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Birdies Is a B Corp: CEO Explains How it Got There

Female-founded women’s footwear brand Birdies is now a certified B Corp, the company announced Tuesday.

Founded in 2015 by Bianca Gates and Marisa Sharkey, the San Francisco-based shoe startup began toying with the idea of pursuing certification in late 2019, Gates told Sourcing Journal. “What we’ve learned is that a lot of people associate these companies with environmental impact, but the reality is that a B Corp is a for-profit company dedicated to using business as a force for good,” the CEO said.

Verification standards encompass transparency and accountability for both social and ecological performance. Gates said Birdies built upon existing programs and explored new solutions on its path to certification. It has prioritized community-building and charitable giving since its inception, acting as a founding sponsor of Angel City Football Club, Los Angeles’ new women’s soccer team, and launching Fly Together, a nationwide mentorship program that helps young women from underserved communities reach their goals. The Birdies has seen more than 100 individuals pass through the program since it began several years ago.

When it came to environmental stewardship, Gates said that Birdies was encouraged by B Lab, the governing body of B Corp, to pursue more sustainable materials and implement waste-reduction processes throughout its supply chain. “This was an area we hadn’t put as much attention into, and we recognized that we had to make this as much of a priority as social impact,” she said. “We had to basically deconstruct our shoe and learn, from scratch, about the areas we needed to improve.”

Birdies began by streamlining packaging to minimize waste, and looking for non-virgin or low-impact inputs for its shoes. It asked suppliers in China and Vietnam to identify dependable sources for materials like upcycled satin and silk from deadstock and factory waste, along with more eco-friendly rubbers and latex.

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“There’s so much we’ve learned that we can do right now that’s more environmentally friendly and it doesn’t cost us much more money,” Gates said. “What it does do is force companies to send employees to the markets overseas, to learn, and study, and find the right suppliers to make more sustainable product, versus going with the more traditional scalable processes that fashion has used for dozens of years.”

The company is working to revamp its materials, packaging and design processes.
Courtesy

Birdies also shifted its design calendar to accommodate supply chain and logistics challenges disrupting overseas production and transport. “During the pandemic we were unable to get most of our shoes on boats, so unfortunately we had to air ship them,” Gates said. “We are now designing much further out”—to the tune of 12, versus six to nine, months ahead, she added. Now, 80 percent of Birdies products are transported over the ocean in a less carbon-intensive method.

To deal with the issue of product waste, Birdies partnered with Soles4Souls, which helps women from underserved communities across the globe create microenterprises for shoe sales. It has donated more than 50,000 pairs in excess inventory to the program, “which adds up to about 1.6 million pounds of CO-2 emissions that we’ve eliminated,” and diverted more than 70,000 pounds of textile from landfills, Gates said.

Birdies now joins a community of 5,000 companies in 70 countries and 150 industries pushing to redefine success in business. Gates said that engaging with the B Corp certification “is not just about a seal of approval—they’re also pushing us, encouraging us and stretching us in areas we weren’t as mindful about, and educating us about areas where we could make a larger impact.”

“As we strive to support and uplift women through our internal work, ongoing campaigns, partnerships and philanthropic efforts, we are extremely proud of the work we’ve done so far and are excited to continue to improve and use our business for good,” co-founder and president Sharkey added. “B Corp offers us a powerful way to guide and accelerate our transformation around how we do business, and pushes Birdies to actively participate in making the world a better place.”