If you want something done right, do it yourself.
Dr. Liza, a chiropractor and osteopath, had patients constantly coming in with problems due to the high heels they were wearing. When she was left without a better high heel option to recommend, she decided to create one herself. Now, her shoe designs are elevating one’s overall outfit and health.
From a young age, Dr. Liza knew that wanted to help people feel better. The desire eventually led her into her first venture: chiropractic medicine. After a few years, to diversify her offerings and broaden her knowledge, she went back to osteopathy school. She never could have guessed that she would end up as a shoe designer, but here we are.
Created after two years of researching, designing and testing, Dr. Liza shoes are built with more than just looks in mind. They have special soles, extra grip and include heels that are built for all-day wear without pain.
“The first time I wore my shoes in clinic, lifting and moving people, I realized didn’t have foot pain at the end of the day—I was astounded!,” said Dr. Liza. “I thought, ‘Oh my goodness! Even if I created these just for me, it would have been well worth the whole process.’”
Luckily, it’s not just Dr. Liza that gets to enjoy her research, work and final product. Dr. Liza shoes are happily worn all over the world by those who want to balance function and fashion while putting their overall health and wellbeing first.
For this week’s Women Who Lead spotlight, Bay Street Bull spoke with Dr. Liza about what sets her shoes apart, the journey from doctor to designer and the lessons she’s learned along the way.
You’re trained in chiropractic care, you’re also an osteopath and now a designer for products that are helping people with their posture. What drives you to pursue all of these different passions?
They all seem like they’re very different, but one of the things I’ve always been is a kind of a fixer. I want people to feel better. That’s the reason why I became a chiropractor: to use hands-on therapy and have a direct impact on the way people feel. I think I’ve had that since I was six years old, I knew I wanted to be a doctor and I wanted to help people. So it was my calling, I guess.
Chiropractic care mostly involves spinal adjustments, but I always like to look at the whole body, so I thought the more tools you have in your toolbox, the more people you can help. So, I wanted to look at the muscles. I wanted to look at the fascia. I wanted to look at everything in the body and be able to treat that. I think it was about five years into practice where someone sent me something about osteopathy, which I had never heard of before. When I read it, I like, “That’s what I’ve been doing the whole time! I’ve been practicing like an osteopath,” which is manipulating all the tissues, joints, muscles, fascia, and looking at the body from head to toe to create alignment so that you can function better. So, a couple of years after that, I decided to also go to osteo school in order to get that designation.
Then in clinical practice, I would see so many women coming in to see me with foot pain, knee injuries and back pain, because of the shoes that they were wearing. It wouldn’t matter what treatment I did—the problem was the shoes. Patients would ask what I recommend, but even for myself, as someone who likes to wear heels, I wore flats because I couldn’t find heels that I could wear all day to work, that actually look good.
Fast forward a few years, one of my patients who was a fashion director, said, “You know what, Dr. Liza, you are going to be the one who creates a high heel that’s fashionable and good for us.” It put the thought in my head, but I had never thought about designing a shoe before and I didn’t know where to start. I started doing research and I learned how to draw; I knew the anatomy of the body, but I had to learn the anatomy of a shoe. It took about a year of research and learning for me to get my first prototype. And then after the first prototype, it took about another year of testing, because I wanted to make sure these shoes are doing what they say they do.
As a small business owner, did you have any big pivots due to COVID-19?
For my clinic, we were actually supposed to be moving space in April. Due to the pandemic, our lease for the old spot was up and the new spot wasn’t ready yet. So, we were closed for seven months. Which is a nightmare for a clinic. When patients are in pain and you’re closed and others are open, then no matter how much they love you, they’re going to find someone else. So during that period of time, while we were closed, luckily I had the Dr. Liza brand, which is e-commerce based. So, I delved into that more.
How is a Dr. Liza shoe is better for your foot and your overall body versus a regular shoe?
When high heels are designed, they’re designed purely for aesthetics and not for function. They’re never looked at as therapeutic devices. With my background, I think that what we wear, especially on our feet, sets up the alignment of our body. So, if you wear the wrong thing on your feet, it can alter your mechanics. I looked at it as a clinical device and because I’m a fashion junk here, I also wanted it to be aesthetically classic.
The first thing is the orthotic insole. An orthotic insole essentially helps control the mechanics of your foot. Most people, because we spend so much time sitting, we get tight hips and that makes us overpronate. So, we roll into much. That’s the first thing that I wanted, to control overpronation in the shoe. The orthotic insole helps to support your arch while you’re in the shoe.
Then the other thing is the actual walking in the heel. Most people, when they walk in heels, they put a lot of pressure on the balls of the feet. And so in order to fix that, I created what’s called our rocker soul. With that kind of rocking motion, there are no pressure points on any part of the foot.
You know, what else is very comfortable: sneakers, because of all the shock absorption. So the same kind of rubber that gives you that bounce and shock absorption, is in the platform. That way, if you’re standing for a long time, you have that motion. It feels great.
At that time, my office was in the Financial District. I just remember when you go through First Canadian Place and those marble floors—it’s so slippery. I knew I needed to put a rubber sole on the bottom of the shoes, that way they’re actually anti-slip. If you have to worry about slipping, you use muscles that you shouldn’t, and then they get strained. I also put a little tab behind all my shoes where you can string through an ankle strap so that you feel more secure. Those are the key elements that went into developing the first shoe.
