If you’re heading to the beach or lounging on a hot day, there’s a decent chance you’re wearing a pair of Hari Mari flip-flops. The Texas company celebrated its 10th anniversary this year and has grown from a plucky flops-only upstart to a serious footwear and apparel brand that just signed on its 1,000th retailer. But their origin story didn’t start in a business incubator or with a background in fashion. It started in Indonesia.
Founders Jeremy and Lila Stewart grew up in Dallas, but in 2007 they 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. During their time there, they got married, embraced the local culture and wore a lot of flip-flops. The marriage lasted, but the flip-flops didn’t, breaking down quickly and needing regular replacement in the hot, tropical climate.
Fast forward two years, and the couple was back home with a desire to build a company, one that made quality products and gave back to children. Flip-flops were the answer they were looking for, so they set out to learn everything they could about the business, realizing that most options on the market were cheap, uncomfortable and the same basic colors. R&D led to their first line of men’s and women’s flops and the comfortable memory foam toe piece they’re now famous for. They launched in 2012, calling the company Hari Mari after the Indonesian word for “sun” and the Latin word for “sea.” To fulfill their philanthropic goals, they donate one percent of sales to support children battling pediatric cancer.
The company set up shop in Dallas, rather than California, where a handful of popular competitors like Rainbow and Reef were based. The move was risky, but also a blessing, as Hari Mari was the only flip-flop maker in Texas.
“When we started, there weren’t many people doing what we were doing,” Lila Stewart tells InsideHook. “We wondered if it would be easier in New York or L.A. or even Austin. We were an anomaly. Now, I wouldn’t want it any other way. Dallas has been so supportive.”
Over the next three years, the company signed on more retailers and ramped up its e-commerce business, but flip-flops were seasonal items, and there were periods where the founders didn’t know if it was sustainable. Stewart even considered getting another job to help support the business. Then came an unsolicited endorsement from a beloved lifestyle guru.
Stewart says she had just finished reading a book by Joanna Gaines when she saw the Magnolia founder and Fixer Upper star wearing a pair of Hari Mari flip-flops on TV.
“It turns out, she’d been wearing them regularly on the show,” says Stewart. “Women were going online to figure out what they were, and then a few fashion magazines featured us. Sales went through the roof online and in retail. It was such an unexpected but pivotal moment for us.”
Hari Mari parlayed their sandal-related success into other products, including boots and clothing. “That’s been a big shift as a company, but it has been really exciting to see what we’ve been able to do,” says Stewart. She mentions that from day one, they purposely didn’t pigeonhole themselves into the surfing market like so many other flip-flop brands. This allowed Hari Mari to naturally transition into more products, including shirts, hats, shorts and accessories. “Our core business will always be flip-flops, but it’s been fun to see the positive response to other categories.”
Before COVID hit, Hari Mari moved all their production out of China, which helped them weather the pandemic without the crippling supply-chain issues faced by other brands. It also makes innovating easier. Today, leather pieces are made in León, Mexico, while water-friendly styles are produced in Brazil. They also just debuted a sustainable flip-flop made from cactus leather.
Hari Mari still maintains its original Deep Ellum office, which doubles as a retail outlet. But last year they opened their first dedicated retail shop on Knox Street, a fashion-forward 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 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 on Orvis as a retailer, and soon they’ll be launching in Urban Outfitters stores. It’s becoming increasingly difficult for anyone to remain unaware of the brand, but Stewart says they still feel like the little guy, fighting for space in a massive market.
“You know that saying ‘death by a thousand cuts’? I like to say Hari Mari has been success by a thousand small wins.”
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