Every Boomer, Gen X-er, and Millennial has faced the harsh realization that they're no longer the so-called "young people" that the media talks about. That wake-up call is what inspired Ma'am, a new sustainable L.A. shoe label that's equal parts comfortable and chic — and ready to dress the feet of women in our new madam VP era. (Yes!)
Shoe industry veteran Sofi Newmyer founded the label after seeking steppers that weren't a relief to take off at the end of the day. "I'd worked in the footwear business for a decade and still after a full day of work, my feet hurt," she tells WhatRivaWore. "I couldn't find the right pair of shoes that were stylish and comfortable. While I admittedly had never designed a pair of shoes before, I knew what I wanted to wear as a consumer."
After two years of mulling over her idea (while working at philanthropic shoe company Toms, no less), Newmyer stepped up and created her dream brand. "I needed to make shoes that I actually wanted to wear; shoes that last. And shoes that don't take such a toll on the planet. I thought this was a pretty simple ask and felt I couldn't be alone," she says.
The brand's name aims to reclaim the oft-perceived dreaded title for women of a certain advanced age. It all stemmed from a checkout encounter at Whole Foods where a clerk "looked me up and down and decided I was a 'ma'am," Newmyer says. "[He said], 'Have a good day, ma'am,' I was sure he couldn't have been talking to me, but unfortunately, I was the only person around."
"Like most women, the first time I was called 'ma'am' was shocking. I had just turned 30, was newly married, finally making a decent salary, and could manage my way around a corporate boardroom," she adds. "I had found my footing in the world and was feeling recently capable in my own skin. In my mind, I was also floating around town with the youthful ease of a 'miss.'"
She adds: "In that moment, I felt the beginning of something slipping away. After a bit of moping, I realized something. This world isn't for delicate women, it's for the woman who knows her voice. For the woman who's wisened with age and experience. This is a ma'am's world and I was going to stand firm in it."
Priced at $245 to $300, the line is comprised of cylinder block-heeled sandals and flats in open-toed and pointy-heeled silhouettes. Everything's made of comfy Italian suede and available in colorful-yet-neutral shades like black, bubblegum pink, robin's egg blue, and cherry red.
On the sustainability front, the brand works with L.A. factories that pay fair wages, and it reduces waste by using recyclable boxes that are sturdy enough to be used as shipping packaging. Its local manufacturing means eco-minded footwear fiends' purchases will have a low carbon footprint, as no overseas shipping (and extra air pollution) is required.
We recently sat down with Newmyer to learn more about how her experiences at Toms shaped Ma'am, how 405 traffic helped the design process,
Given your extensive time at Toms, what were some of the most important lessons you learned that have helped in creating Ma'am Shoes?
I started my career at Toms shoes right out of college when it was a small startup. I was able to be a part of Toms during a period of unbelievable growth and change. What was unique about Toms was the culture of taking risks, not settling for what's easy and striving to push yourself and the product to the next level. At a young age, I was able to see firsthand the importance of taking risks and what happens when you don't.
My last few years at Toms, I spearheaded partnerships for the business including supporting the Malala Fund, voter education, and gun violence reform, among others. These partnerships weren't typical of a shoe company, they were bold and certainly pushed the business outside of its comfort zone.
This meaningful work completely shaped my commitment to supporting progressive causes with Ma'am. That's why in every seasonal collection, we create a shoe that gives back. For example, our fall/winter 2020 collection includes this limited edition slide donating profits back to I Am A Voter to help increase voter turnout during the 2020 election season.
We love the names of every pair! Can you tell us the story behind them?
I try to have the brand's ethos pop out in unexpected ways as much as possible to demonstrate the ma'ams we are and aspire to be. One of my favorite parts of shaping the brand has been naming our shoes after great women from history or fiction. For example, we have the CJ, named after the quick-witted, walk and talking fictional Press Secretary, CJ Cregg from the West Wing. She's bold and a boss and comfortable in her own skin — in other words, everything we want our customers to feel that they are in our shoes.
We'd love to know more about the development process — can you share more details about how you tested the shoes?
I really wanted to make shoes that my girlfriends and I would want to wear. While we were developing our styles and fit testing them, I had a handful of very generous friends with different shoe sizes and lifestyles wear the product as much as they could. They went to weddings, endured many 12-hour work days at a desk, ran errands with kids, sat in traffic on the 405, cooked meals for dinner parties [and so on].
After a few weeks of fit testing, we did an exhaustive review of their experience and made a lot of tweaks to the product, and then we did it all over again! There's nothing like opinionated girlfriends who want to help you succeed. I am very grateful for their honesty, blisters, and friendship.
As the fashion industry is becoming more sustainable, what are some developments you're looking forward to in the future as you build the brand?
As Ma'am continues to grow, we're planning to double down on our footprint in L.A. We'd like to employ more Los Angeles talent and work towards using high-quality fabrics and materials that are locally sourced.
What else is coming down the pipeline for Ma'am?
We're working on some exciting (and chic!) new fabrics and silhouettes that will help make our shoes be more durable. We're also working on a couple of partnerships with women-owned organizations that support unabashedly progressive causes.
When you're not busy running your company, where are a few of your favorite places in Los Angeles to relax (even if it's a mid-pandemic hiking trail!), eat, and shop?
I've become a gardening maniac over the last few years and really relied on it during the pandemic to stay sane while at home. C&S Nursery is a huge outdoor wholesale nursery on Hauser with a spectacular collection of native plants and their staff is really helpful. My puppy and I could spend hours there roaming the aisles of fruit trees and succulents, admiring the plants and getting our steps in.
I love going to the Beverly Hills Farmers Market on Sunday mornings with my husband and getting as many fresh vegetables as we can find. When we get home, we chop everything up, throw it all together in a big pot and let it simmer for the day. My house smells great and we have a healthy and hearty soup to nosh on for the rest of the week.
While I haven't done much in-person shopping over the last 10 months, I have gone wild on The Great's website. I can't get enough of the L.A.-based company's sweat sets and tees. During this pandemic, I've relied on comfort above all else and The Great certainly delivers.