The women behind the comfiest shoes on the high street

With flat, comfy shoes having a fashion moment, Hannah Rochell celebrates the brands offering high-heel alternatives and the women running them

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By Hannah Rochell on

If Monday night’s Oscars were anything to go by, this could be the year that flat, comfortable shoes have their fashion moment. While Whoopi Goldberg wore a pair of combat boots underneath her Christian Siriano gown, Tiffany Haddish presented the award for Best Animated/Live Action Short in a pair of Uggs. Meanwhile, Haddish’s co-presenter, Maya Rudolph, removed her high heels and took to the stage barefoot – how brilliant! Over the past few seasons, we’ve seen Crocs edge into the world of fashion and Haddish hasn’t been the only glamorous endorsement of Uggs as of late – they’ve even been on the catwalk at Paris Fashion Week. Finally, when it comes to fashionable footwear, it seems that comfort is prevailing.

I gave up wearing high heels eight years ago but, back then, finding the flat, stylish shoes I wanted wasn’t an easy task. Sure, if I’d had the money, I could have shopped at Charlotte Olympia or Tabitha Simmons, both purveyors of beautiful flat shoes (it’s still the dream, to be fair). And, if I wore a size larger than a seven (I’m a four), I could have just popped to the men’s department to get a trainer fix that wasn’t in pastel pink or turquoise. But, for me and many other women, lovely shoes without a heel simply weren’t an option. However, there’s a new wave of shoe brands filling this gap, providing flats for those of us who desire both comfort and style – and, what’s more, they’re all run by women.

Katie Harland started her brand, Rogue Matilda, when she couldn’t find smart shoes for work that had the comfort factor of trainers and didn’t cost a fortune. “I found that, in general, pumps were unsupportive, trainers unprofessional and traditional brogues unflattering and masculine,” she says. “I've always loved the traditional craft at the heart of men’s shoes and, when I noticed that more and more of my colleagues at work were opting for trainers, I thought that a hybrid brogue with a sportier sole in exclusively female colours would be the perfect shoe for them.”

I don't think you should have to choose between shoes you love but can't wear and shoes you can walk all day in

The brand has gone from strength to strength and, personally, I can’t recommend it highly enough for when you want a party shoe that will be your best friend on the dancefloor. My Birdie kilties – white, patent leather shoes with a feather fringe and pink laces – have seen me through countless dressy events, including Paris Couture Fashion Week and even an appearance on TV. They were also incredibly comfortable from day one. The first time I wore them, I broke my own cardinal rule of never wearing new shoes with no socks or blisters plasters stashed in my bag. But they didn’t rub one bit. It’s unsurprising that shoes designed by women, for women, place as much of an emphasis on comfort as they do on style. “I think the type of shoe I'm designing could only have come about from the frustrations I felt as a woman,” explains Harland. “I don't think you should have to choose between shoes you love but can't wear and shoes you can walk all day in.”

Claire Burrows, who designed for big brands including Kurt Geiger before founding her label Air & Grace, agrees: “I think about real women, what their day may throw at them, what they need, but also what's going to make their heart skip a beat. Countless times during my career, I have been in design meetings, wondering why I was the only woman in the room. I'd be the lone voice fighting for wonderful and wearable. Shoes are not only beautiful objects to look at – they have to serve a function, too.”

It’s not just women designing shoes, either – a flurry of female-focused trainer shops have been helping to change the flat-shoe game. Pioneers in the movement, East London’s Pam Pam was founded by Bethany Heggarty and Rio Holland in 2015. Offering sophisticated, stylish trainers exclusively for women, the Insta-friendly branding and tight edit of stylish trainers have attracted a huge customer base and paved the way for others to follow.

KICKSLOVE specialises in new, retro and exclusive trainer styles especially for a female audience. Founder Lisa Barlow Weber cut her teeth working at Nike: “It was always very frustrating to sit back and watch all the guys buy the latest releases and they didn’t come in small sizes,” she tells me, when we discuss her motivation for opening the shop. Most recently, Rosie Lyness started her online business, Second-Store, its name inspired by Simone de Beauvoir’s seminal feminist text, The Second Sex. “I have experienced many  awkward encounters with perplexed sales assistants who felt the need to point out that the styles I had been perusing for the last half hour were in fact ‘men’s styles’,” Lyness tells me. “I just thought this is rubbish – women want cool trainers, too, and if I can’t find a store that speaks my language and puts my needs first, then why not create it?” Second Store stocks niche brands such as the brilliant British heritage brand Walsh, as well as fellow female flat-footwear provider Rose Rankin.

With more and more of us rejecting the discomfort of heels in favour of something more comfortable, we could be in for a shift in the shoe world, with brands like these leading the charge. As Burrows says, “Life is too short for even just one day in miserable shoes.” I couldn’t agree more.

click here to shop the female-run flat shoe brands



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