Menorca. One of Spain’s most picturesque islands and home of the Menorcan sandal. You know the one. Widely popular in Europe and about to blow up big time here in Aus, they’re made from genuine leather and are the ultimate summer staple. You see, the Menorcan sandal (aka the Avarca) is not just any old sandal. They have a story that dates back centuries. A story that involves local shoesmiths crafting each sandal by hand before gaining a stamp of approval from the Menorcan government which verifies that they are in fact, a real Avarca.
“The Avarca originated from the Island of Menorca. It was formerly a traditional footwear used by the farmers and rural people as it was strong and adaptable to the Menorcan countryside,” explains Jenny Swell and Gemma Taylor sister-in-laws and founders of Palmaira Sandals Australia.
“The soles were originally made from old car tyres as it was a readily available material. As the sandals grew in popularity across Spain many imitations arose but to be an authentic Avarca the sandals must be made in full and by hand on the Island of Menorca.”
“In order to protect the heritage and authenticity of the sandals, the Menorcan government produced a tag to reflect this (which all Palmaira’s have). We are incredibly lucky to be working with one of the oldest and most reputable factories in the world through our relationships. Our factory use traditional methods and we work with an incredible well respected shoe designer who has tweaked Palmaira’s to give the female foot the most flattering shape.”
Here, we chat to the pair about why they decided to join forces and their business journey thus far.
Take us through the Palmaira Sandals story. How did it all come about?
We had talked about doing our own label for some time and in the midst of this we were back in the UK for Jenn’s wedding and we saw a pair of Palmaira’s that had recently been launched in the UK by sister duo Lisa and Tracey. We knew the style of sandal well and had worn them through our childhood. We just knew they would be a perfect sandal for Australia. And so we bought our first 40 pairs and sold them to friends and family, through FB and we also did Palmaira Parties! We used to take the sandals and a bottle of bubbles to a group of friends at home so they could try and buy. Very quickly we knew we had to create Palmaira Sandals Australia and started designing our own styles. A great friendship between us and the UK sisters has since flourished both working hard to keep the rich heritage of the traditional Avarca at the heart of the Palmaira brand.
What were you both doing prior to?
Jenny: I was working as an insurance broker previously.
Gemma: I had just finished a fashion course at FBI fashion college.
What do you love most about the Menorcan island culture?
Gemma: Menorca is such a beautiful island full of history and culture. The people are warm and friendly and the relaxed way of life makes it the perfect place to holiday. I love the late night outdoor dining and one of my favourite places is the eating around the harbour with all the boats tinkering in the breeze.
Jenny: Gosh, there are so many things I love about Menorca—of course the Avarca sandal, the beautiful beaches and coves, the laid back lifestyle with late summer nights and huge emphasis on family. It’s a real family culture which I love.
Are there any other places in Spain that sit high on your favourite’s list?
Gemma: I love Costa Bella, a place just outside of Marbella. Barcelona is also beautiful & full of history and culture.
Jenna: Growing up, I had so many holidays in Spain it’s hard to pick one! A few places stick out though: Menorca was my first ever family holiday. I amazing fond memories of El Campello. And of course Ibiza, which is where I got married!
To what do you credit the success of your business in Australia?
I think the product itself. The style of sandal is new to many women in Australia. They are flattering, durable and comfortable. Add the gorgeous colours and fabrics and it’s the perfect sandal all year round for the Australian woman. I think Australians really have an eye for quality and appreciate the value of handmade products. We also make it our mission to provide the best customer care through emails, social media and providing a great policy on returns and exchanges.
Do you have any ‘start-up story LOLs’ that you can share? Fun facts about the early days?
Oh so many! When we started and were both pregnant and we used to do ‘Palmaira Parties’ where a Palmaira Girl would host a party and we would go to their place for a try and buy session. We would take bubbles and they would be so much fun! We also had a young baby each when Palmaira went viral in Australia. Gem would work from her place and manage all the packing and physical stock from her garage down in a block of flats. It was so dark and dingy but the only space we had! Jenny would be at her flat about 10 minutes away replying to all emails (sometimes getting in excess of 100 a day) while trying to look after a 6 month old. The early days were crazy days driving around with two babies in the car and 100’s of parcels trying to find a postbox to fit them all in—we quickly got a courier!
Congrats on being nominated for the Telstra Business awards! What would you say has been the biggest career highlight to date?
Thank you! We have grown this business over 4 years and in that time we have had four (nearly 5) children so a lot of the big achievements and milestones we had we didn’t get the chance to really reflect and celebrate. Hitting 100k followers on FB was pretty huge but I think being recognised as a high achieving small business by a reputable awards host like Telstra was formidable. It was a time for us to really appreciate all we had achieved in such a short period and when someone judges all aspects of your business from culture to finances and puts you in the top 1% it’s hard to get your head around.
What advice do have for other budding entrepreneurs out there?
Australia is such a fantastic place to start your own business. We see so much opportunity and being a part of the Instagram community we are privy to so many people finding their niche in the market. Our advice would be find something you are passionate about or good at and then just dive in. Figure it out as you go. Be adaptable and willing to change direction quickly because in business you need to be flexible and you need to make quick decisions. Take feedback and use it and most of all you need to make mistakes to grow. We always say everything happens for a reason. You just have to take the bad and turn it in to good because that’s how you get better and from that so does your business.
As busy working mums, how do you find balance?
Work life integration is the only way to describe it. You can’t switch one off and turn one on. It might sound good but it just doesn’t work. We make everything available at our fingertips so things can be done quickly and efficiently. All emails and social media, website etc. is all on our phones. We make sure we have good, dedicated people around us because you can’t do it alone! Follow @palmairasandalsaustralia.