employee and other standards — and gathered a community of creatives, including Off-White founder Virgil Abloh, artist Tom Sachs and architect Taavo Somer, to share ideas with their customers through a speaker series.
“The generation of brands preying upon people’s insecurities is kind of dead,” said Shea, 32, the company’s ceo. As he sees it, the new way of doing business has become “so much more collaborative, totally valuing the personal relationship, whether it was with a vendor or someone who loves our brand. The second you don’t value that, you become very isolated.”
Helping the Partons find their purpose has been an eclectic group of mentors. There’s Dale Denkensohn, who was their neighbor in Montecito and an early advocate of organic cotton at Patagonia. Tom Adler, a publisher of tasteful books on surf culture, also was one. Their father, also named Lindsay, who headed a construction company, passed down a strong work ethic and the advice to always pay employees first, even when money was tight. “He also instilled in us this relational aspect to business,” Shea said. Proving his father right, he doesn’t hesitate to excuse himself from a conversation with his brother and a visitor to help a customer who wanders, slightly confused about the varying sizes of jute bags, around Apolis’ store in L.A.’s Arts District. Minutes later, he’s handing a brown shopping bag to the customer. “It comes down to customer engagement.”
Raan realized that, with its emphasis on deadlines and materials, “the apparel manufacturing side is way closer to the construction industry.” It’s a lesson that escaped him when his father allowed him and his pre-teen friends to demolish three vacant homes. In a roundabout way, he has become enmeshed in the construction sector he vowed never to enter because, as his brother explained, “it’s so risky, so cutthroat, so unglamorous.”
Through DJM Capital Partners, where their father is president and their youngest brother, Stenn, leads the merchandising, Raan and Shea Parton reassured Steven Alan and Clare Vivier to expand to Orange County at DJM-developed Lido Marina Village in Newport Beach, where Alchemy Works also has a retail presence.
They place importance on relations. “We’re able to get access to people that wouldn’t be in the same room together,” Raan said. “Building that environment is a metaphor for the philosophy we’re trying to drive home.”