This Podiatrist Built a Shoe Brand to Give Women Healthy High Heels

Tired of the famous saying "Beauty Hurts," Joan Oloff traveled to Italy to begin her career as a comfortable high-fashion shoe designer.


(Joan Oloff Shoes)

Women can have it all! They can buy beautiful and elegant shoes that feel as good as they look. That's because Dr. Joan Oloff, a podiatrist, set out to design a shoe that can do both. The result is the very successful Joan Oloff Shoes line.

Oloff really knows shoes; her grandfather opened her family's first shoe store in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Her father and uncles continued in the family business, and Oloff worked in her father's shoe store growing up. She knew first-hand that women chose fashion over sensible shoes.

Oloff became a podiatrist and saw first-hand the damage that wearing luxury brand name shoes could do to women's feet. “I have been fixing feet my whole adult life,” Oloff told Forbes. “I can’t tell you how many intelligent, strong, powerful women come into my practice sheepishly apologizing for their feet because they like high heels."

"They don’t understand that they are apologizing for the footwear industry. It’s not the woman’s fault; it is the industry’s," Oloff said. That's because most women's footwear is created by male designers who are concerned with the aesthetics of the leg and how the shoe looks; they do not even think about comfort or wearability.

Famous shoe designer Christian Louboutin once told VogueUK that he does not take pleasure in creating painful shoes. "People say I am the king of painful shoes. I don't want to create painful shoes, but it is not my job to create something comfortable. I try to make high heels as comfortable as they can be, but my priority is design, beauty and sexiness. I'm not against them, but comfort is not my focus."

But wearability is extremely important to Oloff who decided to create a high-heeled shoe that accommodates the structure and function of the human leg while still being beautiful. She wanted to make sure that women could have both style and comfort.

Oloff created patent-pending technology that provides shock absorption and creates support with weight distribution that is not just under the ball of the foot – like other high heeled shoes – but shares the load through all of the foot. This was only previously possible with custom orthotics.

Oloff went to Italy to look for a company that could completely revolutionize the way shoes are made. She hired an agent to find a manufacturer who could make her designs, but he never really got the concept.

“I finally found an insole maker who was willing to think outside of the box and I thought my frustrations were over. But then the construction of my shoes was more complicated,” Oloff told Forbes.

“There was a learning curve involved and it took the factory 25% more time to create my shoes compared to traditional heels. Time is money and it took time and education to find the right team willing and able to produce my shoes.”

Once the shoes were made, Oloff still had to make retailers understand these restructured shoes that look good and were good for women's feet too. Unfortunately, her shoes were labeled as comfort shoes, although Oloff says that most comfortable shoes are not engineered or designed to the same level that hers are. Many retailers told her they carried enough comfort shoes or they only wanted a big-name designer.

She found a guardian angel in the form of a female executive at Bloomingdales in San Francisco who offered her a shop-in-shop space that was vacant for two weeks. "The shoes flew off the shelf. It was beyond my wildest dreams,” Oloff told Forbes. “It took a woman with a vision to understand the possibilities and the needs women have.”

Oloff stressed that her team created shoes that women can stand in and walked in all day long and still be able to dance in them all night long! Beauty no longer has to be painful.

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