By John-John Williams IV The Baltimore Sun.
Melodie Narain knows the toll that wearing heels takes on a woman's feet.
It became abundantly clear two years ago when she put on high heels for the first time after giving birth to her son two months earlier.
"I felt a change," the Bowie resident said. "My knees couldn't handle it. My back couldn't handle it. I knew I wasn't the only woman going through this."
Narain, 33, thought that it should be convenient for women to be able to purchase a comfortable, affordable pair of shoes to provide fast relief in such moments of agony.
From that idea, Sole Savers Inc. was born. The Bowie-based company owns two shoe vending machines in the Mid-Atlantic region, including a location in the Gallery at Harborplace in Baltimore.
The blue vending machine is stocked with 175 pairs of rollable flat shoes that can easily fit in a pocketbook.
"We provide immediate access," Narain said. "The shoes are geared toward business women or moms, people who have achy feet from high heels and they need relief."
The vending machine inside the Gallery at Harborplace mall is her first in Baltimore. Narain has a similar vending machine in Washington. She said they cost from $10,000 to $25,000.
"Harborplace is a great place for local traffic and tourists, especially in the summer time," said Narain, who unveiled the Baltimore vending machine Monday.
So far, Narain has sold eight pair of shoes in the Baltimore location.
"I've walked around to places near the mall and people say they've seen it," she said. "I think that people are going to be very receptive."
The shoes come in four colors, gold, silver, pink and black, and four sizes: small (sizes 5-6); medium (sizes 7-8); large (sizes 9-10) and extra-large (sizes 11-12). Each pair costs $19.95. Next week, Narain plans to add five new colors to the mix.
Narain had been working in real estate, but the lure of starting a business was too great. The shoe venture isn't that much of a stretch for the Bowie resident, who graduated in 2002 from Berkeley College in New York City with a degree in fashion marketing.
"I knew who to contact and where to go," she said. "[The degree] gave me some leverage to start."
The company also has a philanthropic element: Each month, Narain and her mother and business partner, Teresa Thomas, pick a nonprofit organization in which to donate a portion of their proceeds.
If you're not nearby the vending machine and still want a pair of Sole Savers, you can still buy them on the company's website at www.solesavers.co.