A Lifestyle Brand Finds Success by Skipping Trends and Committing to Deliberate, Socially Sustainable Growth

For Apolis, that means getting creators of unique handmade goods from the developing world access to customers looking for one-of-a-kind products.

(Photo: Courtesy Apolis; illustration: Jessica De Jesus)

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Sep 29, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Bekah Wright is a Los Angeles–based journalist who specializes in travel, entertainment, and lifestyle.

Most new companies in today’s world of breakneck growth do not operate with a 50-year business plan, but that’s just one of many ways that Apolis, a Los Angeles­–based fashion and lifestyle brand, differs from other start-ups. Shea Parton and his brother, Raan, founded Apolis—which is Greek for “global citizen”—with an unusual business model: team up with artisan communities and cooperatives around the world to codesign products for a higher-end, global customer base.

As Parton puts it, “Everyone knows the quote, ‘Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.’ What we were learning was, the world has plenty of well-trained fishermen, but they often don’t have the right bait or a large enough pond.” For Apolis, that means getting creators of unique handmade goods from the developing world access to first-world customers looking for one-of-a-kind products.

The brothers started Apolis as a T-shirt business in high school to raise awareness for global challenges. The shirts caught on, and by college, the Parton brothers were shipping T-shirts to department stores like Bloomingdale’s from their dorm rooms. With a quickly growing consumer base and retail clients of this caliber, the brothers had to ensure their shirts were delivered on time, professionally, and cost-effectively. To that end, Parton credits UPS labels and packaging for helping to make the brothers’ dorm-room operation look as good—and run as smoothly—as larger businesses.

(Photo: Courtesy Apolis)

Apolis became a full-time endeavor in 2007, and the brothers upgraded to headquarters in downtown Los Angeles’ Arts District. Gaining momentum, Apolis took on more projects, including a 50-unit test order of market bags from a Bangladeshi women’s cooperative. “Fast-forward two years, and we’ve sold over 70,000 units and employed this group of female artisans,” Parton says, adding, “Apolis is by no means an overnight story; it’s a patient, gradual one.”

November Look. (Photo: Courtesy Apolis)

This success doesn’t mean that the Parton brothers have relentlessly pursued every sales opportunity that crosses Apolis’ path. They actively avoid short-term fashion trends or one-off projects in favor of developing sustainable growth—a key lesson for business owners interested in a stable, steady business model. Apolis receives several collaboration requests each day but moves forward on approximately one out of 100. For example, an opportunity to develop an organic-certified supply chain in Turkey was declined when they realized that it was cost-prohibitive and wouldn’t allow for the company’s goal of job creation.

Apolis’ relationship with UPS also grew from just working with the logistics leader for its shipping and packaging needs during those early dorm-room days. Having earned the trust and confidence of the Partons after years of proved dependability, UPS now delivers Apolis’ products to international partners and clients with comprehensive insurance and tracking policies. “It’s pretty powerful to see what good logistics can do,” Parton says. “There’s a sense of no borders, and we see our global citizen philosophy playing out by being able to connect with people and making things accessible.”

When it comes to its future, Parton focuses on building resilience through a solid base of partners, sales, and impact. “By having patience and loving what we do, we’re able to give people ownership over their craft and to determine their own future,” he says. “In the next 10 years of business, we’re really looking forward to building the foundation that will last us for 50 more years.” That foundation will not only ensure Apolis’ longevity but also empower artists and creators from the developing world to help build a better global community.