Some ladies in Texas are taking the torture out of high heels while at the same time doing something to help women help themselves in the workplace.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Though they’re hardly more than a year into their journey, the principals of Heelho Insoles have stepped out nicely—and comfortably, for that matter. Maybe it’s the patent-pending cushion in their footwear—a cushion that happens to be their invention and their product line. Whatever the case, things are stepping up for Heelho Insoles as the Austin-based company responds to a surge in product orders and takes aim on new markets, most recently Southern California.
Heelho is marketed as an insole cushion that works especially well in high-heeled women’s shoes, eliminating or minimizing pain that can develop in the forward portion of the underside of the foot, in close proximity to the ball of the foot.
The latest recognition for the Heelho ladies came in May, when they were named Business of the Month for the month of June by Texas Unchained. For more on that development, see the related article.
Dr. Gary D. Prant, a podiatrist in Austin, is among the doctors who have endorsed the product. Prant said that a great idea and different from anything else on the market. He credited the product’s contours as holding the key to its effectiveness. “There is a depression [in the cushion] where the second and third metatarsals are located,” said Prant. “That is the spot where most women get their pain. If you take the pressure off the second and third metatarsals, you do a much better job of getting rid of the pain than you do with an ordinary flat cushion. That’s what makes this product unique.”
Company founder Tina Goodman hatched the idea for the product when she was solving a problem with foot pain that she herself was experiencing.
“I started experiencing pain in my high heels, especially at the ball of the foot,” Goodman said. “I’m in my mid-50s, and I had been a nursing home administrator—I’m not one currently—and in nursing homes we used to have a method of treating pressure wounds. That method was to put a pad over the sore, but the pad would have a hole in it, so that the sore would not come in direct contact with the bed and would have a chance to heal. Applying that same thought process, I took an insole, cut a hole in the insole in a place that corresponded to the part of my foot where my pain was, and I put the insole in my shoe and it gave me relief. I was so pleased with the results that I put a patent together.”
Goodman said that sometime after she’d filed for patent, she was at a trade show where she met two physical therapists—Dr. Jennifer Krause and Cheryl Lytle—who happened to be working a booth that was dedicated to wound care management that involves pressure redistribution. Goodman’s own recent project was based on the same principle. Approaching the two, Goodman shared her new idea and said that she was planning to call the business “Heelho,” and that she was looking for a few investors.
Said Goodman: “They were just kind of blown away that I came up to them and starting talking to them like that, because they had already had a conversation about how the [physical therapy] industry is need of more solutions that involve pressure redistribution. Especially where high heels are concerned, because simply padding the affected area only adds pressure and does nothing to offload pressure where the sore spot is. So they thought I’d shown up as sort of an angel [laughs] or something.”
Krause and Lytle joined Goodman as co-owners—eventually, four others would round out the ownership circle—and the team put a mold together and found a China-based manufacturer.
“We received the initial shipment of our product at the end of 2015 and since then have been selling it on Amazon.com and on our website [heelho.com],” Goodman said. “It’s been a hit.”
Co-owner Jennifer Krause, for her own part, thinks their product fills a long-unmet need. Krause, who has a doctorate in physical therapy, feels that helping women get back into high heels is a step that can help women feel better about themselves—and perhaps can even help them climb higher in the business world.
According to image consultant Sandy Dumont, high heels might actually help women in the workplace because they are one way of leveling the playing field with men, who are generally taller than women. “University studies have shown that tall people earn more and are thought to be more authoritative,” says Dumont. “So, it’s not a good idea to ditch those three-inch heels.”
Said Krause: “As women, we definitely want to feel pretty. You put on a high heel and you’re ready to conquer the world. You look in the mirror, your legs look a little better and you’re taller.”
But it’s not that simple for many.
“The older you get, the more the fat pads on the bottom of your feet kind of thin out and it gets harder and harder to wear high heels,” Krause said. “My counterpart at work, Cheryl Lytle, and I have always talked about it. We would be standing around at work in high heels and we would say, ‘Gosh, we really got to fix this.’ I mean, we’re physical therapists, we know a little bit about orthotics… With us also being wound care specialists, we also know about pressure ulcers and how turning and offloading and re-positioning are important.
“So when Tina came by the trade show booth where Cheryl and I were working, and I complimented her shoes, Tina said, ‘Oh gosh,’ and then she said, ‘I love high heeled shoes but they’re so uncomfortable that I’m developing this insole.’ It was like God was pointing us to people with a similar passion. We talked for a minute and she said, ‘You know, you really need to consider joining our team.’ So we did.”
Krause grew up in Houston, but spent her high school years in Englewood, Fla., before heading to Texas Tech for her undergrad studies. Her husband is an orthopedic surgeon. “He loves the product, too. He ‘gets it.’ He gets the idea.”
