Julieta founders, Julie Thompson and Fernando Peña wanted to solve a problem. Julie, a liver transplant doctor, couldn’t find comfortable, stylish heels to fit her busy lifestyle. Fernando, her husband and an orthopedic surgeon, set out to make a shoe that fit everything Julie was looking for—something stylish that she could wear all day, no matter where the day took her.
Plenty of high heel brands claim to be comfortable, but in Julie’s experience, none held up as she hoped. In this interview I go in-depth with co-founder Fernando to understand more of the origin story of the most comfortable heels and what makes Julieta different.
Q: You’re both doctors, so tell me the story of what prompted you two to decide to go into the shoe business?
A: Julie and I were planning a trip to Ecuador to help a hospital that needed orthopedic expertise. We knew there would be a lot of walking and some social functions. This started a conversation about shoes with comfort and style. Julie told me that she struggled to find both in a shoe and I thought she was wrong. I truly did not know that women struggled with finding a comfortable and stylish shoe. Not a sneaker. Not a slip on flip-flop, but something that women could wear comfortably and look and feel professional. We put our minds together: I knew I could design the inside of the shoe she would design the outside. We shared our designs with friends and colleagues and we knew we were on to something that could impact a lot of women.
Q: How did you come up with the name Julieta?
A: That one is easy. Julieta is Julie in Spanish. I proposed the name to honor Julie, my wife.
Q: What was your primary goal when creating Julieta?
A: In the past we have given the analogy of the “Post-It.” Paper existed, so did adhesive tape. But one person at 3M combined both. There are comfortable shoes out there. There are gorgeous luxury shoes as well. Nobody has created a luxurious comfortable shoe to the degree we have done it. We have aimed from the first moment to create a high-quality product with the ability to be worn for several hours without noticing your feet.
Q: How long did the process of designing the perfect shoe take and how many prototypes did you go through?
A: It took over a year and multiple prototypes to come up with a shoe that was comfortable to the majority of women. Every foot is different, and it is close to impossible to come up with a shoe that will fit well for everybody but we were determined to try to make a comfortable heel that most women would feel good wearing. We asked many, many women to try our shoe (thank you to so many friends and colleagues!). Women of different ages, sizes, weights and “shoe experience.” We knew we’d designed an amazing heel when every single tester gave an enthusiastic report on the comfort of the shoe.
Q: Why did you decide to work with someone in Barcelona and how did you get connected with Alejandro, your master shoemaker?
A: It was an obvious choice for us to work with a shoemaker in Spain. Spain has hundreds of years of shoemaking history. Spaniards make some of the most beautiful, high quality shoes in the world. Plus Spain is my home country! We searched for a few years to find the right fit with a shoemaker. We were picky to say the least. We were extremely fortunate to find Alejandro Aviles, who has decades of experience in luxury shoe making. It was pretty obvious from the first moment that we spoke the same language in terms of what we consider luxury, quality, and comfort.
Q: What makes typical high heels so terrible for our feet?
A: It's not heels per se. It's more the amount of time that women spend wearing high heels. If not done with relative moderation and wearing alternative footwear, the lower leg and feet may adopt some changes that are not the most beneficial for the health of our lower extremities. If worn with moderation, heels are fine and up to the person how much discomfort they are willing to tolerate.
Q: Why should people choose Julieta over other heel brands?
A: Most heels haven’t changed in decades. It was time to change that. Julieta shoes truly combine comfort and luxury. We use the absolute best materials (same as those at well-known luxury fashion houses). Our shipping and returns are free.
Q: What’s on the horizon coming next for Julieta?
A: The short answer is that the sky is the limit. Our customers have given us many great ideas! We hear from women who want expanded sizes (wider width, larger sizes) and this inspires us to address this unmet need for them. And women have sent us other requests for colors and designs. We are currently developing a block heel which will be available this fall. Our first prototypes were not where we wanted them to be. So we kept re-designing and testing. We are also planning on launching a line of accessories to celebrate the tremendous success we have had so far. It has been a really fun and surprising journey so far!