well heeled in comfort

Houston neuroscientist turned startup founder takes steps toward comfier shoes

Steffie Tomson founded a company to prioritize comfort — without sacrificing style — for women on the go. Photo via getawaysticks.com

Two and half years ago, native Houstonian Steffie Tomson ordered $2,000 worth of shoes and sliced them all in half with a bandsaw just to see what was inside.

Tomson, a neuroscientist by trade and the founder and CEO of footwear startup Getaway Sticks, had an idea for a different kind of shoe — one that was redesigned to prioritize women’s comfort.

“I thought, ‘why can’t we start with a sneaker material and then build a heel around it?’” she tells InnovationMap. “I started just slicing everyone else’s shoes and now I’m more convinced than ever that our shoe is different.”

Tomson was inspired to design the inaugural shoe for Getaway Sticks after her own struggle with heels, walking in the bustling Texas Medical Center from building to building for meetings. As a mom of two and a problem solver, she knew there had to be a better mousetrap.

“No other shoe offers this type of foam with the height that we offer it,” she says of the wedge-style shoe, which offers a wide toe box, soft suede material and limited height for stability and joint health.

The comfortable wedge is available in several colors. Photo via getawaysticks.com

With her scientist background, she would think about the “cognitive cycles” that get spent in dealing with schedules and matching corresponding footwear.

“’This shoe goes with this outfit, but does this shoe get me from this meeting back from the parking lot? Does it fit with the pant?’ It’s just an infinite decision tree of how to get your wardrobe aligned with the shoes — when all I ever wanted was a capsule collection of shoes that would just work for me all the time,” she says.

Typically, the fashion industry constructs shoes in a very traditional way, she says, and because of this, Tomson was met with much resistance from manufacturers to get the right materials for her prototype.

“I think there’s a lot of money that gets thrown around trying to get women to buy shoes,” says Tomson. “Those may or may not be comfortable. There’s just not enough being poured into getting women to buy shoes that’s really been designed for us with us in mind.”

Getaway Sticks went through the gBETA accelerator last spring, which helped springboard the company and connect Tomson with the local innovation ecosystem.

“There aren’t many people who are making shoes in Houston, but there’s a lot of support for cool ideas and novel thinking here,” she says. I’m glad that I’ve been made aware of them and invited into these groups.”

Now past its first pre-seed phase and prepping for its initial round of seed funding in 2023, Getaway Sticks is looking ahead at its next shoe launch in the coming months — the ballet flat.

“I think that we as women can identify with the fact that we all have a really beautiful pair of heels and they are almost certainly not going to be comfortable,” she says. “And we may have a really comfortable pair of heels, but they are not always the cutest thing in our wardrobe. We always have to kind of flip and decide. I just felt strongly that we needed something to make our lives simpler.”

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Building Houston

 
 

With the consumer price index rising 9.1 percent since last year, many Americans are evaluating new employment opportunities with better pay. However, employees would be wise to consider the risks of accepting a new position in the face of inflation and a possible recession, which could leave employers unable to sustain higher wages and generous benefits.

As a safer option in the longterm, employees may wish to ask for a raise from their current management, yet many do not know how to start the conversation. By understanding best practices for negotiations, employees can improve their chances of obtaining a pay raise without undermining relationships.

Understand the risks of job-hopping

Conventional wisdom suggests that job hopping can result in higher salary increases than an annual raise. During the pandemic, many employees took advantage of labor market shortages to secure new positions for higher pay. However, job hopping presents risks, particularly in an uncertain economic environment. Companies may institute “last in, first out” layoffs, leaving recent hires unemployed.

Even in strong economic conditions, job-hoppers face uncertain outcomes. When employees leave a company, they may leave behind teammates, mentors, client partnerships and friendships years in the making. These relationships can redevelop in a new organization, but employees may find themselves in an unfamiliar setting, facing unrealistic expectations or unexpected challenges that were not clear during the interview process.

Prepare ahead of time

Before approaching management with a request for a raise, employees should understand their own financial needs and how much additional compensation would improve their finances. If inflation has caused financial strain, employees should gather recent data on inflation, including the consumer price index, to share with management. The more information employees can offer about changing economic conditions, the more management will understand and accept their position.

Focus on the positive

Employees should begin a conversation about salary with praise for the organization and a reiteration of their commitment to the team. By beginning on a positive note, employees set the tone for a mutually productive conversation. Although employees may view salary negotiations as adversarial across the table, productive negotiations are a conversation with both employee and employer on the same team.

Likewise, while employees may worry about looking greedy, employees should not let that fear prevent them from opening the conversation. Employers also understand that employees work to meet their financial needs. While employers may face budget constraints or other considerations in salary allocation, strong management also recognizes the importance of nurturing growth among employees, both in compensation and job responsibilities.

Nonetheless, employees should focus the discussion on broader economic conditions like inflation, not on their personal budget items. By acknowledging the economic environment outside of the employer’s control, employees can then respectfully request their salary be adjusted for inflation.

Employees with a record of strong results can also gather data or performance reviews to demonstrate their contributions to the team beyond the expectations of their role. In doing so, employees can frame a salary increase as a celebratory recognition of the mutually successful partnership between employee and employer and an investment in the relationship.

Be flexible if negotiations stall

If employers decline to adjust an employee’s salary for inflation, employees should not give up on negotiating additional compensation or benefits. Rather than a pay raise, employees can ask for reimbursement for gas mileage or additional remote days to cut down on their commutes. If management declines a pay raise based on timing, employees can acknowledge that management may face budgetary constraints, remaining flexible but firm. For instance, a compromise may involve revisiting the discussion in three to six months.

As employees face record-breaking inflation, it remains critical to consider the risks of departing one role for another. By implementing best practices in salary negotiations, employees can secure a salary increase that matches inflation, avoid the uncertainty of job-hopping and invest in the future at their current company.

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Jill Chapman is a senior performance consultant with Insperity,a leading provider of human resources and business performance solutions.

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