I’ve been a shoe lover ever since I can remember. The shoe section of any department store pulls my focus before I take one look at clothes. Lately I’ve been avoiding wearing any of my heels because, even though I’m only 28, after an hour wearing them my hips, back, and knees start to ache. I decided I would just wear great flats and suffer in heels only when I absolutely had to at an evening event, because I don’t want to sacrifice style for comfort. It turns out I’m not alone. And now, I have a new pair of shoes I can’t take off that prove you don’t have to give up comfort for style.
If you’ve seen my Instagram stories lately, I’ve been posting about my new furry pom pom “Bella” flats nonstop. But they’re not just any shoes, which is why I wear them almost everyday. They are essentially high fashion orthotics…made in Italy with high quality everything, and they’re a new brand that I’m very excited to introduce you to: Joan Oloff Shoes. I recently met Dr. Joan Oloff through Julian Gold here in San Antonio, and I had the opportunity to talk to her at length about why she has pioneered a patent technology and started a shoe line to help generations of women be comfortable and stylish, and save their bodies from high heel damage.
What was your childhood like growing up in the family shoe business in Brooklyn?
My grandfather opened my family’s first shoe store in 1920, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. My Dad literally grew up in the apartment above the family store. He and his 3 brothers all continued in the family shoe business as adults and I worked in my Dad’s shoe store as a child. I eventually became a podiatrist, spending many years treating women whose feet have become damaged by wearing high heel shoes.
I remember watching women try on shoes in my Dad’s store. They would push through the pain like an athlete pushes through an injury. They would walk around, bend their knees, look visibly pained, but they’d love the style so much they would sit down and say, ‘okay, well…these are my sitting shoes.’
At what point did you realize that shoes needed to be built better for women?
After treating women’s feet for decades in my podiatry practice, (from girls to elderly women) I decided I needed to try to build a shoe with a different type of construction that included an orthotic. But these shoes would be fashionable, and marry the comfort industry with the fashion industry with new technology that would allow women to get style with comfort and not have to sacrifice one for the other and ruin their feet.
What shoe technology did you patent, and why does it make your shoes different?
My patent pending technology will revolutionize the high heel shoe industry. My shoes do three things: they provide shock absorption, they create support and they offload pressure points under the ball of the foot in ways only previously seen with custom orthotics.
There is more even weight distribution — not just under the ball of the foot, as in traditional heels. The result is that the foot does not fatigue. This is what allows women to experience pain free days walking and pain free evenings dancing. Women no longer have to choose between style or comfort.
How do you define personal style?
It’s unique for every person. For me, I’m about understated elegance. I’m not usually extreme. I like timelessness and I try to incorporate that into the design of my shoes.
What has been your inspiration for the design of your line?
I started out with just family members. Each shoe was originally named after one. Then it just evolved because we have a whole creative team. We table design, we go back and forth between our team here and our team in Italy. It’s a collaborative group process. Even though I grew up in the shoe business, I fix feet. So I listen to those around me who have extensive creative and design experience and we come up with the shoes together.
What does it mean to you to have designed a product that is supporting women at all stages in their lives, while empowering them to feel beautiful AND comfortable?
A dream come true. I’ve done a lot of crazy things in my lifetime. This is the craziest thing I’ve done — but it’s also the most logical. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I keep pushing through all of the problems because every life experience I’ve had brought me to develop this line of shoes. It’s beyond my control, it’s just something I have to do. When I see women try on these shoes and wear these shoes and get their support, I know that I’m onto something and it’s extremely gratifying.
It was hard for me to even name the brand after myself. The way I rationalized it is, these shoes are my children. I have children of my own, and if my name is on these shoes, they are in these shoes…this is my legacy.
Tell me about what it was like for your friend and tennis legend Billie Jean King to wear your shoes on the red carpet at the premiere of the Battle of the Sexes movie?
Well, Billie Jean King didn’t actually wear my shoes on the red carpet, her partner did. She is, however, an investor in my company because she believes in what these shoes will do for women everywhere, of all ages. I have been her foot doctor for decades and we are very close friends.
What style shoe is your go-to? Heels or flats?
It depends! It used to be that I only wore sneakers and scrubs to work. Now with my shoes I can choose between flats or heels. The shoes have made me love dressing up for work.
If you could have lunch with any woman in the world (living or deceased), who would it be and why?
Michelle Obama because she’s not one dimensional. She’s a mother, she’s a professional, and is a real person. I admire that. I also would like to meet Madame Curie and Eleanor Roosevelt.
Edited from an interview by Eleanora Morrison.