“My vision, my goal, is to revolutionize women’s footwear by making them more comfortable,” Krause added. “There’s so much technology available, and yet women still struggle with pain when they wear high heels. There are a number of things that we plan to do to make high heels more comfortable, so the women who do like to wear them, can wear them. We’ve just barely begun. There’s so much—this is just the tip of the iceberg with how we can really make an impact in the comfort of women.”
Krause’s friend and workmate Cheryl Lytle keeps track of inventory for Heelho, and works with their importer and their manufacturer in China. She also handles many of their order fulfillment tasks, much of which is connected to their Amazon.com account.
Like other Heelho execs, she is glad to be more comfortable in her high heels.
“My story is probably a little bit different than others’,” Lytle said. “I have a genetic disorder, and some of the things that go along with my genetic disorder affect the way one’s body makes collagen. Your body is made up of 30 percent collagen, so it impacts pretty much every organ system that I have. When it comes to wearing high heels, my joints dislocate very easily and I have something called hyperhidrosis. I have problems with my hands and my feet sweating really bad. That means that I have a hard time wearing heels. Either (A), keeping them on, because, though it may sound kind of gross, my feet can be so sweaty that they’d come out of the heels. Or (B), I would just have such horrible pain because, being forced forward, my joints were already so flexible and unstable that wearing the heels, it would just wreak havoc on my feet.”
But with the Heelho insole, relief was immediate.
“Oh definitely, it helped take that pressure off,” Lytle said. “Although it may not allow me to wear the heels all day long like some women are doing, still, there are now many pairs that I can wear for four to six hours.”
Lytle, like Krause, is impressed with company founder Goodman. “Tina is amazingly high energy,” Lytle said. “I’m the more of the type to say, ‘Okay, this is our goal, let’s look and see how many ways we can meet this goal.’ But Tina, meanwhile, is already four steps ahead. She is like, ‘Okay, let’s get this done, and let’s get this done now!” Very high energy. Very passionate about it. Whereas Jennifer and I are a bit more analytical. It’s great, though, because we balance each other out. Jennifer is also a very big activator. And she has a unique ability to read people. Also an ability to determine ‘What is your objective and what’s the best way to get there?’ It may not be the easiest way, but what way is going to get us the best outcome? Jennifer has a really unique ability to sit back and analyze that.”
Lytle feels so confident about the Heelho endeavor that she said she expects to retire on it.
“I think that we have an amazing product,” she said.
Goodman said she has been fortunate in that Heelho Insoles is not the first business enterprise she has formed. “We weren’t coming in green,” she said. “I had experience filing a patent. We were able to get the product to market quickly. The patent, in fact, addresses a removable insert [what Heelho markets presently] and a ‘permanent’ one, one that will be built into a ladies high heeled shoe. That’s another level that we’re working on now. We’re also working on a version that can be put into an athletic shoe and moved around using a magnet—applications like that.”
Like Lytle, Krause has found inspiration in Goodman’s drive. “Tina’s enthusiasm and her passion are inspiring,” Krause said. “She can really light up a room.”
Goodman grew up in small-town Divine, Texas. The advanced education she received came courtesy of a basketball scholarship she earned at McClennan Community College in Waco, Texas. “I’m short,” she said with a laugh. “But I’m quick!”
Point guards are known for their tenacity. And for their “court vision.”
“Yes, seeing the big picture,” Goodman said. “You‘ve got to see the whole court. You’ve got to be able to handle the ball and be looking and seeing what’s developing. I would say that one of my better gifts has been to be able to have a bird’s eye view.”
Beyond that, she says that her biggest inspiration comes from being a Christian.
“I’m a believer,” she said. “My whole point is operating by the golden rule. How would you like people to be treated? When you’re looking at a problem you’re always thinking about how it’s going to answer that, how it’s going to comfort, how it’s going to help.”
Goodman said her parents “worked the hell out of me.” She laughs. “But that has meant that I have a strong work ethic. It’s important to have one, because otherwise you just kind of give up. My dad was in construction and my mom was a nurse. We were really, probably, borderline poverty level. I mean, probably lower middle class. Back then, you got up to get to work and you couldn’t just be lying around watching TV or playing video games.”
Krause feels that the sky is the limit for the Heelho team, but it’s because of what they can offer to others. “Salaries are still higher for men, but women, we’re closing the gap, we’re getting there,” she said. “Women are expected to almost do more. We are supposed to run our home lives, we are supposed to be highly successful at work, and be pretty forever, and all these kinds of things. I think that’s part of being a successful woman. It encompasses such a wide range of qualities—there is so much to be checked off. You can’t just be successful at work. You have to be successful in a lot of other areas and you can’t do that in uncomfortable shoes.”