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Flip-Flops, Fashion and the Dream Job

Dance alum and fitness enthusiast Matthew Walfish joins philanthropic startup Hari Mari

by Brooke Bordelon (B.A. Journalism, ’14)

As a child, Matthew Walfish always dreamed of having a career in fashion. What no one could predict, however, is the unique path he has taken in order to reach his goal. Born in California and raised in Hawaii, Walfish, who graduated in 2008 from the Meadows School at SMU with a B.F.A. in Dance, is breaking into the high-paced world of fashion through the up-and-coming flip-flop company Hari-Mari. He considers his time spent at Meadows as vital to his quick success in the industry. 

Although a dancer, Walfish was also deeply involved in Communication Studies’ student-run mustang consulting agency at SMU. The agency is a communications consulting group mentored by Meadows professor Maria Dixon Hall, a woman whose signature mantra “Handle it!” helps Walfish push through rough times today. 

“I still hear that ‘Handle it!’ voice when I’m under the gun and have a lot going on,” says Walfish. “I just grit my teeth and go.” 

After graduating in 2008, Walfish, who also counts fitness among his many passions, held a myriad of jobs at a gym and one at Luke’s Locker, where he was introduced to the Hari Mari brand. Still, he considers his junior year summer spent in New York City working with mustang consulting on a project for the Dance Theater of Harlem as vital to his success in the retail industry. During his 10 weeks in New York, Walfish says he was able to absorb much-needed professional experience that the more creatively driven world of dance couldn’t provide. 

“I was very fortunate for that. I hadn’t been in a situation or work environment like that before, even in fitness or at Luke’s. If I hadn’t had that experience I don’t know if I would have been ready for something like this,” says Walfish. 

Walfish is referring to his job as an associate at Hari Mari, an entrepreneurial and philanthropic startup flip-flop company that focuses on selling comfortable, yet fashionable, flip-flops. He wears many hats within the company, from handling daily operations to playing the role of assistant to his superiors. Now that he has finally reached his boyhood goal of working in the fashion industry, Walfish can hardly contain his excitement over the brand. 

“One of the things that I love about the job is that on a Saturday I can go to a beer festival or a music festival or a 5k and put together a booth, set up, and sell pairs. Get our name out there,” he says. 

Giving back to the community

The owners of Hari Mari, husband and wife team Jeremy and Lila Stewart, were compelled to create a company that not only creates a unique flip-flop but also gives back to children. Three dollars of each purchase of the $60 flip-flops goes directly to secure treatments and provide medicines to hematology and oncology wards in partner hospitals. In its first nine months alone, Hari Mari donated over $10,000 to Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth.  

Currently, the Hari Mari brand is sold in over 130 retail outlets and online and is expanding both its retail and philanthropic branches. In addition to partnerships with Cook Children’s in Fort Worth and Dell Children's in Austin, the company is taking steps to extend its charitable reach to children’s hospitals in Tulsa, Chicago, Atlanta and beyond. 

There is a possibility that Hari Mari may some day open a stand-alone brick-and-mortar store, but Walfish says that is far in the future. For now, he is reveling in the hustle and bustle that comes with the territory of any startup. 

“I wasn’t joining a footwear and fashion company that was just another company,” says Walfish. “I’m like, ‘I’ve made it. I’m in the fashion industry. It’s exciting, it’s fun, it’s fast paced, it’s vibrant and trending -- and I love that!’”

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