You'd have to be living under a rock not to know that extended sizing, especially as it pertains to ready-to-wear, has been a hot-button topic over the past few years. But one area that has gone largely overlooked in this conversation is footwear — namely, boots. And the struggle of a knee-high style that doesn't slide past the middle of the calf isn't limited to plus sizes either; straight-sized women with muscular, athletic legs also have few options in the boot aisle.
This challenge was brought to footwear designer Tamara Mellon and her team by their customers, who let them know that they weren't able to pick up the chic styles they wanted. "We have customer feedback across a lot of different channels — chat, phone, email — and what we've seen is, about 20% of those customers have issues or questions in general about our boots," explains Angela Cartwright, Head of Client Services. As a company that advertises itself as an inclusive luxury brand selling exclusive products, they knew it was something they needed to change.
"We are building a luxury brand in a different way and fundamental to that is listening to our customer and having her be a part of creating this brand," says co-founder and CEO Jill Layfield. "That means, when she says, 'My calf doesn't fit your boots, and I really want to buy your boots,' you back up that commitment to community by listening to her and giving her what she wants."
As a female-founded, female-led luxury footwear company, Tamara Mellon wanted to be the one to fix things and provide a solution. Still, the team quickly discovered it wasn't as simple as adding in a bit more leather. "Hard problems sometimes haven't been solved because nobody's had the appetite to solve them, and sometimes they haven't been solved because they're just hard to solve," Layfield says. In other words, there was a reason boot sizing has remained so singular. Here's how it usually works: Similarly to heel heights, shaft width used to slightly grade up with each shoe size, which meant that the calves on a size 40 boot would fit larger than those on a 36.
"But it doesn't really make sense, because you can be a 36 foot and have a very athletic calf and you can be a size 40 foot and have a very skinny calf, so the sizing doesn't really fit anybody very well," Mellon says.
So Mellon and the design team started by lining up all the members of their office and measuring their calves individually. Then, they hit the streets, putting their direct-to-consumer foundation to work by inviting their VIP customers to be measured as well. "We collected a lot of information from a large group of women, and then when we got those sizes, we put them in buckets — and it's complicated, because not only are they different widths, they're also in different places on the leg," explains Tania Spinelli, the brand's chief design officer.
The solution? Instead of coming up with a standard size and an extended size, they realized they needed at least three sizes, which is what they're launching with: Small, the original shaft size, as well as medium and large, with an approximate 2cm difference between each size. They brought all the women back together again and had them try on the new calf sizing and found they had solved for the "majority" of the people they had fit.
It seems crazy that no one has ever thought of this before, but then again, as Mellon points out, the additional sizes essentially triple inventory; where before they were offering 15 sizes, they now offer 45. And then there's the question of communicating the new sizing system to customers.
"You know, most of us don't walk around with a measuring tape," jokes Layfield. "We're communicating this circumference that relates to small, medium and large, but then we're going to have to ask her to meet us halfway and take the measurement to get her into the right size."
Tamara Mellon is launching the new sizing system with one of the brand's staple styles, the Icon boot: a slouchy stiletto number in black leather with a 75mm heel height, hitting the mid-point between kitten and sky-scraping. To celebrate, Tamara Mellon shot the "New Icons" campaign, starring model Matisse, actress Adepero Oduye and actress Alessandra Garcia Lorido, all wearing the Icon boot in different calf widths. The brand will be sending notes to customers who came in to be measured, inviting them to come shop the new sizes with the Tamara Mellon team.
The one thing that's for certain is that this isn't the stopping point of the process for Tamara Mellon. The brand and the team know that there's more they can learn and more they can do to service this previously ignored market. They're looking forward to receiving feedback on the new sizing system and, fingers crossed, rolling it out to other styles.
"While we have hopefully responded in a way that moves this thinking forward, we are very aware as well that it's just the start, and if there are 15 shoe sizes, there are maybe 10 calf sizes in a perfect world," Layfield says. "We had to pick somewhere to start, and we're proud that we're doing this, but the work's just beginning to be done."