"We Decided To Make Shoes For Women Who Run Through Airports"

In 2012, when David, her husband and business partner, passed away, Joan Helpern told The New York Times, “We had noticed that women were running through airports. We decided to make shoes for women who run through airports.” It was that mindset (and later, the creation and success of the pair's eponymous footwear brand, Joan & David) that many women can thank for the array of comfortable kicks available today.

On Sunday, Joan passed away at the age of 89, leaving behind a legacy that reminds (and encourages) women to consider the fact that style does not equal pain. Why? Because Joan & David's first pair of shoes wasn't a stiletto, pump, or any other type of heel that women were (and in some places in the world, still are) expected to wear. Instead, the duo aimed to design pieces that were wearable, launching with a blue-and-white pair of oxfords (a style that is just as popular today as it was in 1967, when it first hit stores):

“I was told women were married to high heels,” David told The New York Times in 1989. “I was told that soft, unstructured, lightweight shoes wouldn’t sell. People laughed. Especially the New England shoe manufacturers, who told me I’d be skinned alive."
Photo: Richard Drew/Ap Photo.
But the aesthetic Joan & David created was simple and classic, consisting of flat shoes in simple colors that could be worn everywhere (including an airport terminal). It proved to be a hit.

Though Joan's name may not be one we think of often, her accolades rectify her impact: At its heyday, Joan & David raked in $100 million in revenue, opened a flagship store on Madison Avenue, and convinced Italian factories they should, in fact, do business with a woman. (“When it was time to do the final closing, they wanted to look in the eyes of a man,” she told The New York Times of her first introduction to production.) In 1986, she was named Footwear News' designer of the year (to put that into perspective, the 2016 Shoe of the Year award was given to Kanye West).

What's most memorable (and commendable) about Joan, however, is her refreshing perspective on how women dress, especially in contrast to today's fad of high-heeled, all-dressed-up "airport style." Should the TSA line be treated as a runway? Joan thought so — but only to a degree. And that's what we're all about: You can look and feel good without having to compromise anything.

Joan, our feet thank you.

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