High Heels: Q&A with Dana Davis

May 4 2012, 11:30 AM

Shoe designer Dana Davis has a passion for design, technology, and women’s health. The Denver-bred Davis launched an Italian-made footwear collection focused on style and comfort in spring 2009. In her personal life, she has been very open about her struggle with Type 1 diabetes. I spoke with Davis last Friday when she was in town for a spring 2012 trunk show at J. Gilbert Footwear.

Walk our readers through your spring collection.

The Annie (pictured left) is our number one seller because it hits so many different trends—like this season’s color blocking and tribal influences—and has a really high heel. The shoe gives you height, but with our built-in technology a woman can wear it for eight to 10 hours. That's why they've become red carpet shoes [Freida Pinto, Christina Hendricks, Penelope Cruz, and Anne Hathaway have worn Davis’ shoes]. I've had three Achilles operations and a toe amputation, so I'm not super stable, and that’s why I started this line.

How has your experience with diabetes impacted you as a designer?

I've been diabetic for 37 years, and I basically can’t feel from my knees down. I find myself shifting a lot. I can't steady myself the way you would. But that's worked really well for me in being able to figure out shoes that are really comfortable.

Initially, women thought mushy, cushy shoes were comfortable, but they aren’t; you need strategic support with cushioning. So, we put you on a tripod and support your first and fifth metatarsals and your heel. We actually engineer each individual shoe. And the fun part is now that we have the technology down we can start playing with thinner insoles and different heels. We can never do stilettos because there's not enough surface area to support us, but we still have sexy heels.

What I think is really important about our collection is we're able to give women who felt ignored the chance to feel sexy again. They're able to have a fun shoe and feel young.  There's nothing worse than wearing a cute outfit and dumpy shoes. You can never feel sexy in bad shoes.

So when you developed this technology, it wasn’t all about your particular foot issues?

Not at all—it's about women. I'm 44, and I'm finding more and more that women over 40 are having foot issues because we're more athletic, we're on our feet, and we're wearing high heels more often. But our demographic starts with young girls in their 20s because they can wear the shoes eight to 10 hours and dance in them without taking them off and putting on flats or flip-flops. Three out of four women have foot issues because of their shoes. You can still have fun, sexy shoes—they just don't have to destroy your feet.  

You need to do wedding shoes!

I've made shoes for two friends—one was a blogger for DailyCandy—and the style was actually so popular that it's going into our fall season. And I do have friends making special requests, so we're slowly moving into weddings as well.

Any other areas that you want to expand into? Maybe sneakers?

It's hard because the sports arena is so full already. It would have to be more for the woman traveling to Europe: something she can wear that's hip but comfy and sporty, something she can run around in. Casual, but not sports-oriented.

You haven’t lived in Denver for 25 years. What changes have you noticed?

I come to Denver a lot. I drive around and see things that are really familiar, but then things are gone; there’s my elementary school, which is now a church. On the other hand, things have popped up, like all of Cherry Creek. And so many people here are into fashion! I love that Denver has really grown up. I mean, she's still got that small-town feeling, but she's kind of come into her own.

You’re very active in the diabetes world. Do you involve your line with any charities?

Definitely. At different times we donate a portion of the proceeds to the Children's Diabetes Foundation. And we're actually trying to figure out how to do something in Denver in conjunction with the Carousel Ball [which raises money for diabetes research and was started by Davis' mom] in Los Angeles. It'll be some type of fashion event or a part of the sale proceeds will go to charity, something along those lines.

Dana Davis shoes are available at J. Gilbert, 3003 E. Third Ave., 303-322-3280, starting at $275