Monthly Archives: November 2016

British Woman’s Revolt Against High Heels Becomes a Cause in Parliament

When Nicola Thorp was sent home for refusing to wear high heels to her job as a receptionist in London’s financial district, she did not cower in her sensible flats. She got even.

Ms. Thorp, an actress, helped spur a popular revolt in Britain after she started a petition calling for a law that would prevent women from having to suffer from what she considered outdated and sexist dress codes at the office. In her case, she had been told that her shoes needed to be a minimum of two inches high.

On Monday, more than two years after Ms. Thorp was sent home over her shoes, members of Parliament called on the government to tighten the rules so British women would never again be forced to wear high heels at the office.

“What we found shocked us,” Helen Jones, a member of Parliament for the Labour Party and chairwoman of the petitions committee dealing with the issue, told fellow lawmakers. She said British women were enduring double standards in the workplace that belonged more in the 1850s than in modern times.

Britain’s 2010 Equality Act prohibits discrimination in the workplace on the basis of gender, age or sexual orientation. But Ms. Jones said at a parliamentary hearing on Monday that the law needed updating.

She said that after Ms. Thorp came forward, dozens of women said they had been forced to wear high heels at work, sometimes until their feet bled or they could no longer walk.

Invoking experts in podiatry and citing various studies, Ms. Jones said that women who wear high heels for long periods of time suffer from bunions, ankle sprains and a reduction of balance that lasts into old age.

She said one woman who worked in retail had testified that she had been asked to unbutton her blouse over Christmas to increase sales. Others said their employers had required them to dye their hair blond, wear nail polish or constantly reapply makeup.

Two parliamentary committees set up to investigate the issue concluded in January that Portico, the outsourcing firm that had insisted Ms. Thorp wear heels, had broken the law. (Portico rewrote its code almost immediately after the issue was raised by Ms. Thorp.)

Ms. Thorp has become a popular hero of sorts in Britain and beyond, and dozens of professional women have posted photographs of themselves on Twitter, proudly wearing flats.

This year, Samantha Power, the former United States ambassador to the United Nations, added her voice to the debate.

“The next petition,” she wrote on Twitter, “should be one requiring men to wear high heels for a 9 hour shift before they insist women do.”

Nab an Adidas 3D-Printed Sneaker This Fall

 After years of experimenting with 3D-printed footwear, Adidas on Friday announced that its first mass-produced 3D-printed shoe, the Futurecraft 4D, will go on sale this fall.

The shoe’s sole is shaped using digital light projection, a technology you might be familiar with if you shopped for a rear-projection TV 20 years ago. Despite rear-projection’s demise, the technique is still alive in the 3D printing industry: it projects patterned light onto a liquid photopolymer resin, shaping and hardening it into layers.

To make the Futurecraft 4D’s sole, Adidas partnered with the Silicon Valley startup Carbon, which says that its digital light synthesis technique is more efficient than ordinary 3D printing, and thus better-suited to making large quantities of durable goods. According to Texas Instruments, which originally developed the digital light processing concept in the 1980s, it’s now used to quickly print everything from prototypes, jewelry casting, custom medical implants and complex automotive and aerospace components.

In Adidas’s case, digital light synthesis results in a sole that works just as well as one made in an injection mold and has similar costs and production times. The company plans to sell 5,000 of the Futurecraft 4D this fall, and an additional 10,000 next year. Pricing hasn’t been announced yet; Reuters reports that the shoes will sell at an “unspecified premium price,” but Adidas plans to lower the cost as the technology develops.

Despite the benefits that 3D printing promises to bring to shoe design and manufacturing, it has been a gradual development process for Adidas and its competitors, at least compared to the consumer tech lifecycle. In 2013, New Balance became the first athletic brand to have a track athlete — middle distance runner Jack Bolas — compete in 3D-printed spike plates. But it wasn’t until three years later that the company managed to sell a 3D-printed shoe to the public in the form of a limited-edition $400 sneaker.

Adidas, meanwhile, unveiled the Futurecraft 4D’s predecessor as a concept shoe in 2015. It used thermoplastic polyurethane instead of resin shaped by digital light projection.

In Praise of an Aggressively Unfashionable Shoe

 There are running shoes and hiking boots, tennis sneakers and ballet slippers. There are cleats for soccer, fins for swimming and sandals for the beach. And then there are Dansko clogs, beloved by chefs, sculptors, gardeners, masseuses, surgeons — and also by every soft-skilled woman in New York I know.

I acquired my first pair of Dansko clogs for a summer waitressing job in high school. My mom drove me to a store known for its healthful, if offensively functional, footwear and — I’ll never forget it — made me pay for the manager-recommended clogs myself. “You have a job now,” she said. “Why would I buy them?” It was the first time I had ever spent money on something I didn’t want.

Fifteen years later, and I’m on my sixth pair of Dansko clogs. I am almost never not wearing them. Shoes I might have once considered comfortable — sneakers, flat ankle boots — are now unendurably tight. I prefer Danskos to socks or being barefoot and sometimes even succeed in convincing myself that nobody will notice if I wear them out at night with a dress.

