Shadyside shoe designer is creating a 'little piece of luxury'
Emily Mack Jamison wants you to walk a mile in her shoes.
At least a mile.
She'd prefer your walk to be much longer.
The footwear designer creates stunning sandals, flats, pumps and boots made from fine leather, suede and satin. Her brand Emy Mack is handcrafted in Italy at the same factories that produce the iconic shoe names of Valentino, Jimmy Choo and Prada. The Emy Mack line has been featured in Marie Claire magazine and Lifetime's “Project Runway.”
“The shoe is the most important part of the outfit,” says Mack Jamison, from her Shadyside showroom filled with footwear ready to walk out the door. “I want these shoes to be like a little piece of luxury.”
She tries to keep the cost competitive. Prices range from $395 to $850. Valentino shoes start at $695, Jimmy Choo at $375 and Prada at $390. But their prices go much higher.
A woman might not always purchase couture clothing, Mack Jamison says, but she will invest in a high-end handbag or pair of shoes.
“And the dirty little secret is my shoes are comfortable for most women,” says Mack Jamison, whose shoes have platinum soles and insoles. “We have foot models who wear them and give us feedback, and we make changes to make sure they fit well. Because what good is it to have high-end shoes and not be able to wear them?”
Part of the decision to start her own shoe line began with a trip to Italy to see how footwear is made. She and husband Rob, who live in Shadyside with their three children, did extensive research. They visited factories and learned there are specific factories for different parts of a shoe, which has 22 to 25 components. If one component isn't right, it can affect the whole shoe.
The couple teamed with Gil Fields, an expert in the shoe industry from New York, who connected them with Italian factories. He has designed, manufactured and marketed top shoe brands including Liz Claiborne, Adrienne Vittadini, Anne Klein, Ellen Tracy and Kate Spade.
“I like shoes — now,” says Rob Jamison, who helps his wife by handling the operations side of the business. “This has always been a dream of Emy's.”
They had moved to Pittsburgh from New York in 2003 to be closer to Rob Jamison's family. She is from New Jersey and he from Point Breeze. He wanted to come back to work for the family business, Marshall Elevator, which was sold in July 2011.
Last October, the Jamisons opened the footwear showroom at 5417 Walnut St., where clients can have a one-on-one personalized shoe experience by appointment. The line offers more than 50 styles and is sold online, through consultants and in 20 specialty boutiques across the United States. They also have a pop-up store at 501 Beaver St. in Sewickley.
“Shoes are an item you should try on because different designers size and fit differently,” Mack Jamison says. “It's fun when I see a woman's reaction when she tries on a shoe that fits and that she loves.”
Mack Jamison has seen that look from Jessica O'Brien of Squirrel Hill, who owns Beehive NeedleArts in Mt. Lebanon.
O'Brien owns “a bunch of” Emy Mack footwear.
“I love her shoes,” O'Brien says. “They are well-designed and well-made. I am a person who loves fashion, and Emy has an eye for the materials and the craftsmanship. Her shoes are gorgeous. I might be a little obsessive when it comes to shoes, but I am on my feet a lot, and her shoes are both comfortable and fashionable. The leather is so soft and exquisite. They make a statement.”
Mack Jamison describes her style as classic with a twist. She uses many traditional silhouettes, but adds something like Swarovski crystals or other ornamentation such as studded stones and bows that a client can choose to give the shoe added bling.
She learned to love footwear from her mother, Mary Mack, and grandmothers Helen Mack and Angelina Moriarity. Her father, Ronald Mack, has an exceptional fashion sense, she says, as do her husband and her in-laws, Lynda and Bob Jamison.
“I never would be where I am today without the support of my entire family,” Mack Jamison says. “That encouragement and support has helped me live this dream.”
When she was a child and asked to draw something, it always had a shoe in the picture, she says.
Mack Jamison travels to Italy several times a year and across the country to meet with representatives from potential stores and individuals to sell the footwear. This has helped open doors for the line, as well as the exposure on “Project Runway,” which produced a show for the Marie Claire Shoes Challenge.
Mack Jamison was invited to submit two entries through a connection with FN Platform, a shoe tradeshow. From an estimated 500 pairs of shoes, both of hers made the cut — the Elizabeth black studded bootie and a Sienna silk slipper embellished with Swarovski crystals.
Leslie Gallin, vice-president footwear for Advanstar Global which owns well-known footwear tradeshows FN Platform and Sole Commerce, met Mack Jamison at one of the shows.
“Emy is wonderful,” Gallin says. “She, like me, believes an outfit begins with the shoes. Footwear is such an important component to our everyday lives.”
Mack Jamison makes a quality product, and the industry is always looking for new names, Gallin says.
“She could really go places,” Gallin says. “Her shoes being made in Italy really sets the bar for a high-quality shoe. Designers often add a personal style to their line that becomes identifiable to them, such as the red sole from Christian Louboutin. Being part of FN Platform has allowed Emy to interact with some of the top designers in the shoe industry, which will help her develop the brand and gain brand recognition.”
JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7889.