WARRENDALE, Pa. (AP) — For Caitlyn Hess, shoes aren't solely footwear.
They are worn for taking steps toward helping others.
Hess, 24, of Pine, is the designer of an innovative and luxurious footwear brand called Schee (pronounced SHE-ay). Her mission is "Walk to make a difference."
Hess creates one-of-a-kind designs to raise awareness and show support for those in need.
Each season, Schee derives inspiration from a new philanthropic outreach. By giving 5 percent of total sales to that season's charity, Schee not only gives women the opportunity to raise awareness for a number of causes, but provides them with a product as special as they are. Hess intends for Schee to redefine the shoe industry by bringing together design, luxury and personal expression while changing people's lives.
"I combined my passion of wanting to make a difference with my love of shoes," Hess says. "I want to motivate the soles and souls of the person who wears these shoes."
Sitting inside her Cranberry studio surrounded by shelves of shoes and boots on display, she talks about her footwear being more than fashion accessories. The Vincentian Academy graduate was motivated by her great-grandmother's breast-cancer diagnosis, as well as working with autistic children after graduating from Penn State University.
Hess introduced her first masterpiece, the "Giuliana" pump in 2013 after two years in the design process. She enlisted the help of an architectural engineer to create the pump so it was functional. The signature dual-heel statement shoe — made in Italy — is a silk-satin platform pump wrapped in Swarovski crystal. The dual heel signifies two legs walking to make a difference and was created to raise money for breast cancer.
Some of her other shoes are made in China.
Hess' most recent design is "Sixty Five Roses." In support of cystic -fibrosis research, it was inspired by the dark romance era. When children with cystic fibrosis are first learning to speak, they often refer to their disease as Sixty Five Roses.
Hess hosted a shoe party for a young girl battling the disease. There are roses on one of the shoes in the collection, and the heels are shaped like thorns.
A bridal collection will be coming out soon.
Customers can buy her shoes online and at boutiques in Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Beverly Hills and Atlanta. They will be available at Maxalto in Shadyside and Footloose in the Galleria in Mt Lebanon in August.
The majority of her shoes are in the $200 to $400 price range. The original collection can cost $1,000 or more.
Maxalto owners Marta and Michele Minic ordered the combat boots with crystals on the toe, a knee-high croc-embossed style with a crystal toe cap and a suede platform bootie. The sisters say they are always looking for unusual items, and it's always a bonus when they can support a Pittsburgh designer.
Schee customer Regina Donahue of O'Hara gives the line a rave review.
"While creative, high-fashion design and a philanthropic purpose already set Schee shoes apart, it is their comfort and quality that will continually keep me checking for new styles to add to my closet," Donahue says.
"As a bargain hunting, fashion-conscious mom of three, my shoes need to be comfortable, uniquely stylish and worth the price," she says. Their comfort is incomparable, their design inspires me to push the boundaries of my style, and the charitable cause attached to their mission makes me feel like I'm part of something much bigger than great shoes."
That's the message Hess hopes to convey to all who walk in her shoes.
"I love what I do," Hess says. "The opportunities are endless. I have followed my passion to help make this a reality. I would love one day to see celebrities walking the red carpet wearing my shoes."
She says there is a lot of work that goes into designing a shoe, because it needs to be balanced and have a solid construction and foundation.
Hess' design ideas come from jewelry, architectural building designs and Pinterest. Her emotional drive comes from those who need help. She tends to see the positive in everything.
"You have to learn to dance in the rain," Hess says. In a pair of Schee shoes.