At the beginning of the year, Birdies co-founder and CEO Bianca Gates had a thorough plan for 2020 focused on outdoor shoes and the slogan “Travel boldly.” Needless to say, there is little traveling going on anywhere right now.
Birdies, like many fashion brands, has had to shift priorities. For brands in the comfortable footwear world like Birdies and others, a growing shift toward outdoor shoes has turned into a swift return to comfortable indoor clothes as customers’ lives have changed drastically. The changes Birdies and other brands like Soludos and Rothy’s have made is a lesson in the importance of responding to quickly consumer behavior.
Gates said sales of outdoor shoes had been growing 400% year-over-year, since their launch in 2017, so much of the brand’s plan for this year was to lean into outdoor shoes. Birdies launched in 2015, selling indoor slippers only.
“There was so much growth in [the outdoor styles] that we thought about lessening our indoor inventory,” said Gates. “But since Covid hit, indoor slides have seen a dramatic rise in sales.”
To avoid designing a whole new collection of indoor shoes, when multiple outdoor style releases had been planned for March, Birdies focused on bringing back some styles that had been discontinued. Outdoor shoes that were originally scheduled to launch in early April were pushed back to the end of June so that Birdies’ factories could focus on manufacturing more pairs of the Songbird, a popular indoor style that had been retired.
Gates said that sales in the last two weeks of March, all of which are coming through the brand’s direct e-commerce channel, surpassed last year’s numbers in the same period.
Rothy’s, thanks to owning its own factory in Dongguan, China, was similarly able to make a quick shift from producing styles that weren’t selling to the ones that were. Elie Donahue, svp of marketing at Rothy’s, said the brand’s traditional best seller, the somewhat formal Point, has been seeing a decline in sales, while sales of more comfortable silhouettes like loafers are up, though she declined to give exact sales numbers. One third of the company’s manufacturing is currently focused on making masks, plus the factory is making loafers and bags, which have surprisingly proven popular.
“We just launched bags at the beginning of March, and we were really nervous that sales were going to be totally stagnant,” Donahue said. “But our tote bag is the No. 1 seller on the site right now. We’ve seen a lot of people using it for grocery shopping since they can bring their own bag to the store, and it’s washable, which is a big factor right now since people want to stay safe.”
Nick Brown, founder of espadrilles brand Soludos, said the company has ramped up marketing for its sweatshirts and slippers based on feedback the brand has received from customers. Brown declined to offer specific sales figures but said that the company has created a dedicated section of the e-commerce site for work-from-home clothes to highlight the categories that are getting the most traction right now.
“This time has served as a great reminder to meet the customer where they’re at and to ensure that both our product selection and product storytelling are fitting our customer’s needs and their current experiences,” Brown said.