May 23, 2018

Rocket scientist, astronaut and surgeon reinvent office high heels

Stiletto for working women will be comfortable and glamorous, says tech entrepreneur

Dolly Singh is not a fan of the status quo. She cut her teeth as Head of Talent at two of Silicon Valley’s most disruptive start-ups – the virtual reality company Oculus VR and Elon Musk’s spaceship business SpaceX.

So when she grew frustrated that her feet were sore at work, she was unwilling to put up with it. “The status quo is bullshit,” she said. “We’re told to accept certain things as women: ‘Shoes are supposed to hurt, that’s just the way it is.’ As long as people are willing to accept something, it won’t change.

Determined to shatter the idea that women have to suffer for beauty, Ms Singh went to a cobbler and pulled apart a high heel. What she discovered convinced her the stiletto industry was ripe for tech disruption.

Rocket scientist, astronaut and surgeon reinvent office high heels

“High heels were being made the same way they were 150 years ago,” she said. “I discovered famous shoe designers do sketches, which are sent to a factory where there are artisans.  So we had an ecosystem without engineers.That was mind-boggling given this is a $40 billion industry and it has essentially remained unchanged for centuries.”

The Team

Like many Silicon Valley executives, Ms Singh believes in cognitive diversity: the idea that complex problems are best solved by multi-disciplinary teams. She recruited a rocket scientist, an astronaut, a virtual reality engineer and an orthopaedic surgeon and tasked them to solve the problem of how to make high heels comfortable.

They analysed stilettos from every angle, including structure, motion and how they interact with foot and ankle anatomy. The result was a gold gladiator sandal with a towering four-inch heel and an eye-watering $925 price tag. Dubbed “the Tesla of high heels”, it was glamorous but perhaps not suitable for all occasions, which is why Ms Singh is now launching three new styles.

The new range will include an office pump in black snakeskin, a black leather sandal and a suede ankle boot that comes in black and leopard. The aim is to provide women with glamorous shoes they can wear to the office without enduring foot and ankle pain.

The office pump has a four-inch heel so is not for the faint-hearted. “If you are a senior attorney or a judge, you probably wouldn’t wear it in court,” said Ms Singh, whose LA-based business is called Thesis Couture.

The Innovations

Her team came up with four innovations to make the stilettos better for feet: they re-engineered the shank (the mini-chassis supporting the arch of the foot) into an S-shape to distribute the wearer’s weight away from the ball of the foot (where it causes orthopaedic problems) and towards the heel; they created a platform inspired by sneaker design to reduce the shock when the foot hits the ground; they widened the heels to reduce the lateral instability that causes women to twist their ankles; and they replaced the metal heel spike with a stronger one made of ballistic-grade polymer.

“What we were basically trying to do is make a stiletto that feels like a wedge,” said Ms Singh.

In a typical high heel, the average person will have around 80 per cent of their body weight on the ball of their foot and their toes. The team reduced this to just under 60 per cent.

However, that was only half the battle: Ms Singh wanted heels that were as glamorous as they were comfortable so she travelled to Italy in search of shoe artisans. “I wanted to take the best of two worlds and bring them together – bridging California innovation and engineering with this old world Italian craftsmanship and heritage,” she said.

Orthopaedic surgeon Mr Simon Moyes, who regularly treats women for foot and ankle problems caused by high heels, said: “High heels can be agonising to wear and can cause serious foot and ankle problems.

“These shoes have been cleverly engineered and statistically proven to take some of the force off the ball of the foot. The biomechanics of the shoes means much more of the weight of the foot is supported at the heel than the ball, which will be beneficial for high heel wearers.”

Instagram: @thesiscouture

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