Designers like Tiffany Tuttle and other founders of female-led luxury shoe brands are pushing for style and comfort in shoe designs, trying to connect with an untapped segment of women.

As a former dancer, Tiffany Tuttle, founder of luxury shoe brand LD Tuttle, knows the importance of comfort-driven design in making or breaking a performance. After realizing that her passion for sketching shoes during her dance downtime could translate to a more viable profession, she went to school in Italy to learn more about shoemaking and pattern construction. On her personal time, she conducted her own field studies, visiting local factories to see the manufacturing process firsthand, before deciding to start a luxury shoe company of her own in 2006.

Tuttle’s company specializes in unique takes on traditional models, and the shoes sell at retailers including Saks Fifth Avenue, Shopbop and The Dreslyn. She is among a growing cabal of female founders breaking into the luxury footwear market with a mission to change how women’s shoes are designed, mainly by increasing comfort.

Designing for comfort

While luxury shoes for men is a rapidly growing sector of the market, women’s shoes have long driven a majority of international and domestic sales. According to data compiled by Euromonitor, women’s designer footwear was a $17.6 billion global market in 2017, while men’s brought in nearly $9.7 billion.

Jaclyn Jones, founder of her eponymous Los Angeles-based luxury shoe label, said leading brands have long neglected designing for comfort. This oversight in shoe design, in being able to provide style and comfort for women, is not only hurting women physically, but it’s also fostering a stigma within luxury footwear that has made comfort synonymous with frumpy.

Pushing boundaries in a male-dominated industry

Jones wasn’t the only one who struggled to have industry partners take her seriously. Jodie Fox, co-founder of Shoes of Prey, a mid-price brand that sells online and in select stores like Nordstrom, said in this article that her experience as the only female founder alongside two male counterparts has illuminated the difficulties of being a woman in a male-driven industry, even in an industry designing for female consumers.

This hasn’t deterred Fox from playing a significant role in building a company that caters to the female consumer by putting her first — not only by considering comfort in material sourcing and manufacturing, but also by offering a unique customization program that allows consumers to build their own shoes. Designers like Fox are paving a new way forward for the fashion industry as they prioritze both style and comfort for their female customers.

Designing shoes for an evolving lifestyle

Working in tandem with the efforts of these female-led shoe companies is the growth in popularity of wellness culture, said Fox. While this has led to a boom for the athleisure and activewear markets, it has also helped influence design beyond just sneakers and leggings to be more focused on comfort by overturning preconceived notions that designing for utility lacks style.

Fox said, as part of the obsession with wellness, consumers are looking to be outfitted in new ways to keep up with a way of living that includes bouncing to work lunches and yoga retreats, and maintaining small lifestyle changes like walking to work — an activity that is particularly difficult in 5-inch Jimmy Choos.

“If you’re not comfortable, you can’t walk and move with confidence. It shapes the way you stand,” Tuttle said.