What was it like seeing it go from the thought process and designing to, holding the first pair of Dr. Liza shoes?
The first time I wore my shoes in clinic, lifting and moving people, I realized didn’t have foot pain at the end of the day—I was astounded! I thought, “Oh my goodness! Even if I created these just for me, it would have been well worth the whole process.” I put them out there in the market, people started buying them and something that I didn’t expect—this is my favorite part—is the emails I started to get.
I’m used to getting emails from patients as an osteopath, like, “I woke up today and I feel so much better. It’s amazing!” But I never expected to have any personal relationship or emails from customers who are buying the shoes since they’re sold online. A woman wrote to me like, “Dr. Liza, you’ve changed my life. I haven’t been able to wear heels in over 15 years. And for the first time in 15 years, I feel like myself again. I feel feminine. I feel like the old me.” And that’s amazing! The feedback I get from treatments as a healthcare practitioner is now the same kind of feedback I get from the shoes. I’m able to help people on a larger scale, all over the world. For me, that’s definitely the most rewarding part.
And you mentioned this a little bit earlier, but as a healthcare practitioner profession, is there a common mistake that people are making in terms of the shoes they are wearing or how they’re sitting every day?
First of all, everyone is spending way too much time sitting. When we sit too much, it causes our hip flexors to tighten and puts a lot of strain on our lower back. That’s why so many people have poor posture and are slouched over or have back pain, because of the way that they’re sitting.
In regard to footwear. When you’re wearing uncomfortable shoes, like stilettos, you can feel it and you know what you’re doing to your body. But what people don’t realize is the danger of some shoes that are actually comfortable. And this goes for women and for men. You put on a pair of memory foam, soft shoes, and you’re like, “Oh, these are so cushy. These are so comfortable!” And then a year later you come in to see someone like me about problems with your ankles.
These kinds of shoes that feel comfortable, can they lack support over time. You wear them because you think that they’re comfortable, but over time they’re damaging your body because they don’t have the support that we need. A test that I recommend for my patients is if you’re buying shoes, try and twist them like a towel or try and fold them over, if you can easily twist them and fold them over, you should not wear that shoe.
A lesson for all of us for sure. Did you yourself have any big learning curves in your career?
I had a lot of those moments. In 2007, I launched my first clinic with a friend from chiropractic school and I learned that partnerships are definitely not for me. It’s very hard to work with a partner, especially if you’re not someone who works well with partners. That was a big learning lesson.
Also, when building your first clinic, from the start you deal with contractors and people who might try to take advantage of your newness, especially as a female. So, I learned very early on that you can’t really trust anyone when it comes to business.
Then, as a small business owner, you really have to learn how to do everything. When I opened my first clinic it was back in the day when Google was a new thing. Most clinics at that time were at street level and depended on walk-by traffic. I thought if we’re moving away from yellow pages and we’re moving to Google for searching, why do I have to be at street level? And I built my first clinic on the 17th floor which was unheard of at that time. Now it’s common, but we were the first to do it in the Financial District. I figured people would find us by Googling, so I had to learn search engine optimization, Photoshop, all the things that you have to know to run a business.
You make a lot of mistakes along the way. I think my biggest saving grace is failing a lot, but always learning from those failures.
What advice would you give to other women who want to take that step, something on the side that could potentially turn into a full business? When do you know to take that leap?
It’s a confidence that you should have. Think of it as, “What if I launch this and it fails?” Well, so what? You learned something from that and then you’ll be better prepared for the next idea that you have. Believe in yourself and accept failure and not be scared of failure, because if you fail and you learn from your failure, eventually you’ll have success. Who better to bet on than yourself, right? Bet on yourself, take the risks, learn from your mistakes. Eventually, you’ll have success.
If you were to look back on your younger self at any stage in time, is there a piece of advice you’d give yourself?
I would say to trust my instincts. In the past, I had instincts, especially about working with certain people, and I ignored those, because I thought, “Give everyone a chance.” So, I would tell myself to trust my instincts: If you have a bad feeling about someone or something, go with that feeling. Every time I’ve had that instinct and ignored it, it’s come back to bite me.
Is there someone in your life that you consider a woman who leads or had a big influence on you?
For me, it’s definitely my mom. I mean, both of my parents, but as far as a woman who leads, it’s my mom. She’s always been versatile and not opposed to learning. She started off as a teacher then changed to curriculum coordinator, then when we moved, she got her real estate license. When we were in high school, she remade some condo buildings and sold them. Then, she got her MBA at 60-something.
As a mother of three kids, she was exceptional and very involved. She would make us three different lunches when we were growing up, while still working full time. She was always dressed impeccably, even at home, with her jewelry and her clothes and always in heels (even her slippers at home have a heel). She started a fashion line five years ago as well. So, there’s no limit. If she has something that she wants to do, she just does it. So, I had a really great role model growing up. That’s why I think I have the confidence now to feel like I can do anything—my mom would do anything.
That’s awesome. What are your plans for Dr. Liza shoes? I know you’re also doing bags now, but anything down the pipeline?
We just finished the final prototype for slippers. Those have launched for pre-order and they’re the best slippers. They’re shearling-lined and they have great orthotic support. And then also sneakers, like a dress sneaker, a leather sneaker, because we’re in a pandemic, we’ll be here for a while and people are moving towards more casual styles. So, what better time to introduce a sneaker? It’s very exciting.