Hari Mari Co-founder Lila Stewart Talks Entering the Apparel Category & Leaving China

This month, Dallas-based footwear brand Hari Mari introduced a selection of women’s casual shorts — its first dedicated apparel for female customers. The launch is the continuation of Hari Mari’s foray into the apparel category, which began last year with men’s shorts.

“We do polls with our customers constantly about what they would like to see from us,” said co-founder Lila Stewart. “We heard quite a bit on the men’s side asking for more apparel items, for shorts and specifically swimwear, which we’ll probably look into for next year.”

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In the men’s category, Hari Mari’s currently offers two shorts styles, the Siesta and BantamKnit, both priced at $68. Its new BantamKnit women’s shorts, which have a more feminine cut, also retail for $68.

Stewart noted that the brand has had unisex hats, T-shirts and sweatshirts for a while, but its current approach marks a departure. “It was just something we’d kind of throw a logo on,” she said. “It was just an accessory and wasn’t very intentional. But with our women’s shorts, in particular, it was very intentional.”

Hari Mari’s BantamKnit shorts for women. - Credit: Courtesy of Hari Mari
Hari Mari’s BantamKnit shorts for women. - Credit: Courtesy of Hari Mari

Courtesy of Hari Mari

While apparel still represents a very small portion of sales, Stewart said it is growing, with more opportunities ahead. For instance, this year it began offering the men’s shorts to wholesale partners and will do the same for the women’s apparel next year.

Stewart also addressed the fact that Hari Mari started its apparel business with men’s items — an unusual decision in a fashion industry heavily weighted toward female consumers. She explained that it all stems back to its men’s flip-flop collaborations with Nokona (launched in 2017) and Peter Millar (in 2019).

“Those two collaborations pushed our men’s business ahead of our women’s in terms of volume,” Stewart said. “So we have more data on our men and more feedback from our men than our women.”

However, the women’s side is catching up. Stewart noted that 2022 was the first year since the Nokona collaboration launched that its business was 50-50 men’s versus women’s. She credits that to changes in its footwear design strategy, which now focuses on offering more feminine silhouettes, on-trend colors and fashion-forward pieces.

Hari Mari founders Jeremy and Lila Stewart.
Hari Mari founders Jeremy and Lila Stewart.

Aside from category expansion, Hari Mari’s leadership has also been focused for the past few years on shifting its production out of Asia and is now manufacturing solely in the Americas. Its apparel line, for instance, is made in the U.S., its leather footwear is produced in Mexico, and it is sourcing water-friendly styles and some leather items out of Brazil.

“We were seeing such a huge anti-Chinese sentiment about being produced there — not only from the consumer side but from the buyer side as well,” said Stewart. “So when the Trump administration announced more tariffs, we thought, ‘OK, that’s just our sign because it’s going to make things so much more challenging.'”

She added, “Really in our dream scenario, we could have every thing in the USA. We couldn’t with footwear, but we are with our apparel.”

Overall, Stewart said Hari Mari is taking a steady approach to growth and expansion. “We turned 11 this year, so I feel like we’ve been slow in introducing new items,” she said. “And flip-flops will always be our main focus. But it’s been fun to see the response to the new collections. When people trust you for making really comfortable flip-flops and shoes without a whole lot of branding, they’re going to trust you to do the same with their apparel.”

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