Diabetes Forecast

Diabetes-Friendly Shoes Can Be Stylish, Too

Designer Eleanor Leinen declares war on dowdy footwear

By Lindsey Wahowiak ,

Eleanor Leinen is a stylish lady. She's got the accessories, from the top of her head to the tips of her toes. So when she was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2003, she wanted to check out the full scope of available accoutrements, especially diabetes-friendly footwear. What she found wasn't pretty.

"I went to every website looking. I really started getting very anxious," she remembers. "I consider myself a real fashionista, and the shoes were not just dowdy—they were unattractive. [I thought,] 'I would rather my feet not be well than have to wear these.' "

Leinen says that reaction may seem shallow to some, but when it comes to footwear, she's not alone: Since her diagnosis, the artist and designer has heard from dozens of women who say they'd rather risk injury (and potential amputation) than hoof it in traditional diabetes-friendly shoes, which are, by design, wider, more cushioned, and more supportive than your average Manolo.

So Leinen, who had previously worked with designer Donna Karan on a shoe project, decided to take matters into her own hands, resurfacing the shoes to make them fancier, a little fun, even glamorous. Buying shoes, styling them, and reselling them independently under the Walk Another Way brand (walkanotherway.com) garnered her some attention: In 2007, she was named one of More magazine and Dove Beauty's 10 "Most Inspiring Women of the Year." But she was still trying to find a shoe manufacturer that would work with her exclusively. She found it in the Drew Shoe Co. From there, she says, it was just a matter of finding artists who would collaborate. Leinen tapped some friends and colleagues in the art world to work with Walk Another Way, which is based in Hollywood, Fla.

"You have to be a magician," she says of tricking the eye into seeing a sleek orthopedic shoe. "You need to take away what bothers women from the design, the architecture of the shoe. We need to, visually, take that bulk away." She employs tricks like a painted-on wedge and luxe details like fur and faux diamond studs. Styles include slip-ons, lace-ups, mary janes, and ankle boots, and most of the luxury items range in price between $200 and $300.

The result, Leinen says, is that women who would otherwise shy away from orthopedic shoes embrace their own foot health—in style. "Women would tell me, 'I stopped dressing the way I used to because my shoes didn't fit the style.' With that comes a level of insecurity. They literally feel almost branded by their footwear," she says. "People are in a desperation mode. We're just trying to make people feel [that] they're able to reclaim their style."

Is a diabetes-friendly shoe right for you?

Shoes That Fit
What makes a shoe friendly for people who have lost sensation or have other complications due to diabetes-related nerve damage? It's all in the construction and fit. People with neuropathy (nerve damage) might not be able to tell when a shoe fits poorly. A podiatrist or a certified shoe fitter can help. Visit the Pedorthic Footcare Association (pedorthics.org) to find a professional nearby. Make sure to look for:
1. A supportive sole (high heels are out, because they change the architecture of your foot). 2. Adjustable fasteners for support. Have your podiatrist or certified shoe fitter help you find the best fit for you and show you how to properly tighten or loosen the shoe as needed. 3. A soft interior with no seams or soft seams, so as not to irritate the foot. 4. A closed toe, to protect toes and nails from exposure to injury. 5. An ample toe box. Toes need room to wiggle. 6. A shoe deep enough to accommodate an extra insole for those who need one.


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