We’re not out of the clear with the pandemic, inflation, and supply chain headwinds — and other economic shifts that have occurred as a result. If there’s any clear cut trend the retail industry has noticed over the last year, however, it’s that companies who can innovate in unique ways are more likely to thrive amid these challenges. This is where retail startups come in — companies that are flipping the status quo to create engaging, interactive retail experiences that are changing the way consumers shop.
For RIS’ fifth annual showcase of retail startups, editors highlighted retailers that are inspiring consumers in innovative ways. RIS considered retailers that were seven years old or younger. Past retail startups we’ve included in our feature have gone on to grow, with last year’s highlighted retailer Showfields recently opening a new concept store, House of Showfields, in Brooklyn, for example.
Click here to view last year's "Hot Retail Startups."
Below are the retail startups making waves in the retail industry, innovating in unique ways with distinctive business models, leveraging unique technologies, and disrupting their categories.
Headquarters: New York, NY
Opened: 2019 as a pop-up, permanently in September 2022
Funding: In 2022, the team announced a Series A fundraise of $5.8M to fuel nationwide expansion.
Locations: 3 total: NYC, Chicago, and Atlanta
DE&I: Sloomoo is focused on creating an inclusive, neurodiverse workforce at both the retail and corporate levels, and during “sensory hours,” the store turns down the volume and limits ticket availability to cater to guests with heightened sensitivities.
The experiential retailer also incorporates technology in many aspects of its venue design and experiential play.
“Slimey Mirrors, an installation designed by artists Laia Cabrera + Isabelle Duverger, incorporates a full wall projection map that mirrors your real-life movements as a figure made from virtual slime, allowing you to join the Sloomooverse,” explain Robinovitz and Schiller.
“Sloomoo Institute includes a variety of other tech-forward elements, such as VIBES and MOODS stations in the DIY slime bars that automatically dispense your chosen scent and colors for your personalized sensory creation, as well as ASMR ‘Synthesoothers’ that reflect various satisfying sounds in individualized spaces for a satisfying auditory experience. Our HeART of Slime installation also incorporates the best of experiential technology, providing users with biometric feedback based on their response to playing with slime.”
“When relaxed,” they add, “intelligent slime mold projections move across the table display quickly. When excited, the projections move more slowly. This personal connection between the user and the activity through technology gives another unique layer to Sloomoo Institute’s experiential retail.”
To grow its fan base,Sloomoo Institute engages with a massive community via TikTok (its account has more than 1.6M followers and it boasts up to 29M views on highest performing content), as well as through Instagram and Facebook. “Our massive social media presence indicates just how much excitement there is to be tapped into,” Robinovitz and Schiller note. “The team has a regular cadence of interaction with a variety of influencers to drive business via social media conversations.”
- Headquarters: New York, New York
- Total funding: $23.2 million
- Employees: 1-10
The company has undergone several series of funding, the latest closing $10 million in Series A led by Imaginary Ventures. Through this financing — and partnerships with Red Sea Ventures, Box Group, Great Oaks Ventures, Shrug Capital, Matt Salzberg, Zach Klein and others — Sunday for Dogs will be expanding its line-up of kibble with new recipes. The company is also looking to grow its team and build out its technology platform.
The Waxmans had to get creative on the supply chain side. According to an interview with Tech Crunch, Michael Waxman said there was no formula set up for this type of business, and so the company eventually selected a USDA-monitored jerky kitchen in the U.S. to create the process.
“It took us much longer than we expected,” said Michael Waxman during the interview. “However, the short-term headache is a long-term feature that we’re really excited about. Ultimately, it should serve as a pretty deep moat to prevent would-be competitors from offering similarly high quality and differentiated products.”
- Headquarters: San Francisco, California
- Total funding: $12 million
- Employees: 1-30
- Target shoppers: Women looking to purchase their own jewelry
Additionally, the company created a custom scent it will be incorporating into its boutiques.
"I can't remember a time when I walked into a fine jewelry store without feeling intimidated and out of place," said Skelly in a statement. "That's why we created Cast. We're here to inspire curiosity and discovery, with exclusive collections created in collaboration with some of our favorite designers and artists."
"We set out to change the experience of shopping for fine jewelry by shifting the experience to focus on the person wearing the jewelry," said Ryan.
Last year, the company announced a $12 million funding round led by True Ventures, which has also invested in Peloton and Fitbit. Cast has a heavy marketing presence on Instagram, which it leverages to highlight brand partners.
- Headquarters: Venice, California
- Total funding: $7.7 million
- Employees: 51-100
- Target shoppers: Millennial and Gen Z shoppers
The company first launched in brick-and-mortar stores in 2019, and its products can be found in Walgreens, Target, and CVS stores nationwide, tripling its retail presence between 2019 and 2020 and becoming available on more than 25,000 store shelves across the U.S. As of 2021, the company reports holding a 43% share of the market.
