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Pirouettes and Profits: Pointe Shoes Updated

Pirouettes and Profits: Pointe Shoes Updated MIND(s that filled) THE GAP(s) [XVII]

Have you ever wondered how ballerinas make executing such delicate movements look so effortless? From the 19th century, when Maria Taglioni was the first ballerina to ever perform a full-length ballet on pointes, this specific footwear was never meant to comfort the dancers’ feet, but only to pleasure the eye of the spectator. But as everything rapidly evolves, the art of ballet had to do so as well. That is when Eliza Minden decided to ease the dancers’ activity by creating what is considered today to be the ‘perfect’ pair of pointe shoes.

Eliza Gaynor Minden was born in 1959, in Boston, Massachusetts. She grew up in an art-promoting environment. Her mother was a ballet teacher and later founder of the Connecticut Ballet Theatre School and her sister was a professional dancer. Eliza followed in their footsteps but not for long. After earning a BA from Yale University, she decided to keep this art as a hobby only. 

The beginnings 

Even though Eliza did not pursue a career in ballet, she continued to be involved. After graduating from Yale University, she started working as a manager for different ballet companies where she began acknowledging the importance of the infamous ballet footwear and why it was important to improve on the already existing pointe shoes. Until that certain point, the design of the ballet footwear was outdated. This meant that in a century led by technology and constant change, the pointe shoes were still made out of ‘primitive’ materials like wood, paper or cardboard. Having this in mind, the dancers did not have the proper support nor the comfort needed. Because of her own experience she knew very well how painful the pointe shoes were and the injuries that came along with wearing such footwear. Moreover, in an interview for CBS, Eliza confessed that by working as a manager in the ballet industry she realized the loss most art organizations have due to the lack of product durability. In the same interview, she talked about the unwanted noise pointe shoes make on stage. She laughs at the idea that, in ‘Swan Lake’, the dancers make a clomping sound which contradicts the idea of the perfect and delicate movements of the dancers.

The process 

And so, the research began… It ‘only’ took her 8 years in order to create the ‘perfect’ pair of shoes. But make no mistake, her long-lasting effort was felt by the dance community around the world, starting with the launch of her company in 1992.

Eliza started gathering information by breaking every existing pointe shoe apart in order to find the difference between various brands. From the materials used to color the satin to the rigidity of the product, all criteria were carefully taken into account. She also did her research by consulting multiple orthopedic doctors. Because of the existing issues with bone deformation or other complications, due to the incorrect positioning of the feet in pointes, Eliza had to make sure that the new footwear would not only compliment the dancer but also give stability and comfort. She created several prototypes and tested them in various real-life environments, in order to better understand the dancers’ needs. As she had her roots in a family of inventors, creating the prototype was not difficult, already visualizing the final product in her head. After all that, she concluded the perfect recipe for success: long-lasting materials, a client-approaching business philosophy and the feedback of trial users were the three main ingredients on which Eliza Gaynor Minden relied when thrusting herself into this business and creating Gaynor Minden in 1992. Through straight-forward advertisements of her product, she created a transparent relationship with her customers. She used a new kind of plastic, called ‘elastomeric’, that can be bent multiple times without breaking. That, combined with other athletic shoe-grade materials, ensured a high level of quality, while significantly reducing production costs. Another advantage of the Gaynor Minden pointe shoes is the production process. Compared to the conventional pointes, these are partly machine-produced, further enhancing their quality and durability, and partly handcrafted, making sure the shoes still represent part of the heritage of ballet. 

The trade-offs 

Revolutionizing a market is not an easy task for an entrepreneur. Being the best is not easy and it comes with many trade-offs. From the company’s beginnings, lots of voices in the ballet world stated that innovation in this field of activity is impossible, that revolutionizing something so deeply rooted in history is not necessary and will only have negative effects. But this is exactly what Gaynor Minden has done. She has shown that the new generation of ballet dancers is willing to embrace new technologies, new dancing standards and a new definition of comfort and quality in their daily activity. This has been proven by the endorsers of the new pointe shoe, the greatest ballet dancers from the American Ballet Theatre, that were the first ones taking this ‘challenge’ of improving their grade of comfort during their performances. The advantages were two-sided: the dancers were experiencing the new definition of quality and support while dancing, whereas Gaynor Minden could market their product to a larger number of potential clients, through innovative marketing campaigns. 

The breakthrough 

Despite the challenges Gaynor Minden has experienced during her research and creation of the innovative pair of pointe shoes, the results were satisfying from both a personal and a professional point of view. Nowadays, Eliza Gaynor Minden is considered in the ballet world to be the ‘mother’ of the modern pointe shoe, while running a very profitable and trustworthy business. Her products are sold all over the world and everyone is satisfied and thankful for her vision on the modern dancing equipment. I strongly believe that there is not one dancer that does not have at least one Gaynor Minden product and that, I think, represents the best definition for a successful business. 






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