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Sofia Z. Founder Usha Patel on a Quest for Comfort

There aren’t many shoe designers who can use physical laws to describe what makes their heels more comfortable. Usha Patel, founder of new fashion-comfort line Sofia Z., is an exception.

An engineer by training, who worked as a global sales executive, Patel understood the discomfort of rushing from meeting to meeting in uncomfortable shoes. Since she couldn’t find the heels she needed, she took things into her own hands, launching Sofia Z., in the summer of 2013. Patel put her scientific background to use in designing the shoe’s technological innovations, including the patented polyurethane-resin composite foot bed, which cushions and cradles the foot, a toe box to release stress in the metatarsals, and a heel built with a stainless steel rod surrounded by high-strength resin for stability.

The line is marketed to professional women ages 30-55 who must be comfortable standing on their feet all day, but when it comes to testing the shoes’ comfort, Patel herself has the final word. “I personally feel-test every single shoe. I wear it four times for a period of 12 straight hours,” she said. Of the sample shoes she wear tests, 50 to 60 percent of the styles don’t pass her standards.

The time and technology required for launching a comfort brand raises the shoes’ retail price — the line retails for $300-$360. Yet Patel explains that her customers end up paying for more than just a brand, the cost is for the technology and workmanship, not the label. Patel said of her customer, “It’s hard for them to cough up the money for the expensive first shoe, but then she comes back for the second, third, fourth.”

The Fall ’15 line features neutral tones: camels, nudes, blacks and browns, and treatments like embossed and laser-cut leathers. Highlights of the collection include Angela, a mule with gladiator-style cutout designs, Bianca, a peep-toe bootie with a marbled heel, and Sandra, a pump with floral laser-cut designs.

Sofia Z. shoes are currently available at several California luxury boutiques, Bluefly.com, and the brand’s site. Patel believes strongly in her product and is now looking to expand her presence in boutiques. She explained that the issue with her website’s direct-to-consumer business or with online retailers is that it’s hard to sell comfort digitally. She can talk about the shoe’s construction, but when people can see the design and try it on in a physical boutique, Patel says the shoe speak for itself. Patel said that, in her experience, there’s upwards of a 90 percent chance once the customer tries a Sofia Z. shoe, she will buy it.