As women across the country ditched their heels during the pandemic, shoe company Birdies thrived.
The direct-to-consumer brand sells itself as an “elegant apartment that’s secretly a slipper”. The result: 300% year-over-year growth in April 2021.
It could have been higher. The San Francisco-based company sold all of its seasonal fashion items in November, even after buying double the slippers in 2020 to meet demand. During the winter holidays, they only had the basics available.
“We have never really been able to capture the huge advantage,” said Bianca Gates, co-founder and CEO of Birdies. “We have learned the hard way that in our business you can only sell what you have. “
She declined to share specific sales figures. The price of the shoes ranges from $ 85 to $ 140 a pair.
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The idea for Birdies was born when Gates and co-founder Marisa Sharkey, longtime friends from their Manhattan days, realized they didn’t have a pair of moccasins to wear when entertaining friends over home.
“I had that moment from Mr. Rogers, when he puts on his house shoes,” Gates said.
The duo thought about it, developed a prototype in 2015 and sold 1,800 pairs to friends and family that year. Gates continued to work full time on Facebook, but left in 2017 as Birdies was growing up and the founders decided to raise money.
The brand really took off in 2018 when Meghan Markle was pictured alongside Prince Harry in New Zealand wearing a pair of Birdies flats, sparking the shoe’s sale and a waiting list of 30,000.
Play it safe
As the shoes were already in demand during the pandemic, Birdies didn’t really have to make big pivots.
The health and safety of their team, their customers and their business was at the heart of the founders’ concerns, Gates said.
“Don’t do anything drastic,” she remembers their thinking at the time. “Let’s stay in business and play it safe. “
Already in touch with customers on social media, they doubled their effort – listening to what customers wanted and responding by adjusting their offers, such as making more slides.
“Being directly with the consumer has allowed us to get real-time data and insight from customers,” Gates said.
Find their voice
Gates and Sharkey also became more attentive to their messages last year after George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis cop.
“We had to think a lot internally,” Gates recalls. “Are we talking now?”
“Are we selling shoes or are we building a community? She added.
They also reflected on the brand’s goal of uplifting women, especially when Kamala Harris became the country’s first female vice president. When the company posted on Instagram that Harris’ victory was a “monumental day for girls and women around the world,” it lost thousands of followers. It was also his most engaged position.
“We took a big step back last year to really understand what our company’s mission means,” said Gates. “We don’t just sell shoes.
“We are in the business of operating our platform for good.”
This led the brand to become the sponsor of a women’s soccer team, Los Angeles-based Angel City Football Club, last March. This is something Gates said would never have occurred to him in the past.
“Coming out of the pandemic, it seems so obvious,” Gates said.
She also makes sure that they no longer run on their shoes.
“We are buying deeper and wider,” she said. “Putting on comfortable shoes will take a very long time. “
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Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Tassels.