Top Tips for Buying Women's Shoes

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This article is written by Dory Benami, co-owner of the Fortress of Inca brand. Although Dory has never bought a pair of women’s shoes for himself he knows plenty of useful tips for women who buy shoes and shares them below. At Fortress of Inca we make sure our shoes and boots are comfortable and we bear in mind what our customers care about – price, comfort and style!

1. Never Trust How Comfortable Shoes are by trying them on a store!

This sounds counter-intuitive but if you have bought a pair of expensive shoes before, there’s a good chance you bought them in a really nicely decorated store with carpeting. The reason most shoe stores use carpets is because they are trying to mask how comfortable the shoes that you are trying on actually are. Carpets are like shock-absorbers in cars. Nearly all uncomfy shoes will feel great when you walk on carpet. But that’s not real life! I recommend testing the shoes you are about to buy on cement or hard wood or even cobblestone (if you live in New York, you will know what I mean about cobblestone.) Specifically test to see how much give the shoe has and how the padding in the toe and heel supports your foot. Many shoe brands save money by not using enough padding underneath the shoe’s leather and enough shock-absorption on the heel. At Fortress of Inca we always look for ways to make a comfortable shoe stylish and not the other way around. The worst thing to hear from friends who become our customers or customers who become our friends are complaints that shoes we make are uncomfortable, that’s why we aim to make every pair as comfortable as we can.

2. Pitch over Heel Height

Most women who wear heeled shoes are obsessed with how many inches the heel is going to give them. Petite women are especially concerned with wearing five or sometimes six inch heels. However, some shoes with really high heels do not use a platform toe and as a consequence can be extremely uncomfortable to wear. This is not your fault! This is the shoe designer’s fault. He or she has constructed a shoe that goes against the laws of gravity. Who wants a pair of really expensive designer shoes they never wear? Nobody! In fact, this is one of the main reasons designer Christian Louboutin has become so successful. As we all know, Louboutin utilizes a very high stiletto heel on most of his shoe designs, but he’s very smart using a platform above the toe to minimize the pitch of the shoe and therefore he is able to make shoes that are very wearable as well as very sexy. My advice to shoe buyers is this: Do not pay attention to how many inches in the heel, instead look at the pitch angle of the shoe where the foot rests and the amount of inches in the platform height. These other inches are just as important, if not more, for buying a sexy pair of high heeled shoes!

3. Leather Socks

The shoe sock or footbed is the part of the shoe on which your foot rests when you wear the shoe. This part of the shoe or boot is often overlooked and in some cases not able to be seen. Many shoe companies save a few bucks by using a non-leather sock (polyurethane) instead of using a leather sock. Leather is better cause it breathes and it will make sure that your beautiful new shoes don’t smell terrible. Sexy shoes are not stinky shoes! Look for the leather symbol or ask if the shoe’s footbed is made of leather. At Fortress of Inca we always use leather socks for our shoes and boots. Quality is important to us and we value creating good products over saving money. We hope that our customers appreciate the value of high quality shoes with premium materials as much as we do.

4. Why do shoes from China cost so much less than shoes from Italy?

The answer to this question is not simple. I can provide some explanation but the real answer is that some designer shoes are very expensive for no good reason and cheaper shoes like the ones you can find at Zara or H&M are gorgeous and stylish but are made so cheaply and their price reflects the actual quality.

The first thing I look at when I pick up a pair of shoes is where it was made. Labor costs in China, Vietnam and India are relatively inexpensive, but also their factories are well organized and built to scale. Shoe factories in China can make beautiful expensive good quality shoes but the Chinese are also experts at knocking off expensive styles and making them much cheaper. They do this by utilizing an assembly line and by using cheaper materials. They also can take advantage of lax regulations concerning the environment and labor in some Far East countries. This does not mean all “Made in China” shoes are cheap or badly made or made without concern for environment or workers. It just means that some cheaper priced shoes made by unscrupulous brands who are either unaware of factory conditions or choose to look the other way.

Another huge mistake some customers make is paying too much attention to the “Made in Italy” label. “Made in Italy” is extremely misleading. In fact, recent legislation in Italy made it legal for Italian companies to call shoes partially or mostly made in countries like China to be labeled “Made in Italy.” What this means for brands like Prada or Gucci, is that they can design and create a shoe upper and source materials in China and then send these uppers to Italy where they are sewn and legitimately labeled “Made in Italy”. This, of course, results in customers all over the world overpaying heavily for their shoes as the labor costs in China are significantly less than in the European Union. High profit margins for Italian brands are good for Italian shoe companies and fashion houses but ultimately they rip off loyal brand enthusiasts across the globe. I think this is an unfair practice and as a result I advise to look at smaller, lesser-known Italian brands who design and fully produce in Italy if it is important to you to buy Italian shoes.

Italy may be the best known for making shoes, but that doesn’t mean all Italian factories are excellent. At Fortress of Inca we chose to manufacture our shoes in Peru. Peru is a country known for its artisanal traditions and the highest level of craftsmanship in the Americas. Peruvian or “Pima” cotton for example is very expensive as is alpaca fibers and this has made Peru a relatively expensive country to do business in. That’s the real reason many brands do not produce in Peru. However, after traveling to Peru and looking at well-executed shoes from designers Rachel Comey and John Fluevog, I was convinced that shoe making in Peru is second to none (this includes countries famous for producing quality shoes such as Italy and Brazil.) Quality is the number one reason why we decided to make our shoes and boots in Peru, and the number two reason is that we utilize a lot of the Peruvian tradition traced back centuries to the Incas in our designs. Finally, we decided it was a good idea to make shoes in Peru because the United States and Peru are good trading partners. This means Fortress of Inca is able to take advantage of low duties and taxes on importing our shoes and boots to the USA. Low duties and taxes for the shoe company means more value for the customer. Bear this in mind when buying a shoe that says “Made in China” on it cause whoever imported it to the USA had pay 33% of the shoe’s cost to the US government. Higher duties for shoe brands means that the brand has probably passed those costs on to you – the shoe purchaser!

5. Buying shoes online

Most women I know buy shoes online. Let’s face it women are incredibly busy nowadays. Balancing work, family, education and a shopping addiction is a tough job and so my advice to women seeking to buy shoes online is to remember that sometimes the shoe’s picture will look a lot better than the shoe that arrives on your doorstep. Most shoe brands use Photoshop to make their shoes look beautiful on your computer screen, but that’s not always what you will be getting. I recommend using reputable shoe sellers such as Solestruck or Shopbop that ship for free as well as accept returns. In addition I would recommend purchasing shoes or boots from the brand itself as they will be the most concerned with any fit or quality issues. I would avoid purchasing shoes from Ebay or directly from manufacturers located in China. Many of these sellers will display shoe photos on their websites that do not match the actual quality of the shoe and they take up to two weeks to deliver. And don’t even think about trying to return shoes to one of these sellers in China!