I meet with designer Blake Brody at the new Equinox mega gym on New York’s Upper East Side. She has arranged for us to have a private Pilates Tower session with instructor Ashley Pierson, who happens to be one of Blake’s chief product testers, in addition to a friend.
Blake introduced a new category into the footwear world this spring with her Blake Brody In-Studio Footwear, lightweight eco-friendly flats designed for pilates, yoga or bar classes. “The idea came to me when my feet slipped off a reformer in a pilates class,” Blake says. “I really wanted a shoe that could maintain the sensitivity of being barefoot while protecting people from germs and slipping.” She soon left behind her marketing job at an investment firm and enlisted help from footwear experts to create the line.
And since her launch, Blake has seen it all. From athlete’s foot to various other health issues, the designer has heard her share of unpleasant stories from enthusiastic customers. But that has only strengthened her resolve to help.
The designer’s eponymous collection, produced in China with Italian and Japanese-made materials, is meant to be an “affordable luxury,” according to Blake, and retails for $98 to $145. The shoes feature an antimicrobial lining to protect against germs, as well as arch supports to add comfort and prevent cramping. The lining also is coated with a natural hydrophilic plasma, so it wicks away sweat and speeds evaporation.
As our workout moves into full swing, I can’t help but notice how dry my feet are in the shoes. Good thing, since we’re working with heavy springs for weight resistance and our feet have to be secure. “You are also in these positions where you can’t help spending a lot of time looking at your feet, so it helps if [the shoes] are cute,” Blake adds.
She emphasizes that “due to the yogic nature of my target market, they had to be as green as possible.” Thus the shoes are made with vegan materials and stitched together to eliminate the use of toxic adhesives. Blake says she aims to keep perfecting this one product to make it better and more eco-friendly. And for fashion inspiration, she looked to the runways. This fall, she will roll out a higher-cut construction, as well as more prints, a rear corset she describes as “very Black Swan” and an eggplant-colored bow.
Blake, a pilates junkie, continues to take classes wherever she travels as extra market research. “I’ve done every class out there,” she admits. “You really have to understand your market and I have a pretty good grasp in New York and Los Angeles, but I’m still working on everything in between.” Research has always been important to Blake, who tried every possible alternative foot covering, from grippy socks to Vibram FiveFingers to ballet slippers. “There was nothing specifically for this purpose — or aesthetically pleasing,” she quips.
And so production began. “I consulted with experts for the technical parts,” Blake says, “but I was the fit model and tester for the first season, along with studio instructors, who are often the harshest critics. The line has been so positively received by everyone. It has been a very satisfying feeling for me.”
But by no means is Blake a flats-only kind of girl. At our post-pilates vegetarian lunch at Candle 79, Blake tells me she is a fan of Manolo Blahnik for day and Christian Louboutin or Valentino for evening. “It’s really important to wear shoes that feel good and make your feet look pretty. That’s my goal with my own collection too.” For her June 4 wedding at the Mandarin Oriental in New York to fiancé Rob Brinburg, Blake will be donning Christian Louboutin’s Something Blue pumps with Swarovski crystals. “I ordered them right after we got engaged,” Blake confesses. “There was only one size 6 1/2.”
Blake’s father, Martin Brody, former CEO of Sag Harbor, has acted as her partner, helping with the overseas manufacturing. “It’s so much fun to work with him,” Blake says. But she isn’t ready to hire sales reps yet. “This is a new idea for everyone, and I want to make sure they understand the concept first,” she explains. “I’m working with instructors and clients to get the collection into the right places and on the right people.”
And perhaps a major sales boost is just around the corner. Besides selling her brand at Blakebrody.com, Blake has been approached for co-branding opportunities, and after our lunch, she is off to a meeting with a national chain. After that, she is scheduled to test a “complementary product” set to launch in the next year. As we part ways, I vow to keep doing pilates and to never go barefoot again.