How Two Friends Launched the Stylish Slippers You’ll Never Want to Take Off
Shoes: We can’t gt enough of them. If you’re gaga for handmade heels inspired by Belle in Beauty and the Beast or these adaptable shoes that can be tailored to the season, you’ll want to read on about how two friends solved an everyday shoe problem by starting their own shoe company. In this week’s entry in the How to Quit Your Day Job series, we chat with Birdies Slippers co-founders Bianca Gates and Marisa Sharkey about how they launched their stylish at-home slippers in a saturated shoe industry.
Meet the Shoe Pros: Bianca gates & marisa Sharkey
When Sharkey and Gates met 10 years ago, they had no idea that they would be business owners together. Gates worked in advertising sales, while Sharkey was a management consultant. As working moms who love to entertain at home, they struggled finding fashionable slippers to wear indoors. After countless searches for the ideal footwear, the duo decided to take matters into their own hands and launch Birdies in November 2015. The chic shoes are designed specifically to be worn at home — they count Meghan Markle and Emmy Rossum as celebrity fans who don these fabulous flats during flights. The fall 2017 collection relaunched some classics and added velvet slippers and embroidered designs. Sharkey and Gates share some wisdom for would-be entrepreneurs and fellow creative women.
Brit + Co: What’s your morning routine?
Marisa Sharkey: I try to start most days waking up early and working out. Like many entrepreneurs, I was finding that sleep was very hard to come by, and I was consistently waking up early with to-do lists running through my head. Eventually, I decided that if I was going to be up, I might as well be productive. I started scheduling 6am barre classes and morning runs with friends so I could not back out. This has now become an extremely important part of my day and actually something I look forward to the night before. When I am done at 7, I pick up an early morning latte and head home to help my five- and seven-year-old girls get ready for school. Once I drop them off, I am ready to start the work day with a clearer focus than I had before.
B+C: What inspired you to start your company?
Bianca Gates & Marisa Sharkey: Birdies came to life out of our frustration of searching for fashionable slippers to wear at home. We are always entertaining (and wouldn’t have it any other way!), but finding stylish slippers to coordinate with outfits proved to be impossible for both of us. The struggle was something we both felt but never discussed, until Bianca found herself fed up with searching for fashionable slippers online, and her husband encouraged her to take matters into her own hands. After talking it over together 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.
B+C: How do you challenge yourself as an entrepreneur?
MS: A critical part of being an entrepreneur is knowing which risks to take and when to take them. I am not a natural risk taker, and beyond that, my background as a management consultant trained me to evaluate decisions from a million different analytical angles before drawing a conclusion. At Birdies, where we are creating a new category of footwear and growing very fast, we don’t always have the luxury of time and data before we make a big decision. The challenge is to balance the tendency to want to know all of the facts and potential outcomes with the ability to jump on the right opportunities when they present themselves. Even being aware of this inherent conflict has helped guide me to look at critical decisions differently and push me to take the right risks.
B+C: Tell us about how your family and friends help support your business.
BG: My family and friends are my rock, and it’s because of them that I have had the confidence to take this leap and turn Birdies from an idea into a business. My husband has always been my biggest cheerleader on this journey. He was the one that came up with the idea of taking this problem I’ve had for years and make it into a business. My kids, Sofia and Joaquin, have also given me the courage to go after this dream. After having them, I felt like my biggest job in life was to be their very best role model. That meant doing as I teach and going after my dreams! They’ve been on this journey with me from the very beginning — even helping me ship my first few boxes of Birdies and helping out in our new store. My friends have also been a huge part of this journey by liking, commenting, sharing, buying, and cheering me on along the way. I feel very blessed to have such amazing family and friends, and they are the ones who keep me motivated and excited about where we are headed.
B+C: What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
MS: I always come back to, “You’re not going to get a yes if you don’t ask,” when I am nervous to reach out about something new, that I know I can handle, but have already thought through all of the reasons the person may say no. It’s basic, but an easy reminder to put yourself out there.
B+C: What do you love about your job?
MS & BG: Our goal with Birdies is to bring friends and family together to build relationships, celebrate special occasions, and elevate their everyday moments in comfort and style. Hearing how our customers are wearing Birdies in their everyday lives is definitely a highlight. It’s so fun to hear we are adding a special touch of comfort and style to our customers’ otherwise hectic lives!
B+C: If you could tell aspiring creative women anything, what would it be?
MS: Know yourself, and let that guide you in both your life choices and your career choices. The best thing as defined by the outside world is not necessarily the best for you, or even the most challenging. Be courageous, and choose your own path.
What’s your dream career? Tweet us @BritandCo to let us know, and we could feature it in the next column!