The House That Flops Built

Hari Mari was born out of a desire to create an amazing pair of flip-flops…

Steven Hempel. Photography Shayna Fontana. Art direction Michelle Aviña.
October 21, 2013

The brand, brainchild of Dallas-bred husband-and-wife team Jeremy and Lila Stewart, is a marriage of passions: They wanted to create the perfect flip-flop while helping children in need. Hari Mari, just over a year old, incorporates a host of features for both the eye and the sole: biodegradable, sustainable, eminently wearable and aesthetically pleasing. We flip for Jeremy Stewart’s flops.

In the beginning. The roots of Hari Mari really trace back to Indonesia. My wife, Lila, and I lived in Jakarta from 2006 to 2009, where I had co-founded an advertising and film production firm and was working on a documentary about the effects of hunger and malnutrition on children in Southeast Asia. Lila was volunteering with an organization that assisted and fund-raised for orphanages in Indonesia. Deciding we wanted to move back and start a family in the States, we sold our portion of the firm and wondered, ‘What’s next?’ Having both worked on projects related to children [and expecting our daughter], we were passionate about doing something that would improve children’s lives. Also having seen plenty of great brands doing great things for children abroad, we really wanted to start something to help kids here in the U.S.

Giving back. After a bit of research, looking for the way we could best help children in need, we were shocked to learn cancer is the most fatal disease among U.S. children — more fatal than almost all other childhood diseases combined, with 16,000 new cases diagnosed each year. From there, it just clicked: We would help kids with pediatric cancer. Hari Mari donates $3 for every pair of flip-flops sold towards pediatric cancer research and support networks for children stricken with the disease.

Why flip-flops? We are major flip-flop enthusiasts, wearing them seemingly year-round, even during our Texas winters. When we returned to the States after four years in Indonesia and set out to buy new flops, we noticed the styles and colors available in stores were the exact same as those available four years earlier. Nothing had changed. Same iterations of black and brown. Same uncomfortable break-in periods. So we set out to change that with the goal of making a more colorful and more comfortable flip-flop, at the premium level — essentially, the flip-flop for flip-flop enthusiasts.

Putting it all together. Hari Mari combined our two passions: creating a great flip-flop and supporting kids battling cancer. “Hari” is a nod to the roots of the brand, meaning “sun” in Indonesian, while “Mari” is the word for “sea” in Latin. We launched Hari Mari in March of 2012 and asked John Veatch to join the company to help grow and refine Hari Mari’s marketing and branding. Lila and I have both known John since we were kids, so it was a really natural and comfortable fit for the three of us as business partners.

What makes Hari Mari different? Outside of being a Texas-based flip-flop brand, which is an anomaly to begin with, many things set our flops apart from the crowd. Chief among them are our unique color combinations, our commitment to using higher-quality recyclable materials and our memory-foam toe post. Up next, we are launching a full-grain leather line called Lakes and hope to expand our current retail footprint of close to 150 stores across 30 states — and, in doing so, grow our “Flops Fighting Cancer” commitment as well.