Luxe Slipper Brand Birdies Opens Flagship On Union

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The new Birdies boutique on Union Street
The new Birdies boutique on Union Street

Photo Credit: Tina Case

“This was never meant to be a company,” Bianca Gates told Haute Living from the chic velvet couch at her newly opened boutique on Union Street. “We made these to solve the problem of what to wear in the entertaining space of your home. We are not a slipper for the bedroom or the bathroom. There are plenty of those slippers out there. We are entertaining slippers for the living room, dining room, and kitchen. When you come home and you’re wearing exactly what you’re wearing, you kick off your dirty shoes and you slip your feet into something squishy, cozy, warm, and attractive.”

Birdies slippers in The Greenfinch style
Birdies slippers in The Greenfinch style

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer)

Gates is speaking about her two year old company, Birdies, the wildly popular luxury slipper brand. Gates spent years scouring Neiman Marcus, Saks, Nordstrom, and Barneys in search of the perfect slipper, but she always came up empty handed. She wanted something that was soft and comfortable, yet supportive and fashion-forward—and wearable outside the home if need be. The type of slipper she wouldn’t be embarrassed to be wearing if she looked down and realized she forgot to put on shoes while walking the kids into school late on a hectic morning.

The Cardinal style of Birdies
The Cardinal style of Birdies

Like any savvy entrepreneur, Gates took matters into her own hands. “I became the mad scientist of slippers. I started to watch YouTube videos on how to make a shoe,” Gates remembers. “Then I’d go shopping and I’d buy all the shoes that I loved the different components in and I’d cut them up. I’d use my daughter’s duct tape and tape them together.” Gates took the responsive bound foam bottoms of Nike Airs and combined it with a faux-shearling exterior and rubber soles to create a slipper that has bounce, support, style, and functionality.

Bianca Gates and Marisa Sharkey pose inside Birdies
Bianca Gates and Marisa Sharkey pose inside Birdies

Photo Credit: Tina Case

Once she developed a prototype, Gates and her cofounder, Marisa Sharkey, found a manufacturer overseas, ordered the minimum pair of shoes (1,800), and forgot about the project. At the time, Gates, a busy mother of two young children, was in charge of retail partnerships at Facebook. When Sharkey called her out of the blue to say that an enormous freight truck filled with slippers was in front of her Sacramento house, Gates freaked out. “We did not think about how we were gonna sell them. We just thought about solving the problem. I was like, ‘oh my God. I’m gonna get fired from Facebook because I have this slipper side hustle.’ ” She immediately reached out to Sheryl Sandberg and explained her predicament. Luckily, Sandberg had never been able to find fashionable shoes to wear while entertaining at home. She told Gates to proceed with her side business and asked for a pair of Birdies.

A post shared by Meghan Markle (@meghanmarkle) on

Gates started selling the slippers on her personal Facebook page and through word of mouth. Birdies developed a large social media following, but it wasn’t until future princess Meghan Markle was spotted wearing Birdies that things really took off for the brand. Gates and Sharkey were a fan of the actress and enjoyed her work on Suits. “Who’s our ideal celebrity? We started to go through a bunch of amazing women, but ultimately, we identified her [Markle] as really embodying our brand,” Gates says.

Lissette Fernandez-Hilson and Chelsea Murawski of La Finca Interiors designed the new Birdies space.
Lissette Fernandez-Hilson and Chelsea Murawski of La Finca Interiors designed the new Birdies space.

Photo Credit: Tina Case

“She is a humanitarian. She’s a feminist. She’s ambitious. She’s beautiful without showing too much skin. Birdies is warm. We’re welcoming. We’re inclusive. We love to have a good time. Birdies is about putting your phone down and putting your slippers on and having an engaging conversation. And for us, she just embodied all of that. ” They sent Markle a pair of black shearling slippers and were surprised to see her photographed in the shoes. Markle even posted photos of herself in Birdies on her personal Instagram account. Before long, Birdies was being touted by E! News and Vogue as the slippers made for a princess. The rest, as they say, is history.

Birdies on display
Birdies on display

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer

The CEO and co-founder of Bonobos, Andy Dunn, encouraged Gates to leave Facebook and pursue the slipper business. “He said, ‘Listen. I am hearing about Birdies all over Manhattan. I want to write your first check. You need to leave your job at Facebook. I’m gonna help you raise a round. We’re gonna make a big go at this because I think Birdies is gonna be bigger than Bonobos.” Dunn was right and Birdies’ numbers continue to soar. Forerunner Ventures led Birdies’ funding round and the location for a retail boutique fell into Gates lap when a friend was moving out of the Union Street space. Gates tapped another friend, the founder of La Finca Interior Designs to create the posh boutique that is homelike and doubles as Birdies office.

Bianca Gates
Bianca Gates

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer

A packed opening party with plenty of buzzworthy guests (Dr. Carolyn Chang, Layne Gray,  Nina Stanford, Jean Larette, Ali Walecka and Kathryn Lasater to name a few) keeps Birdies moving forward. The day that Haute Living checked out Birdies late last week, Gates and her team were celebrating a huge fourth-quarter milestone. New styles and initiatives (like a bridal collection) will be put into place in 2018 as Birdies continues to grow. “At the end of the day, I joke that our company has exploded really fast,” Gates says with a laugh. “Surprisingly, women do want comfort and fashion. What a shock.”

Marisa Sharkey and Kathryn Lasater
Marisa Sharkey and Kathryn Lasater

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer

Bianca Gates, Kristen Green and Marisa Sharkey at the event
Bianca Gates, Kristen Green and Marisa Sharkey at the event

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer

Allison Speer and Carolyn Chang at the Birdies store opening on December 7th
Allison Speer and Carolyn Chang at the Birdies store opening on December 7th

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer

Danielle Murphy and Lisette Fernandez
Danielle Murphy and Lisette Fernandez

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer

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