With their swollen toe boxes and jouncy heels, they have the look of water beetles or licorice jelly beans. I’ve come to not just tolerate Dansko clogs, but actually consider them beautiful — a kind of appreciation usually reserved for natural objects like pine cones or elk antlers. Dansko clogs have a tool-like utility; if the Whole Earth Catalog were still around, surely it would stock them. I truly believe that the Museum of Modern Art should acquire a pair for its permanent collection.

Sturdy and high off the ground, with great arch support and not a lot of give, they are especially popular among those who perform emotional labor such as nurses and flight attendants: work that skews disproportionately female and involves a lot of standing. It was unsurprising to see so many pairs shuffling along Fifth Avenue at January’s Women’s March on Washington in New York City, literally supporting the chanting and sign-wielding.

Headquartered in Chester County, a rural and horsy part of Pennsylvania, about an hour’s drive west of Philadelphia, Dansko was founded in 1990 by Peter Kjellerup and Mandy Cabot, a pair of married ex-dressage trainers. The company is now completely employee-owned. The buildings are LEED-certified, tranquilly designed and staffed by 155 people, all wearing clogs. There are solar panels and a rooftop garden, stone-colored furniture and an expansive on-site kitchen. At the building’s main entrance, a sculpture inspired by Copenhagen’s famous “Little Mermaid” bronze statue sits in an outdoor fountain. Going there was like walking into an American’s fantasy of Scandinavia — a superlative quality-of-life index made real.

Cabot and Kjellerup look like people you might see on a hiking trail or knee-deep in corral mud. They spent the first decade of their marriage running an 80-acre farm and traveling back and forth to Europe, buying and selling horses. It was on a work-related trip to Denmark one winter in the late ’80s that Cabot, at her husband’s urging, borrowed a pair of traditional wooden-soled Danish clogs, “the kind any self-respecting farmer there owns,” which have closed backs. “They were unbelievable,” Cabot recalled. Despite being loose and unlined, they allowed air to circulate, keeping her feet warm. Later on that same trip, they encountered this style of clogs, again, but with polyurethane rather than wooden soles. These, they thought, were even better: the ideal barn shoes, great for mucking about, easy to get on and off.

With the proceeds from the sale of a foal, Cabot and Kjellerup bought their first order of polyurethane-bottomed clogs. They began importing them in small quantities and selling them out of the back of their station wagon at horse shows. The clogs soon gained a cult status among riders, who raved about the shoes’ comfort, warmth and support.

When I told Cabot and Kjellerup that almost everyone I know in New York wears Dansko clogs, even the most stylish and constitutionally avant-garde, they didn’t seem particularly impressed, or surprised. But no fashion company has ever approached them to do a collaboration, which astonishes me. Though I’ll always be loyal to the plain black leather model, it’s undeniable that they’d look great done up in a tomato red, Supreme logo printed across the vamps. It’s almost impossible to believe Opening Ceremony hasn’t tried to release limited-edition Dansko clogs in some absurdist material like pink fur.

Thank goodness they haven’t, though. Dansko clogs are bought and sold on the premise that there is no more comfortable shoe, especially for people who spend a large part of the day on their feet. That’s true. But it’s also true that they are an example of an extremely rare category of item that projects nearly nothing. At a time when every article of clothing seems to communicate information about the wearer’s class, status and personal taste, Dansko clogs are reassuringly neutral.

Before taking the train back to New York, I asked Cabot and Kjellerup one final question: “Will the design ever change?” They shook their heads. “No, absolutely not,” Kjellerup said.

A Beloved British Designer’s New Frontier: Sneakers

 While staying in Amagansett last summer, the British designer Faye Toogood purchased a pair of handmade white leather slip-ons by Feit, a New York City label with a cult following. She then promptly spilled “a giant American coffee all over them.” The shoes were ruined, but Toogood’s interest remained: “I loved the unisex design,” she says, “and the identification of who made it, and where it was made.”

The feeling was mutual. Feit’s founder and designer, Tull Price, had encountered Toogood’s eponymous line (a collaboration with her sister, Erica), which is known for its simple, androgynous silhouettes and rigorous transparency around materials and labor. He immediately recognized “the similarities in what we were trying to do.” Collaboration seemed inevitable.

Their first project, the Artist Shoe, which debuts on March 23, pairs Toogood’s materials (raw, sculptural canvas) with Feit’s construction (a one-piece upper and thick leather sole, assembled by hand). Primitive footwear — specifically a leather Eskimo boot — inspired the stripped-down shape. “It’s almost like a gathered bag,” says Toogood, “but with all the detailing and craftsmanship that Feit is well known for.”

In a departure for both brands, a limited number of shoes will feature a rustic, hand-painted pattern of rich red and black. The colors, which punctuate Toogood’s spring 2017 collection, are pulled from a painting by her 4-year-old daughter titled “Pigs in Mud.”

Though Toogood describes the spring ’17 collection as “celebrating the pastoral and agricultural,” she’s quick to note that the Artist Shoe is not “pastiche workwear.” The shoes are meant to be worn, and made to last: Knock them around, wear out the sole, or lose a lace and Feit will repair them. Between the cost of materials and the small scale of production, neither brand is set up to sell a lot of shoes — and that’s fine with them. Both Toogood and Price, who got his start in mass-market design before scaling back, puts politics before profit. “The world needs less,” says Price. “Everyone has plenty of things.”