From corsets to chemical peels to full-body waxing, feminine beauty has often been linked to pain. Now, Tanya Heath (BA 1993 Trinity) is doing her part to change that.
Like many of us, the Ottawa native always loved the graceful look of high heels; what she didn’t love was the wretched aching that followed a full day spent walking in them.
So after relocating to Paris almost 20 years ago, Heath asked herself: what if women could simply snap off their stilettos and replace them with something lower – for walking home from work, say, or dancing at a wedding?
Fourteen engineers and countless business meetings later, she opened Tanya Heath Paris, a chic boutique offering quality shoes with colourful mix-and-match heels. To “operate” the pumps, boots and sandals, you simply press a button inside, ejecting one heel before snapping on another.
It’s an unlikely path for someone who started out studying international relations at Trinity College. “I actually thought I would end up as a civil servant in Ottawa” she says. “Then my whole life changed.” She met and married a French management consultant, followed him abroad and had three children.
In France, Heath also earned her MBA and “learned how to speak French properly”, eventually teaching innovation at a business school. “The MBA was a very empowering experience,” she says. “After that I felt more confident, and became willing to try challenges that went beyond my scope.”
In the period leading to her store opening, Heath spent some $700,000; fortunately, shoe-lovers seem to have fallen head over heels for her product, and just recently she broke even. In the new era of pay-for-baggage, travellers especially love the convenience of changing heels instead of having to pack multiple shoes. In addition to multiple European boutiques, she’s opened one in Toronto’s Yorkville district with another planned for Los Angeles.
Heath says she couldn’t have done it without her friends from U of T. A former varsity rower, she had a wide network of friends across the St. George campus. All her shoes have special monikers, and “70 percent of them are named after alumnae I went to school with” (the heels are named after men – mostly French engineers and designers).
Heath’s classmates facilitated meetings, helped market the product and bought the first shoes. Her head of Canadian operations, Leslie-Ann Dominy (BA 1991), is a Trinity graduate too. “Anybody I crossed paths with at U of T,” she says gratefully, “has been very instrumental in helping.”
Those with similar school spirit will note that – in addition to leopard-skin, polka-dot, glitter and rainbow colours – all Tanya Heath heels are available in blue and white.