INTERVIEW: Cara Barrett

Interview by Brynn Wallner, photos by Cobey Arner 
          Cara Barrett is the founder of Parchie, a kids watch brand named after the imaginary friend she had as a kid. Are you obsessed? Before Parchie, she was an editor at HODINKEE, which is where I discovered her. There, she had this ability to convey watch knowledge in a way that felt smart, yes, but also engaging and accessible. A sparkly unicorn galloping through the thorny watch universe. You can imagine my thrill when she followed me back on Instagram this past January and generously regrammed one of my posts. The next day, Dimepiece was up to 1000 followers. Her shout-out literally doubled my audience. True story. The Cara Barrett influence is real. As a young woman aspiring to be in this world (can I still call myself young??) Cara was, and remains, everything. We’ve grown closer over the past year, and I’m happy that our relationship has transcended the internet. A Taurus sister! To see her building her own watch brand after nearly a decade of working with them professionally is truly inspirational. But throughout this success, she’ll be the first to crack a joke at her own expense, laughing away the seriousness that has dominated the industry for so long. A breath of fresh air. It’s Cara Time.

Brynn Wallner: How long were you at HODINKEE?

Cara Barrett: For 6 years. I started in 2015.

BW: That feels like a long time ago.

CB: When I started, there were only 4 people.

BW: Total?

CB: Yeah, I was the 4th. It was really, really tiny when I got there. Now it’s up to almost 200 people!

BW: It must have been crazy to see all that growth first-hand.

CB: It was. I learned a lot. It was really fun.

BW: So you learned a lot about watches, but also about business…

CB: Yes, both. Someone I worked with was like, you don’t even have to go out and get an MBA now. It was such a good experience being hands-on with the business. I worked closely with the senior leaders, particularly for the Limited Editions program that I used to produce. I would just observe all the decisions and the thought processes; and I still apply that to what I’m doing now. It was really instrumental in my professional growth.

BW: So you were an editor at HODINKEE. What does that mean?

CB: Well, when I started, I didn’t have a title. I just began writing because that was the gap that needed to be filled. I picked it up even though I wasn’t a trained writer. I was terrible at it, I thought.

BW: No! I love your writing.

CB: My writing was more stream of consciousness-style, and luckily, my thoughts make sense to some people. I did that for a few years, but because the company was so small, it was all hands on deck. We re-launched the HODINKEE shop with vintage pieces so I was able to help out with that. And later on in my career there, I managed all the Limited Editions, from ideation to execution, marketing and design. That took up the bulk of my last 3 years at HODINKEE, but I would still contribute some pieces to the site here and there.

BW: Like your famous piece? All Watches Should be Unisex. The shot heard around the world.

CB: Yup, and then I quit [laughs].

BW: That was such a mic drop.

CB: I didn’t plan it that way, but that’s how it worked out.

BW: I feel like you really built a legacy and then just kind of dipped.

CB: I mean, I thought it was going to be a series.

BW: Yeah, wasn’t it marketed as a column?

CB: Yes, but it was going to be a series on the industry as a whole, talking about trends and conversing with notable figures. It wasn’t all going to be on gender neutrality – that was just my intro piece.

BW: It was such a statement.

CB: I still get asked about it all the time.

BW: I think that, in effect, it really opened up the dialogue around the topic.

CB: It’s been nice seeing people respond to it. It was all generally positive, which was great, but I never felt like my opinion was the only opinion. I genuinely just wanted people to talk about it. The crux of the argument, really, is that women aren’t being spoken to in the watch industry as professionals or properly as consumers, and that’s what I wanted to get across.

BW: Have you noticed an evolution in the way women are spoken to (or marketed to) since you’ve started your career in watches?

CB: I’ve been working in watches for almost 10 years, and it seems like, now, there are more women in the conversation. At least socially. Like, Dimepiece coming onto the scene, and then collectives like Watch Femme. Just more women being vocal about watches and into them for their own reasons. When I started, I never felt comfortable liking watches for the reasons I did, which is, like, they look good or they go with this outfit. My reasons for liking watches were very niche and specific versus the way I noticed men appreciated them. So, with more women engaged in the conversation, it feels like a much more welcoming place; whereas before, it felt very skewed.

BW: You said you got into watches 10 years ago… so before HODINKEE, you were at Sotheby’s, right?

CB: I was at Sotheby’s in the Watches Department for 2 or 3 years.

BW: Was that your first foray into watches?

CB: Well, I always noticed them growing up. My dad had a watch, and I remember him giving my mom one – he and I actually picked it up together. It was a Bvlgari Parentesi watch. She lost it on the golf course, actually.

BW: Nooo! Too strong of a swing?

CB: Yep, she’s just too good. Anyway, I've always observed watches, and then as I got older, I became curious about how people’s personalities would be reflected in their watch selection. If I saw someone wearing a Rolex, I’d think, oh, they’re in finance, or whatever. I’d always be making these assumptions, which sounds terrible, but I’ve always been into why people pick things, why they’re drawn to them. A watch said more about a person to me than any other fashion accessory. That started around age 15 or 16. I didn’t even know you could work in watches until I took the job at Sotheby’s.

BW: Were you a cataloguer?

CB: Yes I was.

BW: So you got really into the nitty gritty.

CB: I saw a lot of watches, I catalogued a lot of watches, tried on a lot of watches.

BW: That's how you learn!

CB: Yeah, it was amazing. I was doing 300 watches per catalogue.

BW: Click clackin away! So then somehow, HODINKEE found you?

CB: Yeah, the opportunity arose and it just sounded interesting. The internet!

BW: So different from Sotheby’s... but, honestly, part of the beauty of working at an auction house is that it’s so old school, so rarefied.

