ILLUSTRATIONS BY FRANCESCO ZORZI
Anyone who thinks running in heels is difficult hasn’t met Sarah Flint. In just five years, the 30-year-old designer has raced to the top of the footwear world with her eponymous label’s fashionable yet imminently wearable styles. Take, for example, the elegantly linear Emma Pump with a 2-inch tortoise block heel (inset to make it lighter) or the Greece-inspired spring collection’s 4-inch Perfect Pump (in magenta suede, a hat tip to the country’s bountiful bougainvillea), which balances its vertiginous height with a wider toe box and 6 millimeters of padding. “Comfort is incredibly important to me,” Flint says one sunny morning in her brand’s Manhattan showroom. “The days of ‘beauty is pain’ are definitely over.”
The fashion cognoscenti are definitely comfortable with Flint: Amal Clooney dons her heels to court, Jessica Alba goes on grocery runs in her flats, and Cindy Crawford even created a capsule collection with her last fall. But her biggest fan of all just might be Meghan Markle, who wears an assortment of Sarah Flint styles on a regular basis. The designer declines to talk about her relationship with the well-shod Duchess of Sussex but admits she is “so thrilled to have her in the shoes.”
Flint’s latest release, out this month, is another A-list collaboration—this time with artist Isabella Huffington, whose mother, Arianna (another Flint fan), brought the duo together. They became friends, and working together felt natural. “I particularly love the idea of wearable art, especially art you can walk in,” Huffington says.
The limited-edition Emma Pump is certainly artful—it features a Huffington collage print of intertwined blue and white butterflies, which is woven into silk jacquard at the nearly 300-year-old Stephen Walters & Sonsmill in England—but it makes a political statement as well, with part of the proceeds going to She Should Run, a nonprofit that supports women considering a run for office. “[The shoes are] elegant without being masochistic,” Huffington says. “We’re aghast now that they used to bind women’s feet in China, but we’re punishing ourselves walking around in ridiculously uncomfortable heels.”
Comfort has always been at the core of Flint’s designs. She studied accessory design at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology and interned at prestigious brands, but there was one discrepancy she never understood: “You’d spend $800,” she says, “and your feet would be dying by the end of the evening.” In an effort to figure out how to create footwear that’s as easy onthe feet as it is on the eyes, she enrolled at the famed Arsutoria design and manufacturing school in Milan.
Soon after, the then-25-year-old decided to launch her own label, a gutsy move for a young designer. While still working out of her Manhattan apartment, Flint convinced an Arsutoria teacher to petition a Milanese factory that’s known both for producing designer footwear and for refusing orders from newcomers to take on production of her designs. The appeal worked, and soon her shoes were flying off the shelves at Barneys New York and Bloomingdale’s.
In 2017, at the height of her success, Flint took another gamble, changing her business model to direct-to-consumer and slashing her prices in half. She now sells her shoes only on her website and at select pop-ups. “I looked at the way my current shoppers were shopping—mainly online— and I thought a lot about the fact that my own friends couldn’t afford the shoes,” she says. “I wanted to open up the market and offer this level of quality to the next generation of consumers.” The risk paid off, and soon Crawford came on as investor and advisor. Though she won’t share numbers, Flint says growth has been exponential.
Flint admits she gets caught up in planning for the future (ideas include a foray into handbag design and her own brick-and-mortar stores), but her customers remind her to appreciate the impact she has already made. A district attorney recently emailed her that she “felt like Wonder Woman in a sea of dark suits” because Flint’s shoes allowed her to stand in court comfortably all day. “My whole goal is to make women feel like the most powerful version of themselves,” the designer says. “That’s the most rewarding possible outcome of making these shoes.”