It's a conundrum many women face daily when choosing shoes: Sex appeal, or practicality?
Imagine not having to choose.
It's an issue at least a couple entrepreneurs are working to solve, a high heel that is both fashionable and comfortable. Or at least, more comfortable.
"It was before we put a man on the moon that the modern-day stiletto was invented" said Thesis Couture founder and CEO Dolly Singh. "The modern day stiletto has a metal rod up the inside called a shank, it's a really skinny, metal plate, looks sort of like a prison knife and so it's not a particularly supportive frame or structure. You end up with 80 percent of your weight on the balls of your feet. And you have to remember the human body was evolved to carry weight on your heel bone."
It was about six years ago that Singh set out to make a 4-inch stiletto that feels and functions like a wedge shoe. She has recruited a former SpaceX astronaut, an Oculus engineer, an orthopedist and shoe designers and artisans to build what's been dubbed the "Tesla of high heels."
Many of the cross-disciplinary experts are men, so Singh said she asked them not to think about building a high heel, but rather to think about building "a little chassis, for the human body".
The result is a strappy, basic black stiletto prototype Singh is showcasing at private events, made with advance polymers and thermoplastic polyurethane, with the goal of reducing the weight you bear on the balls of your feet at 50 percent, from the current 80 percent one feels in most heels, explained Singh. And while she feels most of the work on the technology behind the shoe is nearly done, when it comes to looks, Singh says there's more work to be done.
"People have a very intimate relationship with these products, and so for me, I don't want to compromise aesthetic. I want shoes that look fabulous."
Singh's background working in rocket science and virtual reality led her to think building a new heel high could be easy, but she admits she was wrong. She explains it as a chicken-and-egg problem. You can't make a prototype until you know how you want to make a mold and what materials you need, but you can't know how to make a better mold or use better materials until you have a prototype that informs the changes. As a result, the timeline for when the shoe will be available to consumers has been pushed from this spring to sometime this fall.
As great as Singh's heel sounds, it's not without competition.
Marion Parke is a surgical podiatrist who completed a three-year residency in foot and ankle trauma, and a woman who also loves stilettos. She found herself with a closet full of shoes she couldn't wear for more than a couple hours at a time and set out to solve the problem.
"Women are willing to torture themselves if they think it's beautiful, so number one, the shoe has to be beautiful." Parke continues to explain that she's attempting to bridge style and wearability. "Imagine further, that the fit is amazing, from the arch support to the sculpting, yet the shoe is still covered in all the same beautiful materials?"
Armed with her own stiletto designs, Parke ventured to Italy in November, 2014, and left with commitments from the same manufacturers and tanneries in Tuscany that produce shoes for Jimmy Choo, Balmain, Miu Miu, Isabel Marant and others. By February, 2015, she had a prototype and was ready to begin to produce her version of high heels.
"I don't say that I have a "better" heel, because I don't want to say these shoes are better for you. The idea is to take what I know as a podiatrist and discreetly infuse it in the high heel. Wearability can be tasteful and discreet."
Parke's eponymous heels are sold in 15 independent boutiques throughout the country, and in a recent trunk show on luxury e-tailer Moda Operandi, which Parke says had a "tremendous response". The high heels are also winning fans in the boutiques. Parke says weekly sales reports she receives show her stilettos are selling at a rate twice as fast as the industry average, and she's making a name for herself among the fashion magazine editors with bigger retailers paying attention now too. Parke is in the process of taking meetings with all the national department stores right now about possibly adding her shoes to their shoe departments.
While Parke admits she's not familiar with Thesis Couture, she asserts "what sets us apart, is that we are bringing intelligent design to the luxury level."
There are about 10,000 women that have signed up to be notified when the Thesis Couture collection launches, though Singh said only 1,500 pairs in three styles will be available initially. Thesis Couture's stilettos won't come cheap. The price will range from $350 at the lower end, to $925. Parke stilettos are priced around at $595 and higher.
But then again, no one ever said beauty doesn't come with a price.