"We know that trying a new period product can be intimidating," said Schulte Wang in a statement. "Our customers told us that Target, Walgreens, and CVS were the places where they were most likely to shop for period products. Increasing our availability in retailers furthers our mission to make comfortable periods accessible to all."
The Flex Co. began with a small product assortment, expanding from discs to cups, biodegradable wipes, cleansers, and storage pouches. The company has focused on sustainability on top of convenience, with its Flex discs and cups generating 60% less waste with the capacity to hold the equivalent of three super tampons.
- Headquarters: Nashville, Tennessee
- Total funding: $21.1 million
- Employees: 1-50
In April 2022, the company turned five years old, with Cavallari commenting at the time that the “journey leading [her] to launch Uncommon James has been the thing I’m most thankful and proud of professionally.”
This digital-first jewelry start-up understandably has an immense social media audience, now boasting 1 million followers on Instagram, with Cavalleri modeling a majority of the designs. Going back to her reality television roots, Cavalerri shared the brand’s evolution on the immensely popular E! Entertainment show, Very Cavalleri, which focused in part on Uncommon James' journey from a single online shopfront to a thriving business.
Sales reportedly skyrocketed after the show first aired, with Uncommon James’ entire stock selling out following the series premiere. While the show came to an end in late 2020, Uncommon James’ star only continues to rise.
- Headquarters: New York, New York
- Total funding: $4.7million
- Employees: 11-50
Both in their late twenties, Songer and Ahlum spent time learning about the impacts of fast fashion on the environment — Songer on The Gap's Rotational Management Program, Ahlum at factories in Shanghai, China — prior to coming up with Thousand Fell. Built using materials such as yoga mats, old vegan leather, and even coconut husks, Thousand Fell's sneakers are completely recycled, free from toxic glues, and embedded with a unique microchip. When customers are ready to get rid of their sneakers, they can scan their shoes, download a shipping label, and return them to Thousand Fell for recycling free of charge.
The shoes are currently available for purchase at Bloomingdale's, Madewell, and Zappos, as well as online. The start-up has also raised $4.7 million in funding. According to the shoemaker's website, their sneakers are “vegan, stain-proof, water resistant, and tested to last for 2.4 million steps.” Each pair has a price point of around $150, making them close to average, or even slightly less, than other premium sneaker brands, and also includes a $20 “recycling fee.”
The pandemic spurred a mass reevaluation of drinking habits, one that founders Nick Bodkins and Barrie Arnold successfully tapped into with the 2021 establishment of Boisson — a non-alcoholic specialty shop in New York.
- Headquarters: Brooklyn, New York
- Total funding: $12 million
- Employees: 1-25
Named in homage to the many French expatriates residing in the Cobble Hill neighborhood of their flagship store, Boisson quickly also opened up shops in Williamsburg, West Village, the Upper East Side, and the Upper West Side. In late 2022, Boisson went bicoastal, establishing stores in Studio City, Brentwood, and Beverly Hills in California. There are also plans afoot to open three new locations in San Francisco, Chicago, and Miami, the founders say.
From pregnant people, to Dry January participants, to those who simply want to cut down on their alcohol consumption, stores like Boisson provide stylish, appealing options in a judgment-free environment. The founders also say a significant proportion of sales come from people who regularly drink alcohol, but simply want to take a short break or a night off from drinking.
The stores work like regular liquor stores, offering around 125 non-alcoholic beverage brands, including zero-proof wines — which account for more than half of the company’s revenue — and beers, spirits, aperitifs, and mixers to go along with them.
“The demand for non-alcoholic beverages has grown significantly over the last year and we are excited to use these funds to expand our presence and begin partnering with restaurants and hospitality organizations,” said Nick Bodkins, CEO and co-founder of Boisson, in a statement following their latest funding round. “We believe the N/A category will become a mainstay in the food and beverage industry and are committed to providing sophisticated zero-proof sips to consumers whether they’re staying at home or enjoying an evening out.”
- Headquarters: Toronto, Canada
- Total funding: $1.4 million
- Employees: 1-10
The start-up’s name harks back to the myth of The Fountain of Youth which, according to the company’s website, “was discovered not by some impressive fleet, but just three ships.” Simplicity and curiosity remain at the heart of the start-up, with each product formulated by chemists and made from 100% plant-based ingredients.
The skincare brand’s top-sellers include The Dew Drops Mushroom Hyaluronic Acid + Vitamin C serum, the Dream Bio-Retinol + Shorea Butter Night Cream, and Brighter Days Red Algae + Avocado Biodegradable Eye Masks.
Personalization is also a big part of Three Ships’ appeal, and visitors to their website can take a one-minute skin quiz, answering six questions in order to be directed towards the best-fit products for their skin type.