Made In St. Louis: Fenton Shoe Company Big Comfort With Tiny Pillows

By Debra D. Bass St. Louis Post-Dispatch

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) This article takes a look at a popular footwear company out of St. Louis that is doing its best to keep up with changing styles and the changing needs of customers.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Walking Cradles

Design team --Lisa Schmitz, creative director, 49, Kirkwood; and Jamie Wells, footwear designer, 31, Richmond HeightsFamily --For Schmitz: Craig Schmitz, husband of 10 years and five children Tolen Oliver, 23; Corbin Oliver, 21; Michael Schmitz, 20; Jacob Schmitz, 18; Allison, 16. For Wells: Josh Wells, husband of seven years, and two cats, Harley Quinn and Vega

What they design --A contemporary, stylish comfort shoe structured for a wide range of sizes.

How to buy --Seliga Shoes in Brentwood, Von Maur in Lake Saint Louis, as well as most independent "sit and fit" shoe stores and walkingcradles.com. Prices range from $30 (sale prices) to $199.

The Walking Cradle Co., headquartered in Fenton, once operated out of a building downtown on Washington Avenue. Founded as Mark Lemp Footwear in 1984, the company was taken over by Mark Lemp Jr., who became president two years ago, and he decided to change the target audience for their footwear. Now, the designs for the label are aimed at the woman who wants comfort and style. Jamie Wells was hired as the head designer to revamp the line.

Patience pays off --Wells graduated from Washington University with a degree in fashion design in 2007, but she wanted to stay in St. Louis. "I wanted one of those very rare jobs in fashion design in St. Louis," Wells said. But that didn't come easy. She accepted a job at then-Mark Lemp Footwear as a website and graphic designer. She eventually started working in photography and with the styling of catalog shoots. Then, there was an opening in product development that she was promoted into. Over that period of time, she went back to Washington University and got a master's degree in fine art. Finally, the new focus was announced, and Wells already had a sketchbook full of new ideas.

"I was already designing and constantly drafting new footwear looks from day one," Wells said. "I was always thinking, 'Hey, this shoe is like this, but you know how it could be better like this." She said that she'd been auditioning for head designer since she was hired.

Tiny pillows --The shoe company may have changed its target audience, but it hasn't changed its emphasis on "making the shoe comfortable and accessible to a wide range of women," explained Lisa Schmitz, who said the company is known for sizes ranging from 4 to 13 in slim to wide-wide. She said they still want to cater to women with foot problems looking for a solution that doesn't look strictly therapeutic. Their shoes are known for a special Eva sole that's the same as running shoes, "so there is shock absorption as you walk. And we are recognized from the tiny pillows in every one of our shoes," she said of the noticeably lumpy-looking soles that nurture feet by massaging them as you walk, "It's our oooo-awww factor; the insoles are not orthotic, just extremely comfortable."

Model employee --Schmitz jokes that "it's not a bad part of my job that I get to try on shoes all the time." She actually does more than just try them on. She has the coveted industry shoe size of 6, so she models footwear for campaigns as well as providing input on fit and style. She literally set the standard for the shoe size ranges.

And she said she's always happy to road test them. She wore the Kennedy in a brown luggage color one day when she logged 13 miles on cobblestone streets during a visit to Edinburgh, Scotland.

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