Photo by Caitlin Abrams
Shoe designer Marion Parke with her new collection, launching this month at Pumpz.
Marion Parke doesn’t (yet) have the cache of the top-tier women’s shoe brands she hopes to rival, but she’s got something Jimmy Choo and Manolo Blahnik can’t claim: a podiatry degree. Parke is a Minneapolis podiatrist-turned-footwear designer, and she’s determined to finally put comfort and style in the same shoe.
“I was sitting in biomechanics class—learning how to treat people with naturally high arches and thinking: Isn’t a person with a naturally high arch similar to a woman in a high heel?"
She started sketching her dream heels: luxe materials, rich colors, sexy ankle straps. No pain.
“The footwear industry hasn’t done the best job of educating consumers on what is good or bad for the foot. Everyone thinks if a shoe is soft and feels like a pillow, that’s good for the foot. But the opposite is true.”
Parke only recently stepped away from her podiatry practice to focus on her shoe collection, which will launch this month at high-end boutiques around the country, including Pumpz at Edina’s Galleria, and online at prestigious luxury website ModaOperandi.com.
After graduating from podiatry school in Chicago and completing her residency in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Parke worked for a practice outside of San Francisco. Her husband, a retina specialist, had a job opportunity in Minnesota—which Parke, an Oklahoma City native, remembered fondly from her childhood days at Camp Lake Hubert. The mother of a 2-year-old, Parke joined podiatry practices in Edina and Woodbury when her family moved to town in 2013. But her feet hurt. “I found myself standing in front of all my beautiful shoes, thinking, I love these shoes, but they hurt my feet so much. I’m going to do this.”
Parke found a Minneapolis orthotist to make her an insole prototype. She hired an intellectual property attorney and filed a patent on the insole she designed. Then she went to Italy in search of a shoemaker, and, through the connections of Twin Cities contacts, she struck a deal with the Tuscany factory that produces Jimmy Choo, Miu Miu, Isabel Marant, and Acme Studios footwear.
“They know how to make something beautiful, but it doesn’t always fit right,” Parke says. “I think they recognize this is something people want.”
Parke isn’t making any claims that her shoes will alleviate sore feet. Marion Parke is a luxury fashion brand that takes comfort into consideration. Just slip on one of Parke’s elegant heels to feel the difference—the way it cradles the foot and positions the toes. “Certain shapes can force your hallux into the bunion position. A lot of designers don’t know that. They’re not aware of the anatomy.” The highest heels in Parke’s collection are 3.3 inches. She determined it “is truly not possible to make a 4-inch single-sole shoe comfortable.”
Still, Parke’s got her work cut out for her. Brand recognition is huge when it comes to shoes (just ask Carrie Bradshaw). Parke’s strategy is to be the lower-priced alternative in the designer department. “So if the Jimmy Choo is $850, there’s a Marion Parke next to it for $100 to $150 less,” she says. “I hope that’s enough for a woman to try it on, and then realize the design is both beautiful and intelligent.” Prices start at $495. marionparke.com