Hari Mari celebrates 10 years as Texas’ favorite flip-flop
If you’re going to the beach or lounging on a hot day, chances are you’re wearing a pair of Hari Mari flip flops. The Texas-based company celebrated its 10th anniversary this year and has grown from a brave flops-only upstart to a serious footwear and apparel brand that just signed on with its 1,000th retailer. But their origin story didn’t start in a business incubator or with a fashion background. It started in Indonesia.
Founders Jeremy and Lila Stewart grew up in Dallas, but in 2007 found themselves living and working in Jakarta – Jeremy was filming a documentary and Lila volunteered for the American Women’s Association, focusing on orphanages and children’s charities. While there, they got married, embraced the local culture, and wore lots of flip flops. The marriage lasted, but the flip flops didn’t, breaking quickly and requiring regular replacement in the hot tropical climate.
Fast forward two years, and the couple were back home with a desire to start a business, a business that made quality products and gave back to the kids. Flip flops were the answer they were looking for, so they set out to learn all they could about the company, realizing that most options on the market were cheap, uncomfortable, and the same basic colors. R&D led to their first line of flip flops for men and women and the comfortable memory foam toe piece they are now famous for. They launched in 2012, naming the company Hari Mari after the Indonesian word for “sun” and the Latin word for “sea.” To achieve their philanthropic goals, they donate one percent of their sales to support children fighting childhood cancer.
The company moved to Dallas, rather than California, where a handful of popular competitors like Rainbow and Reef were based. The move was risky, but also a blessing, because Hari Mari was the only flip-flop manufacturer in Texas.
“When we started, there weren’t a lot of people doing what we were doing,” Lila Stewart told InsideHook. “We wondered if it would be easier in New York, Los Angeles or even Austin. We were an anomaly. Now, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Dallas has been so supportive.
Over the next three years, the company signed with more retailers and ramped up its e-commerce business, but flip flops were a seasonal item and there were times when the founders weren’t sure if it was sustainable. Stewart even considered finding another job to help support the business. Then came the unsolicited endorsement of a beloved lifestyle guru.
Stewart says she had just finished reading a Joanna Gaines book when she saw the Magnolia founder and Upper fixator star wearing a pair of Hari Mari flip flops on television.
“Turns out she wore them regularly on the show,” Stewart explains. “Women were going online to find out what they were, and then a few fashion magazines introduced us. Sales exploded online and in retail. It was such an unexpected but pivotal moment for us.
Hari Mari has spun off her sandal-related success into other products, including boots and clothing. “It’s been a big change as a company, but it’s been really exciting to see what we’ve been able to do,” says Stewart. She mentions that from day one, they deliberately didn’t brand themselves in the surf market like so many other flip flops brands. This allowed Hari Mari to naturally move into more products, including shirts, hats, shorts and accessories. “Our core business will always be flip flops, but it’s fun to see the positive response from other categories.”
Before COVID hit, Hari Mari moved all of their production out of China, which helped them weather the pandemic without the crippling supply chain issues experienced by other brands. It also facilitates innovation. Today, the leather pieces are made in León, Mexico, while the water-resistant models are produced in Brazil. They also just launched a durable cactus leather flip flops.
Hari Mari still retains his original Deep Ellum office, which doubles as a retail outlet. But last year they opened their first dedicated retail store on Knox Street, a forward-thinking strip that includes other fan-favorite brands like Stag, Marine Layer and Sid Mashburn. The company now has 25 full-time employees, plus seasonal staff, and they’ve hired former Billy Reid CEO Jake Szczepanski as their new president. His expertise is driving the rollout of new apparel and storefronts, with target markets including Charleston, Nashville and Austin.
Hari Mari recently signed with Orvis as a retailer, and soon they will be launching in Urban Outfitters stores. It’s getting harder and harder for anyone not to know the brand, but Stewart says they still feel like the little guy, vying for space in a huge market.
“You know the saying ‘death by a thousand cuts’? I like to say that Hari Mari has been successful with a thousand small victories.
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