Whether dressing for the office or finding the right shoes for a night out, footwear decisions more often than not come down to style or comfort. As for Marion Parke, DPM ’09, she had grown tired of standing at the threshold of her closet mulling over which pair of shoes to wear. “These shoes are beautiful, and many of them are very expensive, but I can hardly walk in them,” she’d often thought. This notion would later prove to be the very foundation of her venture into the world of retail footwear — where her unique designs strike perfect harmony between luxury and podiatric wellness.
Dr. Parke is the creative director, CEO and founder of Marion Parke — a luxury footwear brand that harnesses the strength of a patented, specialty insole and the boldness of high-end shoes. “I knew I could take what I know as a podiatrist and tastefully integrate that into a beautiful shoe. Like a lot of entrepreneurs, I saw a problem and felt I could provide a solution,” Dr. Parke said.
The idea is to take the principles of anatomy and biomechanics and apply them to a woman’s dress shoe. The key here is to do it invisibly.
However, her expertise does not lie solely in her eye for design nor in her extensive education and practice in the field of podiatry, but, rather, at the intersection of these two elements. In the summer of 2015, Dr. Parke took the first steps to launching her company and securing the patent on her “Triple I™” insole. Yet, the logistical aspect of her budding business was not her only concern. Come the fall of 2015, Dr. Parke visited Italy for the first time in the name of research on her craft, an experience she dubbed “incredibly eye-opening.”
“Since the beginning, I’ve emphasized the importance of luxury quality sourcing, design and production,” she said. “Working with craftsmen and tanneries in Italy who take a tremendous amount of pride in their work ensures that we are delivering a product that is second to none.”
The ingenuity behind Marion Parke footwear is its sleek ability to conceal what every other luxury shoe is missing: the twice-patented “Triple I™” insole — which stands for Invisible, Intelligent, Insole.
“The idea is to take the principles of anatomy and biomechanics and apply them to a woman’s dress shoe. The key here is to do it invisibly,” Dr. Parke said. The “very low profile” insole is permanently fixed to the shoe and is covered in the same materials to seamlessly blend the design.
Marion Parke’s namesake seeks to limit consumers’ frustration when it comes to choosing “between either a beautiful, Italian-made shoe or an uninspiring, low-quality shoe.” However, she notes that it wasn’t just the execution that she battled with.
“To be perfectly honest, I was nervous about what my friends, instructors from school and other professionals who learned about the brand and concept might think,” she said. “I wasn’t sure if everyone would support the idea.” Customers and colleagues alike came to praise Dr. Parke for tapping into an undervalued aspect of footwear.
Additionally, with resources — such as the lab that helped create the first prototype of her insole and peers who actively recommended her shoes to clients — the Marion Parke brand gained real traction.
Despite overwhelming support since the company’s onset, Dr. Parke spoke candidly about times of strain — namely, COVID-19. “COVID was the most impactful setback in the history of the business. People weren’t wearing shoes, at least not dress shoes. They weren’t going to the office, events were canceled and people were really just staying home,” Dr. Parke said. “We had to scale back our spending and kind of go into ‘hibernation mode.’"
Coming out on the other side of a pandemic as it wavered on, Dr. Parke credited her team for “being so nimble and creative” in regards to keeping the company afloat — so much so that 2021 sales exceeded 2019 numbers.
Going forward, Dr. Parke plans to keep things simple while reinforcing the core aspects of the business, such as growing the Marion Parke team and boosting wholesale and direct-to-consumer sales.
“I have a very wise mentor who once called it ‘the ecosystem,’ which I really like,” she said. “The ecosystem approach keeps us from relying on one sales channel, and is much more stable. Our hope is to grow in all ways.”
PUBLISHED REVIEWS OF MARION PARKE FOOTWEAR:
Parke has solved the conundrum of wanting to wear heels and walk comfortably as well. In other words: it’s possible to pretend to be Carrie Bradshaw wearing strappy stilettos all day, and transition into an evening gathering with no problem. They are that comfortable.
Overall, I could not recommend these shoes more. They’re not just game-changing, they’re life-changing. Never having to worry about being stuck in heels when you have to stand or walk longer than you expect is such a relief.
If you are a fellow shoe lover who loves heels of varying heights but also need or want more support, what Parke has created is sheer game changing genius. … You immediately feel the difference her insoles make, and it just feels right. Parke’s mission to make luxury wearable has been accomplished, and the best part is that you will happily want to put on your dress shoes.
They redefine comfort. It’s hard to forget about the hidden cushiness of her Italian-made heels once you’ve experienced it.
Margaret Smith is a Chicago-based freelance editor and writer whose work largely focuses on current sociopolitical happenings.