Marion Parke started her footwear business with one goal: dispel the rumor that ‘beauty is pain.’
Over a year ago, Parke, a trained podiatrist decided to take her medical training and apply it to a personal passion: fashion. This week, the doctor-turned-designer debuted the resulting product: a full collection of shoes that feel as good on as they look. “For years, I’ve been wanting to do this,” said Parke. “The idea is to bring intelligent design to the luxury level. I’m not even using the word comfort because that’s an entirely different category. It’s a fashion shoe first.”
Unlike most “comfort” footwear offerings on the market, Marion Parke shoes don’t look podiatrist approved — aesthetically, they are more Christian Louboutin than Crocs. In fact, the Italian factory where Parke produces the shoes also manufactures footwear for Miu Miu, Jimmy Choo, Isabel Marant and Acne. “It all started with my lawyer,” Parke said of making the factory connections. “Everyone dogs their lawyer, but it was really my lawyer who got me in the door with all the right factories.”
The comfort-based construction of the shoe, which Parke used her medical background to develop, is four-part: there is arch support, which reduces fatigue over time, a “cupping” effect on the heel, which focuses the heel of the foot over the heel of the shoe, orthotics, or extra material on the outside, to straighten the foot’s position, and a foot cushion made from a medical grade material developed to mimic human soft tissue. The insole, she notes, is patent pending. “All other luxury shoes, the insole is flat,” she said. “We actually had to change the machinery in the factory in Italy.”
Parke, who sketches her own designs and then works with a design team in the Italian factory, places just as much attention on the ornamental details, however, as she does on the construction technicalities. “Tassels are really hard to get right,” she said. “I went to a tapestry and upholstery factory in Italy and had all my cords and tassels custom-made.”
For her debut spring 2016 collection, Parke offers a full range of styles including, platform sandals, evening heels, flats, mary janes, mules and more. No heel height is higher than 85 millimeter. Prices begin at $495 for a basic pump and rise to $875 for exotic skins. “We worked very hard to keep this at entry-luxury pricing,” she said.
Though she only began to show retailers the collection this week, Parke already has one confirmed stockist, Shoe Stories in Sausalito, Calif., with many other stores showing interest as well. “My business plan is to work with small, boutique retailers first,” she said. Deliveries are expected to begin for an October ship date.
Despite the new endeavor, Parke has yet to quit her day job: a podiatry firm in Minneapolis, where she lives with her husband and one-and-a-half-year -old son. “My business partner has been very understanding,” she said of juggling the two careers. “We’ll see where [the shoe collection] goes.”