Finding a pair of heels that is both attractive and comfortable can be like spotting a unicorn. Heels you can actually walk in often look stodgy and schoolmarmish, while the most beautifully crafted ones will leave you with blisters and swollen toes.
But thank goodness, things are changing. I’ve reported before on a new flock of female-founded startups that are designing comfortable heels. Brands like Antonia Saint, True Gault, and Marion Parke have tweaked the design of the heel to make glamorous sandals, pumps, and booties that don’t cause pain.
Add Sarah Flint, a 30-year-old shoe designer, to that list. She’s spent the last two years perfecting the design of a $355 heel called “Perfect Pump” that blends comfort and elegance. And it’s been a remarkable hit, selling out repeatedly since its debut this past spring.
[Photo: courtesy of Sarah Flint]Women wax lyrical about them on Instagram. “The placement of the heel is so perfect,” writes one user called primroserebellion. “The only pump I’ll ever wear,” writes mollywipf. Customers want to know when they will ship to Australia and Finland. They’ve also taken off with celebrities like Meghan Markle, Lady Gaga, Cindy Crawford, and Jane Fonda, who have all been photographed wearing them.
Flint has a prestigious pedigree when it comes to design. She graduated from Parsons and the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York with degrees in accessories design, then trained in shoemaking in Ars Sutoria, the famed shoe academy in Milan. She also spent time inside a shoe factory to see how the workers crafted each pair. Along the way, she says, she noticed that most of the world’s best and most acclaimed designers were not interested in creating shoes for the everyday woman.
“I saw so many incredibly beautiful shoe brands, especially in the luxury space, but none of them were focused on comfort,” Flint says. “Most of them were focused on the kinds of shoe that women wear once or twice a year–really virtuosic ones with a million studs or feathers. It seemed crazy to spend $800 on shoes that you could barely stand in after a few hours.”
In 2013, when Flint was only 25, she launched her own brand with the singular goal of creating a beautiful, walkable shoe. After her years in Italy, she decided she wanted to make her shoes there because she felt that the craftsmanship and quality was unparalleled. But when she went to the factories to make her first batch of shoes, she faced incredible resistance when she tried to get them to make heels engineered for comfort.
[Photo: courtesy of Sarah Flint]“These factories make products for well-known luxury brands, so they wanted to know why they should bother changing their process for me,” Flint says. “The thinking seemed to be, “If the formula works, why change it? We have been selling millions of shoes without these features, why start now?””
In the end, Flint’s time in the trenches of Italian shoe factories paid off. She knocked on many doors and leveraged the relationships she carefully built, and eventually managed to make her case to the owner of a top factory in Northern Italy. Together, they started tweaking the traditional Italian-made shoe to make it more comfortable.
Flint has slowly incorporated comfort features into her shoes for the last few years, and all her innovations come together in the Perfect Pump, which comes in three heights— 2, 3.3, and 4 inches.
One of the most important features of the shoe is that they are designed to adapt to the silhouette of a woman’s foot, providing anatomical arch support. The toe box is wider than the average heel, to prevent cramming. And there is a generous 6mm padding that cushions the foot.
“In school, I was shocked to find that many Italian-made brands don’t use any padding at all, so I had to work really hard to convince the factory that this was necessary,” Flint says. “But I felt like it was so obvious. Of course, your foot will hurt if it is up against hard leather.”
[Photo: courtesy of Sarah Flint]To stabilize the shoe, Flint incorporated a steel rod in the center of the heel. This means that the heel can carry more weight and is less likely to snap under pressure. The designer shoe has a proprietary rubber sole that provides added grip and comfort, so women don’t wobble when they walk. Both features also mean than the shoes will last longer, which is what you want when you are dropping more than $300 for them.
In the end, style is still paramount for many of us, and Flint’s creations are as beautiful and attractive as they are comfy. The Perfect Pump is cut with a V-shape at the toes, which makes the foot look elongated and more elegant, and she is making them in every possible on-trend color and pattern. In the past, she’s done shiny silver and a bright lipstick red. For the holidays, there is one that is made of a gunmetal lamé fabric. On the brand’s Instagram, Flint asks customers to suggest new colors for the Perfect Pump, and they have recommended bottle green, a deep burgundy, a chocolate brown, a paprika red, and a more inclusive shade of nude for women of color.
We’ll have to wait and see what new colors Flint has in store. But one thing’s for sure: Her Perfect Pump is here to stay. “I think I’ve made my point to the Italian factories that women today don’t accept any compromises when it comes to what they buy,” Flint says. “They want shoes that are gorgeous but that cradle their foot comfortably. They want to have it all.”
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