Cat Perkins leaves a most fabulous footprint

There are so many places to go, but never enough luggage space for shoes.

It was a dilemma that entrepreneurs Catherine Levene and Deb Perkins were all too familiar with — and frustrated by.

And one, they soon learned, they shared with supermodel Carol Alt.

The friends — Levene, a native New Yorker, and Perkins, who lived in Fairfield for 28 years before moving to Manhattan two years ago — met in Madrid, bonding over their love of food, travel and fashion, namely shoes. Though in addition to their similar taste in footwear, these on-the-go gals shared a major distaste — for their large shoe collections, the heavy, oversized baggage that carried them and their tired feet, which painfully distracted from the beautiful cities they visited.

Weary of their shoe situation, the ladies created a solution in the form of Cat Perkins, a travel-friendly accessories company — with a little help from Alt. 

The Cat Perkins popup store in Westport. Photograph by Danielle Renda.

The online store, which opened in 2013, offers a selection of products that boast convenience, from the likes of portfolio and passport cases to luggage tags. But the company is best-known for its transformable shoes, which allow the wearer to mix and match tops with bottoms for multiple looks requiring minimal storage space. 

“There were many things about this shoe that I liked,” says Alt, who attended the opening of Cat Perkins’ first pop-up store, which continues in Westport through Dec. 31. “To be able to travel with this in your suitcase, you can bring 10 or 20 pairs of shoes in the width of like 8 inches.”

Alt knows the deal when it comes to fashion. Despite her local roots — she was born in Flushing, Queens — she spent her career traveling the world as a model and actress, having graced hundreds of magazine covers, including those of Harper’s Bazaar, Sports Illustrated, Vogue, Elle and Cosmopolitan. Still in the limelight today, she is the host of “A Healthy You and Carol Alt,” a 30-minute, weekly wellness series on Fox News Channel and has, thus far, authored four books.

She knows an active lifestyle demands a shoe that’s made for walking — though in the most stylish way possible. So when Alt heard about Cat Perkins through a friend, she was immediately intrigued. How was it possible that her friend — who appeared to be changing shoes throughout the day — traveled with a single small suitcase? And when Alt was informed of these travel-friendly shoes, she decided to cold call the company, posing a simply question: “What can I do to help?”

“It’s my way of giving back,” she says, speaking about her appreciation for entrepreneurial endeavors, especially those that are women-owned. 

Delighted to hear from Alt, the owners welcomed her on board the creative team.   

A lot of thought went into the production process, Alt explains. Levene and Perkins didn’t want to sacrifice function for fashion, or vice versa. It was this determination that led to the patent for (and perfection of) a fastener that would allow wearers to change the upper part of their shoes — in less than 20 seconds — for entirely different looks at a moment’s notice. Instead of packing 10 pairs of shoes for a trip, wearers could pack one or two bottoms with many tops, which is far more travel-friendly.   

“We both realized that we wanted higher heels and we both wanted to travel with less, because our shoes were so bulky,” Levene says. “We also both have running injuries, so we wound up creating a line of shoes that are fashionable, wearable and functional.” 

The company offers 4 1/4-inch wedge bottoms in cork, stack or wood, with color options, including black, gray, natural and Oakwood. Uppers, which are secured onto the shoe using a rivet mechanism, are available in leather or suede styles that include fringe, snakeskin or monochromatic in a range of colors, with new options introduced throughout the year. According to the owners, boots, heels and flats are also in the works. 

Wearing a feminine white bohemian dress that beautifully contrasted with her blue suede wedges, Alt spoke of her experience with the shoes. She broke down the convenience factor, explaining that by purchasing three tops and two bottoms, you have six pairs to choose from.

“The thing that I didn’t like about fashion was that it was super expensive for the fads and then, the next year it was finished. That really bothered me, because sometimes I would find a shoe that I liked and I wanted to wear it for longer,” she says. “With these shoes, you can upgrade the tops every year and keep the bottom, because it’s a perennial bottom.”

A selection of wedges with changeable suede “uppers” in a selection of colors. Photograph by Danielle Renda.

But style isn’t necessarily the most luxurious part of the shoe. With a 5-millimeter, crush-resistant, memory foam, athletic footbed, it boasts round-the-clock comfort. The design of the shoe assures the wearer’s weight is equally distributed throughout, rather than placing excess pressure on the balls of the feet, which can become quite painful. 

“I can stand forever in this shoe,” Alt says.

Levene and Perkins have also taken their production process a step further by extending a hand (or a foot) to women in need. The owners selected a private, Brooklyn-based factory as their site of manufacturing, which is female-owned and employs women who have been affected by sex trafficking.

“It’s women helping women helping women,” Alt adds.

As a way to connect with the community, the Westport pop-up store will also be spotlighting one to two charities per week that focus on women. The store plans to host events, such as cocktail parties and shopping experiences, of which a percentage of the proceeds will be donated to the charities.

“It’s part of a platform we’re doing called, ‘What You Stand On is as Important as What You Stand For,’” Levene says. 

With a set of powerful women standing (comfortably) behind Cat Perkins, the brand is bound to leave an imprint — and we’re not just talking about a footprint.

Cat Perkins is at 136 Main St. in Westport. For more, visit catperkins.com. And for more about Carol Alt, visit carolalt.com.

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