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Shoe company Birdies soared during the pandemic and learned a hard lesson along the way

IDBS ART GALLERY

Birdies shoes sold out in late 2020, preventing the company from meeting year-end demand.

Bianca Gates is the source.

Birdies thrived as women across the country ditched their heels during the pandemic.

The direct-to-consumer brand bills itself as a “stylish flat that doubles as a slipper.” The end result: a 300 percent year-over-year increase in April 2021.

It could have been a lot worse. The San Francisco-based company sold out of all seasonal fashion items in November, despite having purchased twice as many slippers in 2020 to meet demand. They only had core products available by the winter holidays.

“We were never really able to capture the tremendous upside,” said Birdies co-founder and CEO Bianca Gates. “We learned the hard way that you can only sell what you have in our business.”

She refused to provide specific sales figures. The shoes cost between $85 and $140 per pair.

Birdies was born when Gates and co-founder Marisa Sharkey, long-time Manhattan friends, realised they didn’t have a pair of go-to loafers to wear while entertaining friends at home.

“I had a Mr. Rogers moment,” Gates said, “when he puts on his house shoes.”

The pair collaborated, created a prototype in 2015, and sold 1,800 pairs to friends and family that year. Gates kept her full-time job at Facebook, but she left in 2017 as Birdies grew and the founders decided to raise funds.

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

When Meghan Markle was photographed wearing a pair of Birdies flats alongside Prince Harry in New Zealand in 2018, the shoe sold out and a 30,000-person waiting list was formed.

Taking precautions

Birdies didn’t have to make any major changes because the shoes were already in high demand during the pandemic.

According to Gates, the founders prioritised the health and safety of their team, customers, and business.

“Let’s not do anything radical,” they were thinking at the time, she recalled. “Let’s stick to our guns and play it safe.”

They were already engaging with customers on social media, so they doubled down, listening to what they wanted and responding by adjusting their offerings, such as manufacturing more slides.

“Being direct-to-consumer enabled us to collect data and real-time information from customers,” Gates explained.

Discovering their voice

Bianca Gates and Marisa Sharkey are the founders of Birdies.

Bianca Gates is the source.

Following the death of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer last year, Gates and Sharkey became more deliberate in their messaging.

“We had to do a lot of internal thinking,” Gates recalled. “Do we want to speak up right now?

“Are we in the business of selling shoes or of creating community?” she asked.

They also considered the brand’s goal of uplifting women, especially after Kamala Harris became the country’s first female vice president. When the company said Harris’ victory was a “monumental day for girls and women everywhere,” it lost thousands of followers on Instagram. It was also the most popular post on the site.

“We took a big step back last year to really understand what our company’s mission means,” Gates said. “We aren’t just in the shoe business.

“We’re in the business of using our platform to do good.”

This prompted the brand to become a sponsor of the Angel City Football Club, a women’s soccer team based in Los Angeles, in March. It’s something Gates claims she would never have thought of before.

“It seems so obvious coming out of the pandemic,” Gates said.

She’s also making certain that they don’t get a run on their shoes again.

“We’re buying deeper and wider,” she explained. “Leaning into comfortable shoes will be here for a long time.”

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