Could comfortable heels be within our grasp?

Female entrepreneurs are combining new materials and design approaches to try and create footwear that is stylish and wearer-friendly

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - September 13th, 2017:  Shoe designer Silvia Lago and her shoes on exhibit. Wednesday, September 13th, 2017, FIVE Palm Jumeirah, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Did you know that there is such a thing as a foot tuck? Apparently, a select number of women around the world are opting for surgery on their extremities to fit more comfortably into their designer heels. In this modern-day iteration of Chinese foot binding, toes can be shortened or lengthened, while the pads of your feet can be injected with fillers to create a cushion. Yes, women actually do that to themselves. Willingly.

What about all those women who would rather not go to such extremes, but would still like to comfortably wear heels on a daily basis? After all, it is not easy to boycott high heels – for many, they connote power, confidence and attractiveness. And you wouldn't want to be the only one in dowdy flats on a glamorous girls' night out. So given that technology has advanced to the extent that driverless cars and drones that deliver coffee are a reality, why have we yet to create super-stylish, uber-comfortable, foot-friendly, heeled footwear?

"There is knowledge about the [anatomy of the] feet, but it isn't combined with the fashion industry, and it should be, because our feet are important, and we are torturing ourselves," says Barcelona-based shoe designer Silvia Lago, 28, who recently launched her namesake shoe brand, which combines style trends with technology to make heeled footwear more wearable for women.

Lago unveiled her latest collection, Divas, over afternoon tea on the Palm Jumeirah in Dubai last month. "This all started as a personal thing because I couldn't find shoes that were comfortable and stylish at the same time," she says.

Satin bows and embellished brooches adorn her jewel-toned shoes, which range from high to low to block heels.

With a background in economics and business management, Lago moved to the Spanish city of Alicante, which is a hub for luxury manufacturing. There, she took courses in pattern-making and shoe manufacturing. "Shoes are artisan-made, so it's something you learn by doing, and by being with the shoe artisans and cobblers," she says.

Seeking to create a brand that went beyond just what looked good and was fashion-forward, the entrepreneur met experts in the field, including a biomechanical scientist and podiatrist, before assembling her team. It wasn't an easy feat, if you'll excuse the pun.

"The shoe is very complicated," Lago says. "It has more than 100 components, and a lot of people are involved; every component is made by a different supplier."

The resultant shoe technology developed by her team is called LagosFit, and it features cushioned insoles with high-performing materials, thicker heels and softer, shock-absorbent heel caps. Her range is fully customisable in terms of colours and embellishments, and the brand is currently looking out for wholesale stockists. "We also use these antibacterial Italian leathers, so when you sweat, it doesn't smell bad," she adds.

Lago isn't the only woman stepping up to the plate. There is another new tech-meets-fashion footwear brand on the market, based in the United States. Antonia Saint NY launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise US$1 million (Dh3.7m) – and within a month $860,000 was pledged. The brand's patent-pending technology, dubbed the SoftSurround System, was created with the input of celebrity podiatric surgeon Dr Suzanne Levine. Its debut pointed, heeled shoe has an exterior that mirrors that of a classic high heel, but inside it claims to mimic the cushioned feel of a sneaker.

"I started to pay attention to the construction of our shoes, and I realised that the industry is a total racket," says the start-up's founder, Antonia Saint Dunbar. "You're expected to move in shoes that have no technology for comfort."

Her designs incorporate a deeper toe box, giving wearers more room around the toes, and hidden stitches at the heels to prevent blisters. Cushions at the base of the big toe and under the ball of the foot, and a deep cup at the heel, provide stability and absorb the body's weight. Foam lining and support around the arches and upper toe portion of the shoe give the wearer additional comfort and stability.

The brand offers customisation through its FitKit service, where each shoe size is available in three different width options. A smartphone app allows customers to save their personal foot measurements and send them to the brand. As of now, its high-heel design, the Victoria Heel, is only available in black and nude tones, and each pair costs Dh980, including shipping to the UAE.

Saint Dunbar claims that her revolutionary designs will change how women view high heels. "These are the heels you can finally move with, and yes, even dance in," she says.

Lago's designs are outfitted with attractive embellishments that are sure to resonate with glamour-conscious consumers, and she maintains that her creations, which start at Dh1,800, will prioritise the wearer over the shoe.

"Our heels are for women who need shoes to accompany their lives," she says. "I don't want to just wear a pair of shoes, and stay seated; I have things to do, and I want my shoes to accompany me, not the other way around."


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