Business Ideas

When a photo of their shoe design broke the internet, these 2 mums' lives changed overnight.

Gem and Jenn

Gem and Jenn are not only business partners; they’re also best friends and sisters-in-law.

Meeting in 2006 in London, Jenn began dating Gem’s big brother, James. Not longer after, James went for a job interview in Australia and Gem went with him. While on the trip over, Gem met her future husband, Brent on the plane.

Now, both Gem and Jenn, their husbands and five children between them all live in Australia.

Oh, and the two of them run a successful shoe brand called Palmaira Sandals Australia, that became an Australian sensation overnight.

Mia Freedman sat down to chat to Gem and Jenn this week on the Lady Startup podcast. They spoke about how a small shoe company went viral after posting one photo, how these two working mothers manage it all and how they are coping through the COVID-19 pandemic.

How they went viral

Gem and Jenn began by explaining that they were running their small shoe company with two newborns.

“At the time, Jenny has a six-month-old, her first baby. And I had a two-month-old, my first baby,” Gem explained.

“So really, we were trying to navigate early motherhood. We had been doing Palmaira Sandals Australia for around 18 months. So things were ticking over. We were doing Palmaira parties. You know, a little bit like Tupperware parties but with Palmairas,” she said.

The two women had sold their shoes at the occasional markets and built their website but nothing large scale. Gem shared that they were probably doing around 10 orders a week.

And then one night they decided to run a competition on Facebook. The photo they planned on posting for it was of one of their Spanish shoes, with leopard and orange detailing.

Thinking nothing of it, the two shared the photo. And then the likes started rolling in…

“One evening, we went viral,” Gem shared.

“We had about 3000 followers on Facebook and one night I thought I’d put a picture of our leopard print Palmairas with an orange backstrap and I’ll say like and share to win a pair. We started getting 10 likes and I thought, wow okay this is getting traction. Getting 10 likes was a lot back then.

“And then it started getting traction. It went to 100 likes, to 500 likes to 1000 likes and it just kept going.”

The shoe itself

“It’s a traditional avarca,” the women shared.

“To be a traditional avarca it needs to be made by hand on the island of Menorca in Spain. It’s an old farming shoe.”

But Gem and Jenn explained that they put their own spin on the shoes which made them stand out in the crowd.

And therefore, after that one viral photo, the sales began rolling in.

“Then the sales started coming in. I think we sold out of every single pair that night, about 600 shoes,” they said.

“We went from two mums, juggling two babies with a little bit of work, to absolute chaos.

“I think the post reached 1.3 million in the end and we went up to 30,000 followers on Facebook.”

And then, Jenn explained how before that moment, the two women had no real systems in place.

“We had absolutely no infrastructure in place. We used to hand wrap everything. The shoes, satchels, tracking numbers, everything.

“So the next morning we had to somehow get out 600 pairs of shoes,” she shared.

“We don’t have family here – were each others family. We are sisters-in-law. I went over to Gem’s house with the baby and stayed their for seven days. By the end of it, we looked pretty scary.

“We had about 600 pairs in my garage and somehow we got every order out,” she said.

And by the end of that, they had to implement some structure.

“At the beginning, we were handwriting notes and by the end of it, we had new systems in place. Because we had to.”

How two friends manage to work together

“Before we went viral many people would think we had similar skill sets. And if you met Jenn and I before, you’d probably think were quite similar. We are in a lot of ways. But when we went viral, it very quickly showed our differences,” Gem explained.

“We didn’t even have a conversation. I just started picking up and working out how we were going to send out these orders and Jenn started on emails.

“Jenn is very good at dealing with people,” Gem shared.

“And interestingly we didn’t even realise we were like that. I’ve learnt so much about myself.

“I love people and I love the brand. I want the brand to have our voice. So if it’s me talking and me answering you know it’s us,” Jenn explained.

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Feature image: Instagram/@palmairasandalsaustralia

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