Published: 2011-05-24 11:03:34
Author: Amy Zimmer
MANHATTAN — They're like Tupperware parties, but the flat-footed ladies at these get-togethers aren't gabbing about food storage.
Instead, they're talking about $400 heels, carefully handcrafted for their problem feet that are only available at invitation-only parties in New York City.
Alice Chen is trying to gain traction for her new company, Alice Alan Shoes, through informal "drinks and heels" events in women's apartments and physical therapists' offices.
"It's gathering a bunch of your best girlfriends together for shoes, dessert and bubbly," said Chen, 35. "They're literally sitting on couches talking about their feet."
"They kind of open up and start talking about an ugly subject in a comfortable setting."
Chen, an Upper West Side resident who was born with flat feet, left her job in the corporate world last year and made it her mission to help women with troubled feet who still want snazzy shoes.
"If you’re going to wear heels," she said, "we want you to do it in a safe way."
She said she sacrificed aesthetics and felt "demoralized" that her shoes didn't match her chic “power suits" when she was working at American Express.
So, she took a shoemaking class at the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan on the Upper West Side in 2008 and juggling research and design for her company on nights and weekends, while keeping her day job.
She launched the first line of Alice Alan's $400 heels last October, and then quit her job to devote herself to her shoes, which are made in Queens.
"Pretty shoes weren't comfortable and comfortable shoes weren't pretty," she said.
"A lot of marketing plans say, 'Let's make a beautiful shoe and then let’s make it comfortable. So, some women will put gel in their shoes or wear bandages."
"I said, 'Let’s start with the most important component: make it comfortable and end it with beauty."
Tapping into a network of healthcare professionals — podiatrists, orthopedic surgeons, physical therapists — Chen's next event on June 21 will include Dr. Louis Galli, a podiatrist to the Rockettes. He heads Alice Alan shoes' advisory board.
While they aren't designed for stomping on Broadway stages for hours on end, the heels were inspired by shoe construction for dancers, Chen explained.
"I didn't need the super chunky heel that Broadway dancer need, but they're still sturdy," she said. "They're for women going to and from work, on and off the subway."
Each shoe comes with an orthotic developed in partnership with Northwest Podiatric Laboratory, Inc., that can be removed and customized. It solves a problem Chen long struggled with her orthotics, which fit fine into sneakers but not into high-fashion footwear.
Chen's company, whose headquarters are on the Upper West Side and which has a factory in Elmhurst, was voted the "Made in NYC Company of the Month," in March by a business-to-business program run by the New York Industrial Retention Network and the Industrial Technology Assistance Corporation.
“I started in a down economy. I didn’t want to go to China or Italy. I didn’t want 10,000 pairs of shoes," she said.
"If I do it local, I don’t have to carry a lot of inventory."
Instead an order can be placed and shoes will arrive within a few weeks. "It's actually worked out well made-to-order," she said.
"When you say you're making something industrial in New York City people are surprised," Chen said. "But people are still making things here."
For information about the June 21 Alice Alan Shoes event on the Upper West Side, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org