Birdies Of A Feather

By Anna Lombardi | June 30, 2017


Whether I am running to meetings or trying to feel together while working from a bathrobe, the perfect pair of flats never let me down. You can only imagine my excitement when I discovered a collection of slippers that double as the ultimate flat. Introducing, Birdies Slippers!

Behind every great brand is (hopefully) a great founder, in the case of Birdies we get two! Meet Bianca and Marisa, co-founders of the slipper brand. Their story is as inspiring as their product is timeliness. For the fashion girl to the momtrepreneur, these two best friends have got style and advice for anybody looking to make a splash in the world of business.

 

1. What inspired you to create Birdies?

BG:  Birdies came to life out of our frustration of searching for fashionable slippers to wear at home. We are always entertaining, but finding stylish slippers to coordinate with outfits proved to be impossible for both of us. After talking it over with Marisa and realizing it was a mutual frustration we both faced, we knew we weren’t the only ones on the hunt for fashionable and comfortable slippers and set out to solve the problem ourselves. 

2.  How did your previous work history help your confidence in partnering on this endeavor?

BG: I’ve always felt the need to hustle, climb, create something out of nothing and I’ve never believed that things were out of my reach. In college, I started importing a facial cream from Argentina and with nowhere to sell it – I began selling it to my customers at the restaurant where I waited tables. A few years later I convinced Univision to hire me without any network sales experience and I’d focus on the clients that wouldn’t call them back. Within a year I landed T-Mobile, L’Oreal brands and negotiated a multi-year World Cup sponsorship with Hyundai/Kia.  Most recently, I spent the past 6 years leading retail partnerships at Facebook and Instagram.  I worked with some of the most aspirational fashion and home retail brands in the world to help them launch new products, acquire new customers and communicate their brand message at massive scale.  The combination of my drive and experience in scaling other retail consumer brands over the past 15 years has given me the confidence to build the next big consumer retail brand.

We have enormous vision for Birdies with a huge opportunity and we are going to take advantage of it.  Birdies is by far my biggest opportunity yet.

MS: I grew up watching my father in the retail business tagging along with him going from store-to-store every weekend. I knew then that I would ultimately pursue a career in the retail industry. After getting an MBA, I worked in management consulting at Bain & Company with retailers and consumer brands to help develop and execute growth strategies. With the goal of moving from an advisory role to an operating role, I left consulting to join Ross Stores as the Group Vice President of Strategy. I’ve been fortunate to work alongside some of the retail industry’s top strategic thinkers and top merchants through those experiences. But there are plenty of consumer needs that have not been solved yet–including for me. When Bianca and I first talked about the idea that became Birdies, I knew we had an amazing opportunity before us, and with the combination of our backgrounds we were the right team to go after it. 

3.  What has been the most difficult part of creating your own line?

BG & MS:  When we set out to create a stylish and comfortable slipper–it sounded simple enough to us at the time. Little did we know the complex engineering and component sourcing that would go into it. Through countless rounds of samples that began with us building many versions of prototypes, some with glue and tape that we pieced together, we created a slipper that we’re proud of and customers love. 

4.  Do you remember what your first prototype looked like?

BG & MS:  It was terrible!!! We knew we wanted certain components that make Birdies stand out today such as built-in arch support, latex foam to give you a bounce in your step and help relieve pressure, a rubber sole to stand up to outdoor elements and stylish uppers to compliment your outfit.  But when we took a stab at making our first prototype (no pun intended!) it looked more like an orthodic foot weapon than a stylish and comfortable slipper.  We designed our first prototype with pointy studs sticking out from the sides and while certainly “unexpected”, we also found that it easily could damage your couch or worse – stab your leg.  Too much foam added to the undesirable look and function of the shoe and we knew we needed to start all over.  I think we still have that prototype somewhere – we should dig it up to remind us of our humble beginnings and how far we’ve come in just two years!

5.  You are girls on the go! Does travel draw inspiration to create prints?   

BG & MS:  Ha!  Yes, we’ve been quite busy these days but feel very fortunate for the opportunity to finally solve this void in footwear once and for all.  Travel has definitely been an inspiration for us in re-inventing the slipper, but it has been less about the selection of prints and more about matching unparalleled comfort with style to keep women looking fabulous and feeling comfy during their travels. 

