If the Shoe Fits

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Marisa Sharkey and Bianca Gates had the same dilemma:  Coming home after work, they’d kick off their shoes. But then what? Neither choice—go barefoot or put on frumpy bedroom slippers—appealed to them. One evening, Gates had a brainstorm. “Fashionable slippers,” she texted to her friend. Sharkey texted her right back: “I’m in.”

The pair launched their company, Birdies Slippers, last autumn. They worked with footwear engineers overseas to design a product that combines the best features of a sneaker, a shoe and a slipper. “It needed to be comfortable,” explains Sharkey, 40, who worked as a corporate strategist for Bain & Company and Ross Stores before moving to Sacramento in 2014 for her husband’s job. (He’s the chief marketing officer for the Sacramento Kings.) “And fashionable,” says Gates, 37, a Facebook sales executive who lives in San Francisco.

The slippers are stylish on the outside, cozy on the inside, with arch support and memory foam for comfort and a rubber sole for traction. They come in two classic styles: the smoking slipper, made of calf hair in black or leopard, and the ballet flat, made of poly silk in black or pink with grosgrain edging and a fabric rosette on the toe. The women began selling the slippers just before Thanksgiving, using Facebook to spread the word. (Together, they have about 1,500 Facebook friends.) Sales got a boost when a Canadian fashion blogger with 40,000 Instagram followers bought a pair and posted photos. Now they have buyers all over the country: New York, New Jersey, LA, Chicago, San Francisco.

Gates and Sharkey sell the slippers ($120 to $140) on their website (birdiesslippers.com) and at trunk shows, and they’re looking to expand into retail stores. While most bedroom slippers are bought in the weeks leading up to Christmas, they believe their anywhere-but-the-bedroom slippers could be a 52-week-a-year business. “We want to target giftable moments like Mother’s Day,” says Gates. “The slippers also make great bridesmaids’ gifts.”

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