How a battle with cancer led to high fashion shoes that heal


After 20 years in the fashion industry, primarily in footwear, Nelli Kim suddenly found herself unable to wear most of her shoes. “I was battling ovarian cancer and was surprised to find myself suffering from chemotherapy-related foot pain,” she says, explaining that due to the associated neuropathy her feet had become very sensitive. , as if “all nerves were overworked”. Unable to wear the many designer shoes she had accumulated during her years of collaborating with brands like Anthropologie, Bergdorf Goodman and Diane Von Furstenberg, and ill with sneakers and orthopedic shoes, she began to conceptualize REDEN, a radically comfortable shoe for those who need it most. “I have so much empathy for those with sore feet because it’s relentless and distracting,” she explains. “There were times when I couldn’t concentrate at work because of the pain. I would wake up in the middle of the night with cramps in my feet from what I had been wearing all day. ‘there had to be a better way. ”

REDEN, which launched this month on Kickstarter, has become her labor of love, and she developed it in consultation with A. Holly Johnson, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at New York Special Surgery Hospital ( HSS) and physician to the United States ice hockey team. Inspired by a volunteer mission trip to India in 2014, Kim decided to produce her shoes there and use the profits to help others. “I got to see the struggle that charities face and I thought, ‘What if I could start a business where generosity is built into the business model and support my favorite charities in the process. road? »» Already exceeding its fundraising goal of $ 25,000, REDEN will donate 50 percent of its net profits to charity, with a focus on cancer-related groups.


The art of shoes

After starting in the footwear world as vice president / divisional director of women’s footwear merchandise at Bergdorf Goodman and then working on product development, Kim held positions overseeing the design, production teams. and wholesale. “My job was to understand macro-consumer trends and make sure that the collections we were developing would resonate a year in the future when the consumer actually bought the shoes,” she says, explaining that these experiences led to an understanding of the full life cycle of a shoe.

At REDEN, Kim has focused on high-end design: the unisex “Purpose Loafer”, for example, is inspired by the woodworking of Japanese-American designer George Nakashima. “He has masterfully used butterfly seals to mend natural seams and cracks in wood, not only salvaging the wood but elevating it into collectible and functional art. The butterfly seal is such a perfect metaphor for life and life. the idea that we are more beautiful because of our scars, not less. “


The research

“I felt there was room in the market for some really comfortable and stylish shoes after firsthand experiences of my battle with cancer. But whatever price point you were looking for, this guy of shoe just didn’t exist, “according to Kim, who notes that previously most” comfort shoes “were made with a wider toe box or extra cushion, which often led to awkward designs. “This is not the approach we took at REDEN,” she adds, explaining that she researched and worked with a range of foot and biomechanical experts before coming up with a solution. both elegant and functional.

Kim later assembled a panel of coworkers, collaborators, and family members with different foot shapes and specific foot needs to test shoe and insole wear. “Most conventional wear tests are done using a standard foot pattern with standard foot proportions. While this process is useful in making a shoe of ideal proportions, it does not help if the regular people don’t have that type of foot. We wanted to make sure we had feedback from different types of feet that we could then apply to future fit-rounds. “


A kick above

REDEN’s in-house design process began with a comprehensive study of existing comfort footwear and technologies on more than 20 variables including arch support, cushioning, flexibility, weight and sole composition. exterior. “To put it simply, there are three main components in every shoe: the upper, the outsole and the insole.” The upper was predetermined by the look the team wanted, but the key innovation was in the design of the sockliner and outsole. In conventional dress shoes, the insole is not removable, providing essential structure and support for the shoe before the outsole is attached. “If you’re lucky the sockliner has extra padding and the shoe has a larger toe box for more comfort, but no arch support. We decided to make our sole. removable interior and to integrate it with the best elements of the replacement orthotics, but adapted to our specific shoes. ” Each of REDEN’s outsoles is made of a lightweight rubber compound, chosen after evaluating various materials for their weight, flexibility and durability. “With every detail of the shoe taken into account, right down to the liner system we used, to the little piece of memory foam inserted into the heel to prevent blisters, our goal is for the shoes to be comfortable right out of the box. the box – no breakage required. “


Ready for launch

After a complex multi-year design and prototyping process, the team first tested the shoes last year with resounding positive feedback. “We know that we are building a shoe that will help a lot of people. I can speak from personal experience that I stopped having cramps in my feet after wearing REDEN shoes. Even sneakers are not as comfortable for me. than our shoes, ”adds a delighted Kim. be able to donate part of the profits to charities fighting against cancer. “It really feels like a looping moment to be able to give back to such an important cause, which also helped inspire our product! “

REDEN is online on Kickstarter until March 11, 2021.

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