March 3, 2021

The Boss: Farewell, Aching Feet

My grandfather taught me Chinese brush painting and calligraphy. I loved the creative arts, but when it came time for college, my father made it clear that I had to major in a field that would definitely lead to a job. So I went to the University of Delaware and got my degree in chemical engineering in 1997.

My first engineering job was with DuPont. I was assigned to its chemical plant in Plaquemine, La., near Baton Rouge. After a year, I wanted to be nearer to my family, including my grandfather, who was ill.

When I returned to Wilmington in 1998, Chevron hired me as a saleswoman, and my assigned territory was Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania. For fun, I competed in regional ballroom dancing contests. My favorite is the rumba, the dance of love and passion.

After several years, the company moved me to San Francisco, where I worked in sales and, later, in marketing. There I met David Spatz, who was a business manager. He left the company in 2000 and I left in 2002, and we married the same year. While I was trying to decide what work to do next, I took several courses in painting and design.

One day, I stopped in at Arthur Beren, a shoe store in San Francisco, and met the designer Taryn Rose at a promotional event for her shoes. On the basis of that chance conversation, she offered me a job in marketing in her Los Angeles office. I worked for a year to learn the business and to see if I wanted to commit to shoemaking.

That same year, 2003, my sister called me two days before her wedding for help with her shoes. She had chosen a pair of stilettos for the ceremony but wanted me to find her some comfortable shoes to wear for the dancing afterward. I bought her a pair of ballroom dancing shoes, and she wore them right through the evening.

Her request made me realize it was time to strike out on my own, and to use my engineering background to create shoes that were comfortable — with great cushioning and arch support — and stylish. I recalled that while I was working in the oil industry, I wore pumps to look professional, but that my feet were always killing me.

I also wanted to create some smaller sizes because, with size 3 feet, I usually had a hard time finding high-fashion shoes that fit. Just as I was starting my company, I found out that I was pregnant, so David pitched in to help me. (Our daughter was born in 2005.)

After I found a factory in Italy to make what I call “couture comfort,” I introduced 12 styles. At my first trade show, Nordstrom gave me orders for five stores in the Chicago area. It is still a big customer, along with Bloomingdale’s and independent sellers.

My husband and I operate the business, which took in $6 million last year and will grow further this year. We now have 75 styles. I still travel quite a bit. I go to Italy eight times a year to oversee manufacturing. I also make many personal appearances because I like to talk to my customers and hear what they have to say about wearing my shoes and their lifestyle and footwear needs.

And I love to work with Dress for Success, the nonprofit organization that provides disadvantaged women with clothes, shoes and the support they need to enter the workplace.

I know how lucky I was to have support from David when I stepped away from a secure career to do something completely new.

As told to Elizabeth Olson.

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