6.  Typically, how long does it take to create a pair of Birdies from start to finish? 

BG & MS:  Fortunately it’s starting to take us less and less time to create our next collection.  Shoes are tough because there are so many elements that go into creating a shoe and every time you introduce a new material the fit can completely change which can be frustrating.  In the past two years we’ve learned a ton about materials, scale of prints, density of foam and how every millimeter can make a huge difference on the look and fit of the shoe.  We certainly underestimated how challenging it is to create a new type of shoe but since we are the customer – we have the benefit of moving fast because we know exactly what “she” wants.

7.  Do you have a favorite product?

BG:  It’s hard to pick my favorite baby but if I have to pick I’d say the Wren. I see a leopard print as a fun neutral and it goes with everything.  Coupled with the faux fur lining (I’m ALWAYS cold!) the Wren is my favorite pair of Birdies.  Shh…don’t tell the others. 

MS: I love the Bluebird. I pair it with white jeans and love the nautical summery look!

8.  How would you each describe your personal style in three words?

MS & BG: feminine, classic, polished – our styles are quite similar which makes designing a whole lot easier!

9. What does a typical work-day look like?

MS:  Like many moms, mornings start with a bang! After getting my two daughters, Zoe and Amelia ready for school, my first order of business is to review feedback from customers. From there the day goes in multiple directions. Right now we are focused on our next collection—I am busy working with our designer and factory to make final tweaks to our product line for next fall. We are a small, hands-on team, so in a single day I’ll be working with our web developer, discussing our social media strategy and negotiating better shipping rates. As the day winds down, I try to make time for our family to have dinner together and share funny stories from the day.

BG:  For the first 2 years of Birdies, I was a full-time Sales Executive at Facebook and Instagram so I needed to wake up early, got to bed late and squeeze in Birdies work wherever I could.  For better or worse, my Facebook commute from San Francisco to Menlo Park was over 90 minutes, which allowed me time to schedule calls with Marisa, our designers, social media agency etc.  You could say that Birdies was my side-hustle in those days.  But, just last month, I’ve decided that Birdies is growing too fast to be a side-hustle and from now on,  I am working on Birdies full time.  

10.    We are OBSESSED with your Instagram account, haha. How do you leverage social media to increase sales?

BG:  Thank you!  Having spent 6 years of my career leading retail partnerships at Facebook & Instagram, I know first hand the value of social media in scaling businesses. Facebook just announced 2 Billion monthly active people and over 700 million monthly active people on Instagram.  Both of these platforms help us tell our story in a personalized, authentic and efficient way, at scale.  Social media is vital to our growth and we leverage it every single day.  One of my favorite things to do on social media is to respond to comments on our Birdies page from my personal social media account. I love interacting with people and it feels more authentic to me to do that as myself than as the person behind Birdies – the brand.  I think they get a kick out of it too!

11.    What does the future hold? Do you plan on expanding your product line?

BG & MS: We are so excited about the future of Birdies and always paying attention to what our customer wants. Our customers have been asking us for a Spring collection for a long time and we are thrilled to share that we are currently developing a Spring line, launching in early 2018.  As part of this collection, we will be introducing a mule style for those that prefer a backless slipper option.  We have also received great demand for slippers for brides and their bridesmaids, so we are working on a Birdies for Brides and Birdies for Bridesmaids collection also launching in the Spring of 2018.  Exciting things ahead – stay tuned!

12.    How would you describe your typical buyer?

She’s Birdie!  We actually named our company after our customer profile.  She’s a busy (super busy), smart, working professional who is confident, takes care of everyone around her and is the life of the party.  She has a classic, casual elegance about her and she loves to entertain (even if she’s a terrible cook).  She’s anywhere from 25 – 64 and we are honored to serve her.

13.    What advice would you give to creative minds who are trying to launch their own fashion line?

MS and BG: First, don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice. When you’re starting a new business you have to ask for help. You don’t know it all, and if you are not comfortable asking for what you need, then you’re not going to get it off the ground. Fortunately, we’ve been overwhelmed with the incredible support we have received from so many people.  Second, and somewhat paradoxically, you have to ignore 90% of the advice you get.  Frequently you’ll get advice from “experts” that is completely at odds with previous advice from other “experts.”  As an entrepreneur, your job is to decide which advice you take and which advice you ignore. So that is our advice!  Feel free to take it or leave it.