Posted by: nickgerlich | January 27, 2008

Head Over Heels

I saw it the first time in the mid-1980s in downtown Chicago. Women in dresses and skirts walking along Michigan Avenue on their way to the office. Wearing tennis shoes.

I paused for a moment and quickly realized this was not a new fashion statement. No, it was simply about being able to walk, navigating the cracks and uneven slabs, and at a decent pace. No doubt the women were toting their dress shoes, or had a shoe rack at work for a quick-change to complete their professional attire.

Being male, I never thought about this before. Unless you happen to be Elton John, we wear flat-heeled shoes (Elton being the only male I know of to cling to the platform shoes men wore in the 1970s). And necessity being that maternal creator of new ideas, I suppose it was only a matter of time before someone introduced a better mousetrap, one that could allow ladies to both walk sensibly, yet look stylish.

CamileonHeelsEnter CAMiLEON Heels. Take a walk on the mild side.

Developed and marketed by a brother-and-sister team, these retractable high heels offer women the ability to still hike to work, and then like Superman in a phone booth, transform into the elegantly dressed women they are.

In fact, it was the very idea of Transformers that caused Dr. David Handel to visualize this re-appropriation of idea. He had seen the legions of sneaker-clad women trodding along New York City’s miles of sidewalks; he had witnessed his kids playing with Transformer robots.

The result is a web-based company providing women with multi-purpose footwear that looks good at work, yet wears well between the train or bus and the office.

While the duo has also latched onto some boutique retailers across the country, their primary emphasis is on e-commerce sales. Geographic boundaries cast asunder, CAMiLEON can now serve urban women everywhere, keeping them from stumbling like the stock market in recent weeks.

Of course, there are risks in buying shoes sight unseen, whether online or by catalog. Shoes are perhaps the trickiest things we own when it comes to finding the right fit. And an ill-fitting pair of shoes can turn even the nicest person into an incessant crank. But that hasn’t stopped pureplay shoe vendors like Zappos from prospering. Their sales growth has been astronomically, in spite of the fact that many people initially balk at the idea of buying shoes without first trying them on.

Another potential Achilles Heel for CAMiLEON is their pricing structure. These babies are expensive! A woman could buy both a pair of sneakers and a nice pair of pumps for less than the price of one pair of these techno-marvels.

Still, I give credit where it is due. This is a nifty idea, and e-commerce does work well for specialty items…even if there is a risk of a bad fit. The ability to simply flip the heel up or down basically is just an adult version (minus the fun, of course) of Heelies, the shoe-that’s-a-rollerskate my kids love to terrorize Amarillo with.

Now if we could just find a quick, retractable support for our national economy. I bet we could sell a lot of these in New York, too.

Dr “Sole Survivor” Gerlich


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