As We Emerge From Lockdown, Birdies Has Taken The Taboo Out Of Wearing Slippers In Public
When Birdies founders Bianca Gates and Marisa Sharkey were living in New York City in the early 2000s, “Sex and the City” was the hottest show on television and women walked 15 city blocks in stilettos without concern for their feet—but times have changed. The busy women of today still want their outfits to make them feel stylish and empowered, but they’re no longer willing to sacrifice comfort, and they shouldn’t have to. This is especially true this summer, as women are stuck between wanting to wear ballgowns to gourmet dinners and wanting to stay on the couch watching Netflix in sweatpants, again. Luckily, what Gates and Sharkey have created is a perfect in-between: a slipper that you can wear at home, to the market, to brunch and to a lavish destination wedding, without being side-eyed.
Gates and Sharkey launched their first shoe with the idea of offering women a luxurious “social slipper” which they could wear indoors while entertaining guests. “It kind of says, ‘Welcome to my home,'” Gates said, doing a Duchess Kate-like hand gesture. Their business took off almost immediately, not only because women were dying to get off those heels during at-home dinner parties, but also because Birdies gave them an equally-stylish but much more practical and cozy alternative.
Nearly two years in, the founders started getting feedback from customers who said the slippers were not lasting as long as they had hoped, considering the price point. Concerned, Gates and Sharkey asked these customers how exactly they were wearing their Birdies. “They were wearing them everywhere, all day long!” Gates said. Though the initial products were made with thin soles intended for indoor wear, Gates and Sharkey realized their customers wanted more, so they launched new shoes with the same cozy interiors and fun designs, but much thicker rubber soles. “That’s when the business exploded,” Gates said.
Since then, the founders have secured a stable customer base of elegant women of all ages, and more than a few celebrities—Meghan Markle and Rachel Zoe included. Their styles range from sporty sandals and casual everyday flats to silky, embellished slides. They also have a collection of washable flats in engineered knit, which they designed with busy moms in mind. “It offers flexibility, it’s breathable, it’s washable. You can spend the day playing with your kids in the grass and throw your shoes in the washing machine later,” Gates said.
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Recently, inspired by vibrant spice markets, the female duo glammed up Birdies’ beloved Songbird and Swan silhouettes with beads, pom poms and beautiful prints. They also launched a collection of vegan velvet shoes in a variety of styles (all packaged in 100% recyclable boxes) ideal for conscious shoppers.
“Designers have designed comfortable shoes, but as a woman of any age—including my mom, who’s 65—you don’t want to shop comfort at Nordstrom, you want to shop fashion,” Gates said.
Gates and Sharkey’s mission, with Birdies, has always been to lift and support women by making them feel gorgeous and confident in their daily lives. It’s a culture of empowerment and transparency which, as moms and entrepreneurs, they completely embrace, and which, in today’s world, includes prioritizing ethics. One of the many ways the founders do this is by supporting Angel City, a women’s soccer team in Los Angeles. Their donations not only sponsor the team, but also contribute to different women’s initiatives within the community.
“We started this brand because we wanted to solve a problem,” Gates said. “We’re moms and we want this company to be around for generations, and so with that, our intentions every day have to be: ‘Are we making the world a better place through our platform?’ And that’s not just social responsibility but also sustainability—ensuring that we’re doing what we can for the planet so that Birdies stays around for the next 100 years and we’re actually correcting the problems that past generations have created.”
Birdies is surely on track to be around for many generations. In April of 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic was at its peak, the company grew 300%, according to Gates and Sharkey. “Suddenly people were trying to shop for comfort at home but after a couple of months people thought, ‘We’re gonna be here for a while, I don’t want to sacrifice my fashion. I’m on Zooms again, I kind of wanna look cute at home,’ and so the business continued to do incredibly well,” Gates said.
It did so well, in fact, that it made the founders question what would happen to sales post-pandemic, when people would be eager to travel, meet with friends and show off their flashiest fashion—which is exactly what’s happening now.
“But what we’re finding is people want all that fun, unique, sparkly, dazzled fashion, but one thing that women have learned is: ‘Gosh, I don’t want to go back to uncomfortable shoes,'” Gates said.
So, now that women are getting back to their fast-paced social lives and Birdies has taken the taboo out of wearing slippers in public, will heels meet their definite end? Gates said probably not, but it’d be great if you could carry a pair of Birdies in your bag, just in case—Carrie Bradshaw style—you’re asked to take your shoes off at a house party. “These aren’t shoes, they’re Birdies,” Gates said.