CB: Totally. And that approach makes sense for their business and the things they sell. But I was just looking for something new, and HODINKEE was it. 

BW: And now here you are – you just launched Parchie!

CB: Parchie!! My very own watch company.

BW: How did you come up with the idea?

CB: A few years ago, I noticed there wasn’t a watch on the kids market that spoke to me. There wasn’t anything that I would want to purchase for the kids in my life. I grew up with a FlikFlak, and I always found it very charming and sentimental. But besides that… I mean, people love getting gifts for their kids, and a lot of collectors themselves want to bond with their kids over watches. So I thought it’d be fun to introduce a – I don’t want to say elevated, but – a more traditionally designed watch for kids that adults would also enjoy. So I started thinking about it, and to get things going, I came up with a name to make it real. Parchie was my imaginary friend growing up.

BW: So cute.

CB: Parchie was always late! Parchie needed a watch, so he made one for himself. Now, he’s not late.

BW: I love the bezel.

CB: It’s a mini dive watch!

BW: Were you very involved in the design process?

CB: Yes, I worked with a manufacturer with an initial idea. We went back and forth on iterations of what it could look like, made a few tweaks, and that was that. I’m happy with how they turned out.

BW: How does it feel? This was just an idea 2 years ago, and now it’s out in the world!

CB: It was very surreal, launching. I’ve always wanted to be my own boss, to have my own thing, so to be able to make that happen and have it come to life, to do something that I love, has been really fun. Parchie has been well received – people seem to enjoy them, share them, love them… so I’ve got big hopes and dreams for little Parchie.

BW: We love Parchie!

CB: Yeah, and I’ve also noticed that kids' watches have buckles, but never NATO straps! I didn’t understand why that was.

BW: I mean, kids friggin’ love velcro.

CB: And it fits everyone! Well, up to 6.5 – but I’m working on longer straps for people of all wrist sizes. I get a lot of men in their 60s, DM-ing me, asking for bigger sizes, which is really sweet. They love it!

BW: That really speaks to all the work you’ve done, to create something that transcends generations.

CB: It’s been so fun.

BW: What’s the target age group, though?

CB: 6 years and up.

BW: It’s really smart to identify watches as a way for parents and children to bond. Have you seen that weird book R is for Rolex?

CB: Yeah, people love that book.

BW: It’s, like, a thing.

CB: Well, if you’re really into watches, you want your kids to be into them too. And Parchie is also a learning tool. It teaches kids how to tell time.

BW: Right, because kids aren’t walking around with iPhones.

CB: They shouldn’t be! Enough screen time.

BW: People tell me it’s so funny that I’ve gotten into watches because… why? You don’t even need a watch to tell time. But I think people are burnt out, frankly, and it’s nice to leave the house without your phone.

CB: And watches are very discreet – if you’re in a meeting looking at your phone to get the time, it looks rude.

BW: Although… people were mad at Kaia Gerber wearing a watch with her gown at the Met Gala because it’s “rude” to check the time.

CB: Technically, she shouldn't have worn a watch with that outfit, but It’s 202...1. I almost said 2022. I also don’t know what year it is.

BW: Where are we right now?

CB: It’s 2020, part II. The sequel. We’re going into the 3rd season next year.

BW: So, Parchie. Some of them are already sold out, right?

CB: The green one!

BW: I was lucky enough to nab the green Parchie. Get yourself on a waitlist! Like the Supreme kids waiting around the block. What size are the Parchies again?

CB: 32mm. Any smaller and the numbers would have been illegible.

BW: It looks great. Well done! For real.

CB: Thank you, thank you.

BW: Do you just sell independently or are you in stores, too?

CB: Direct-to-consumer, for now. Gotta let the ink dry.

BW: It must feel nice to work with product. Obviously challenging, but exciting to work with something tangible versus, say, writing something that will just live on the internet.

CB: Yeah, I always gravitated toward the tangible, which is why I was happy working on Limited Editions. Writing was always such an energy drain for me. I have ADD, so it really took a lot of time and effort. If I didn’t love a topic, it would take me forever. Stories like All Watches Should be Unisex were great, though, or the Paul Newman watch auction. I loved those stories, they flowed out of me. But the other pieces were very difficult for me to connect with. I’m sure every writer feels this way. So, yes, I like working on something physical: seeing physical results, seeing it out there, seeing the sales. It’s very inspirational.

BW: I get that.

CB: And you can tweak product. But as a writer, you rarely get to go back and tweak your opinion. You read the comments and other people’s opinions…

BW: I mean, the comments on HODINKEE… I still haven’t read the comments on the piece you wrote about me, and I don’t think I ever will.

CB: They were really positive! I read them. But you’re better for it, not reading the comments. I took a 3 year hiatus from reading them. It just wasn’t productive. It made me feel bad, and then I didn't want to write anymore. But I had to because it was my job.

BW: I hope for a future in which… well, no, I don’t think mean comments will ever go away.

CB: No, they won’t. It’s human nature. Just hug the ones you love.

BW: Hug the ones you love! Do you have any advice for women trying to get into the watch world? Or really anyone who’s interested but feels intimidated because they can’t afford, like, a Rolex?

I think watches really are for everyone, and I think they can be meaningful to you even if they cost a dollar, or a thousand dollars. It shouldn’t be about money or price or status. Whatever brings you joy is the watch for you. Watches should always be fun – that was my approach at HODINKEE and still my approach today. I think that’s part of why I started Parchie, to make watches fun again! Things get lost in the watch nerdery of it all, but that’s why it’s so exciting to see more women involved. Having different voices in the conversation makes it less serious. I love watches! They’re cool! Why take them so seriously? Enjoy them.