At first blush, heels and comfort are rarely synonymous. In fact, designer styles can be some of the worst culprits of wreaking havoc on feet. Dr. Najwa Javed, however, is on a mission to shake up the luxury heel market with her line of supportive heels.
“A majority of women’s designer shoes have narrow toe boxes and minimal to no toe depth, which causes blistering and cramping of the toes,” she explains. “This, along with a very steep medial arch incline causes significant ball of foot trauma.”
Called E’mar, Javed’s brand aims to marry high style with medical innovation backed by her 15 years of expertise as a foot and ankle surgeon in Silicon Valley. The idea was sparked 10 years ago after Javed noticed a lack of wearable yet chic footwear options for her patients with foot pain.
In her quest to find a solution, Javed began by researching athletic shoes and becoming an expert of sorts on the category, advising her patients on which pairs offered the best support for their foot type. Soon, some of her patients were asking her for luxury shoe recommendations.
“If anything, these silhouettes appeared to be getting more steep and more uncomfortable,” she said. This line of thinking has been shared by other surgeons-turned-shoe-designers, including orthopedic surgeon Taryn Rose, who released her own collection of luxury heels beginning in the ‘90s and podiatric surgeons Joan Oloff and Marion Parke, who debuted their high-end footwear offerings in 2013 and 2015.
Instead of creating new shoe styles to start, Javed decided to use her past experience building insoles to create a custom inlay design that could offer support inside high heels. This initial plan ended up leading to two roadblocks.
While each handmade inlay was sized to patients’ feet, Javed realized that they wouldn’t conform to every heel style — depending on factors like the pitch and length of various toe boxes and heel counters. Not ready to give up on her insole design, though, she decided to advise footwear companies on how they could craft their footwear offerings to accommodate these orthotics. Many of the brands she encountered, especially designer labels, rejected the idea of putting insoles inside their shoes, saying that female customers were willing to wear them as is, however painful they may be.
A majority of these statements, she said, were made by male executives. (Issues surrounding male-founded fashion footwear brands that focus on the women’s market have been a sore spot in the shoe industry for a number of years as the importance of diversity and inclusion becomes tantamount.)
“I thought this was so ridiculous,” she said. “I had to change the way these guys were thinking, so I finally decided I was going to make a shoe myself.”
Following the example of many designer footwear brands, Javed was set on having her shoes handmade in Italy. After receiving multiple rejections from manufacturing companies in the country, her idea struck a cord with the owner of Italian Shoe Manufacturers, Emmanuele Monaldi, who had recently suffered a foot and ankle fracture upon receiving her initial pitch. Intrigued by the idea of bringing orthotic-style support to the luxury shoe category, he agreed to produce her pairs.
In partnership with fourth generation Italian artisan Loredano Boncori — who still helps craft the brand’s shoes today — the manufacturing company then created a single shoe prototype with Javed and designed multiple versions of the inlay, depth of the shoe and breadth of the toe box. To determine which inlay design best contoured to the shape of the foot without creating excess bulk, Javed took X-ray images of 10,000 of her patients’ feet inside other designer shoes with various versions of her inlay added.
Three later years, E’mar launched in January 2020 with three pump silhouettes: the Aiden; an eye-catching cutout style; the Meraki, a strappy Mary Jane; and the Raya, a peep-toe, ankle strap pump.
Made to offer what Javed calls “elevated medial arch rebalancing,” the final, patent-pending inlay uses a biomechanically-designed arch inclines to redistribute pressure away from the ball of foot for enhanced stability and comfort as you walk. (The brand’s name is an acronym for this technology. Continuing the theme, the Meraki pump is named after the Greek word “Meraki,” which translates to “the intersection of art and science”).
Thanks to the inlay, each heel is designed to offer support despite its 90 mm (or 3.5-inch) heel height.
“We know from medical literature that heels higher than 65 mm create way too much pressure on the wearer’s forefoot,” said Javed. “With E’mar, the idea was to offer the sleek look of a higher heel, but in a style that offers the wearability of a 2-inch heel.”
The shoes also feature multilayer foam padding underfoot, a roomier, elongated toe box and recessed heel counter to stabilize the ankle. What’s more, they feature a grip pattern underfoot in the form of E’mar’s heart-shaped sub logo.
The Aiden and Raya silhouettes (which are named after Javed’s two children) as well as the Meraki pump are made with genuine leathers sourced from tanneries in Milan and the historic eastern Italian region of Le Marche, known for its expert shoemaking. For a custom-fit straight out of the box, the brand also offers a free leather softening spray with each purchase — which can be applied to the toe box, ankle counter and ankle straps to loosen the hides.
In addition to being comfort-focused, the brand is increasing its sustainable efforts. Its current styles are produced in a factory that reduces waste by repurposing leftover materials into other products like chains and accessories. And the brand is set to launch vegan styles this July, made using cactus and pineapple-based leathers.
The vegan offerings will include a 90 mm block heel sandal and shorter 25 mm slingback sandal. As part of the launch, the brand will also debut a 90 mm block heel boot and 45 mm version of the slingback sandal, but made with genuine leather.
For each new heel height, Javed has built and tested a new inlay to ensure optimal weight distribution at every elevation.
As a female-founded brand, E’mar, Javed said she is committed to empowering girls and other women. Last year, the label teamed up with Women’s Led Wednesday, a holiday dedicated to supporting women-led brands, on a special giveaway. The label is also part of various female-centric organizations, including the Female Founders Collective; a support network of women business owners founded by Rebecca Minkoff and others; Hey Mama; a networking community of entrepreneurs, executives and founders who are working moms; and a Clubhouse group of female startup owners.
Through the end of March, E’mar will donate 20% of proceeds from the sale of its Aiden pump to Project Glimmer, a non-profit that partners with thousands of organizations to empower young girls. (Last year, as part of its philanthropic efforts, the brand also donated a portion of its proceeds from May through March to Feeding America to help relieve nationwide hunger.)
Although the company was hit hard by the pandemic in the months following its launch, the brand’s sales started to spike in the summer, as women, Javed says, began looking towards a future in which they’d once again have opportunities to wear heels. Javed, too, is hopeful for this time, and plans to debut E’mar in brick and mortar retail stores when the world opens up again. (While she declines to name the retailer, Javed says she had signed on with a major chain last year, but the project was put on hold as dress shoe sales plummeted across the country.)
“When this all ends, we want women to know when they’re heading to work or a party, they don’t have to be in pain,” she said. “And even if they choose to be, they now have a huge repertoire of innovations accessible to them. E’mar is not about being the only shoe a woman picks, but is about providing options that will support her anatomically and change the way she thinks about heels.”