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Start-Up Antonia Saint NY Takes on Comfort, Construction and Fit

Antonia Saint NY captured the shoe market’s attention this summer when it launched heels with sneaker-like comfort on Kickstarter, but a deeper dive into founder Antonia Saint Dunbar’s concept reveals a shoe design that pulls back the curtain on a number of footwear issues.

“Footwear is a racket,” said Dunbar. “The modern customer is used to cheap and we’re always trying to provide a cheaper product, but we need to re-educate people. We’re creating more waste in landfills with products that have shorter life cycles. There’s a saying, ‘When you buy cheap, you buy twice.’ But you could argue that it’s more.”

Dunbar inherited her instinct for solution-based design from her graphic artist mother and industrial designer father. Raised in a house with a stove and refrigerator designed by her dad, she grew up looking at products through the critical lens of a designer.

“You can make products either make life better or harder,” she said.

In 2013, Dunbar co-founded Thinx, the period-proof underwear company with controversial ads and a giveback component that supports girls and women in developing countries. As an “agent of change,” the company won a free office space on the west side of New York City, but it was during those 20-minute walks from the subway station to the office when Dunbar began to brainstorm ways to make her uncomfortable shoes more wearable.

Board-certified podiatric surgeon Dr. Suzanne Levine and the design team at the Brooklyn Shoe Factory (which Dunbar also co-founded) brought her sketches to life. The final product is a fashionable package of 3.5 inch pumps and pointed-toe flats that address three big issues in women’s footwear—comfort, construction and custom fit.

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Antonia Saint NY achieves sneaker-like comfort through its patented SoftSurround system. Both shoe styles are cushioned with tri-arch support and a dual-layered foam that supports the entire foot. Embedded comfort strips at the heel and sides hold the foot in place and prevent blisters and the cushion at the base of the big toe prevents sharp pain under that joint. Additionally, the high heel contains a triple-elevated ball of the foot cushion designed to withstand 2.5 times the body weight from a regular high heel.

The shoes are made to withstand the daily wear and tear of pounding the pavement. Ballistic nylon heels mean no more nicks, while reinforced toes and stronger heel tips enhance the shoes’ durability.

To address proper sizing, split sizes are available and in three different widths. Antonia Saint NY also launched a foot-scanning app to provide the most accurate measurements for consumers to have an even more customized fit.

“I feel like consumers don’t know their shoes don’t fit,” Dunbar said. “Manufacturing practices have whittled shoemaking down to one width and we haven’t sized our feet since we were done growing. We forget that our feet change with pregnancy, weight gain, weight loss and just sheer gravity.”

Antonia Saint NY raised $1.8 million on Kickstarter in 40 days before transferring to Indiegogo’s InDemand platform to continue pre-orders because of ongoing demand worldwide. The company has now passed $2 million in funding and has more than 7,500 people worldwide who want the shoes.

The Victoria heel, available in black and two shades of nude, will retail for $295. The Jane Autumn flat in black and ruby red will retail for $225.

The company, which will ship its first shoes in February, designs in New York and manufactures out of China. “You have to go where the experts are,” Dunbar said. The shoe’s unique components, like ballistic nylon dyed the perfect shade of red, come with their own set of challenges.

But more than just tapping experts abroad, Dunbar said the Brooklyn Shoe Factory was founded with goal to bring more jobs to the U.S. “We have intention of growing and scaling business here,” she said.

Part of that growth plan includes wholesale partners, a branded storefront and more heel heights and toe shapes. And Dunbar would one day like to create a circular economy by taking back footwear and repurposing them.

“The dream is really big,” she said. “We’re never going to be a fashion brand. We want to be a solutions company that provides you with essentials that make you feel amazing and don’t contribute to excessive landfilling. More companies need to be about profit and purpose.”