Shoe company Birdies rose sharply during the pandemic and learned a hard lesson in the process

The Birdies shoes were sold out at the end of 2020, so the company could no longer meet demand at the end of the year.

Source: Bianca Gates

When women across the country shed their heels during the pandemic, the Birdies shoe company flourished.

The direct-to-consumer brand advertises as “a stylish apartment that is secretly a slipper”. The result: 300% growth compared to the previous year 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 twice as many slippers in 2020 to meet demand. Only core products were available during the winter holidays.

“We never really caught the huge uptrend,” said Bianca Gates, co-founder and CEO of Birdies. “We learned the hard way that in our business you can only sell what you have.”

She declined to share certain sales figures. The shoes cost between $ 85 and $ 140 per pair.

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The idea for Birdies was born when Gates and co-founder Marisa Sharkey, longtime friends from her time in Manhattan, discovered they didn’t have a pair of slippers to entertain friends back home.

“I had that Mr. Rogers moment when he was putting on his slippers,” said Gates.

The couple put their heads together, 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 the company in 2017 as Birdies grew and the founders decided to raise funds.

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex attend the Redwoods Tree Walk on October 31, 2018 in Rotorua, New Zealand.

Pool / Samir Hussein | WireImage | Getty Images

The brand really took off in 2018 when Meghan Markle was photographed with Prince Harry in two Birdies apartments in New Zealand, which resulted in the shoe selling out and receiving a waiting list of 30,000 people.

Play it safe

Since the shoes were already in demand during the pandemic, birdies didn’t have to set large pivot points.

The most important thing to the founders was the health and safety of their team, their customers and their business, Gates said.

“Let’s not do anything radical,” she recalled thinking back then. “Let’s stay in business and play it safe.”

They’ve been connected to customers through social media and have doubled in size. They listened to what customers wanted and responded by adjusting their offerings, such as making more slides.

“By being in direct contact with consumers, we were able to get data and real-time information from customers,” said Gates.

Find your voice

The Birdies founders Bianca Gates and Marisa Sharkey.

Source: Bianca Gates

Gates and Sharkey also grew more pensive about their messages last year after George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer.

“We had to think a lot internally,” Gates recalled. “Are we talking now?

“Are we in the business of selling shoes or are we in the business of community building?” She added.

They also pondered the brand’s goal of uplifting women, particularly when Kamala Harris became the country’s first female vice president. When the company posted on Instagram of Harris’ victory as “a monumental day for girls and women everywhere,” it lost thousands of followers. It was also his highest dedicated post.

“We took a big step back last year to truly understand what our company’s mission is,” said Gates. “We don’t just sell shoes.

“We are in the business of using our platform forever.”

This led the brand to sponsor a women’s soccer team, Los Angeles-based Angel City Football Club, last March. It’s something that Gates said would never have crossed her mind in the past.

“It seems so obvious after the pandemic,” said Gates.

She also makes sure that they don’t have a run on their shoes again.

“We buy deeper and wider,” she said. “Leaning in comfortable shoes will last a long time.”

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