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Designer to Watch: Joan Oloff

Podiatrist, shoe designer and third generation footwear entrepreneur Joan Oloff has watched designers perpetuate the idea that women have to suffer in order to look good for decades—and she’s tired of the arrogance.

Oloff recalled a recent interaction she observed between a shopper and a sales associate at the Christian Louboutin boutique in Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City, “The woman immediately complained that the heels were uncomfortable and the sales person told her they were supposed to hurt.”

She continued, “I’ve been fixing feet and seeing the ill effects of these shoes… You don’t want to be a 50-year-old woman apologizing for what shoes have caused to your feet. Even the highest end of the fashion world is aware that there’s a problem.”

With no cure for arrogance in sight, Oloff said there’s no better time than the present to open her first New York City showroom and to re-introduce her eponymous range of high-end dress shoes with a patent-pending comfort technology. The new showroom, located at 37 West 57th Street, will open for FFANY (Feb. 2-4) with a VIP reception on Feb. 3 with tennis legend Billie Jean King and television personalities Gayle King and Robin Roberts.

Launched in 2013, Joan Oloff shoes are designed to support feet in the same way as custom orthotics by distributing body weight throughout the foot, supporting the arch and stabilizing the foot so toes do not have to contract and lay flat. “It’s a more ergonomically correct shoe,” Oloff said. Through word-of-mouth and grassroots marketing efforts, the brand has gained a following among women who are on their feet all day, as well as athletes who want a safe and comfortable alternative to sneakers for day-to-day wear.

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Shoes retail for $350-$600, a higher price than standard comfort fare, but Oloff noted that the line’s most expensive elements are the hidden like its unique insole. “And that’s part of the challenge, showing value,” Oloff said, adding that there’s no room for educational information on a fashion footwear sales floor. “They just have to look good and then feel good,” she said.

Oloff grew up in her father’s footwear retail business in Commack, Long Island, where she said the family sold two or three unattractive comfort shoe brands that were otherwise impossible to find in the area, to consumers who prioritized comfort over fashion for medical reasons. “Comfort has grown leaps and bounds,” she said. “But the reality is, it’s limited how fashionable a comfort shoe can get. The challenge is to get it sexy.”

For 2016, Oloff is introducing a proprietary 90mm heel that mimics the sleek and slender silhouettes associated with designer labels but with more stability. Other elevated details include soft leathers, material mixes, color blocking and luxury hardware. For fall, the brand is following up its success with 4-inch ankle booties with a new range of tall boots.

“I’m excited that women are making better choices——eating better, working out, making better purchases,” said Oloff. “There’s a natural evolution of where people are becoming more mindful in every part of their lives. Women want and deserve it all.”

Now, Oloff said it’s up to the women’s footwear designers to catch up. “Women are ready for it. Mark my words. In five years you’re going to see tons of brands try to do this.”