Two New York fashion designers hope to give a jolt to the state’s largely moribund shoe industry.

Michelle Vale and Elena Corsano have designed a weatherproof, ergonomically designed slide sandal that they say bridges the fashion and comfort gap between flip-flops and heels. They hope to create not only a brand around the sandal, but also a lot of jobs in Maine.

The two will be in Portland Thursday to launch their line, Soak, and a $25,000 Kickstarter campaign that will be used to pay for designing the molds for the shoes and a small production run at G&G Products in Kennebunk, which has some of the last shoemaking machinery in the state.

The two also bring some glitz to Maine and to their endeavor. Vale runs a luxury handbag company and is a blogger for The Huffington Post, and Corsano is an art director, stylist and former fashion editor for Elle. Backing Soak as an adviser is Elaine Sugimura, former president and chief operating officer for Havaianas, a Brazilian company that sells more than 150 million pairs of flip-flops a year.

Shoemaking was once a thriving industry in Maine, but most companies left in the 1990s, moving overseas where the cost of making shoes was much less. Currently, L.L.Bean and New Balance shoes are the only large-scale shoemakers left in the state, and Rancourt & Co. represents Maine’s toehold at the upper end of the market, with men’s dress shoes that are handcrafted in Lewiston.


Vale and Corsano discovered the state as tourists, but the deal to make the shoes here was a bit more serendipitous. After coming up with a rough design for the shoes, they did a Google search for a manufacturer and stumbled upon the Kennebunk company, contacted Gary Gagnon at G&G Products and learned that he still has shoemaking machinery.

Gagnon said he was in the shoe industry for nearly 20 years with Unico, a Sanford company that made the soles for shoe lines such as Bass and Dexter. But when those companies pulled up stakes, the business for Unico went with them. The company decided in 1999 to sell off its machines. Most went to shoe companies that had moved to the Dominican Republic, but Gagnon was able to buy a couple of them.

He said he still serves a few shoe companies, usually supplying shoe parts. He also makes dog toys for a handful of customers.

Vale and Corsano have impressed him, Gagnon said.

“They have a lot of passion, which is nice,” he said.


Vale said her idea for the slide sandal came last summer, at the beginning of a busy day when she had to combine taking her children places and going to business meetings. Flip-flops were too casual, she said, while heels were too formal – and bad for her feet. What she wanted was something she could slip into quickly while looking good and giving her feet support.

Corsano agreed on the need and solution and joined Vale. Both began sketching their ideas, and they now have several prototypes ready to roll. They expect to price the sandal at about $45.

Vale said she and Corsano both share a love of Maine.

“We feel like it’s a hidden gem,” and finding a Maine manufacturer “was almost magic,” she said.


Vale wants to tap the state’s shoemaking legacy as part of Soak’s branding, and to integrate the state’s reputation as a place of beauty and integrity into the company.

She said she envisions Soak becoming a full-scale brand, with rain boots, swimwear and sandals for men and children – “anything that can get wet,” she said, an approach that’s suggested in the name of the company. She intends to use as much recycled material as possible for the water-resistant footwear, and the slides themselves will be 100 percent recyclable. In her blog, Vale touts the slides as vegan.

Vale said she’s had initial interest from buyers at Nordstrom’s, Barney’s and Neiman Marcus who have seen a prototype.

The company’s designers and salespeople will be based in New York City because that’s where buyers are, but Vale said the company will try to make other products in Maine.

“The idea is to do as many jobs as possible in Maine,” she said.

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