Shoe Vending Machine: Los Angeles Gets Its First Emergency Footwear Vending Machine
"We did six or seven pairs last week, not a whole lot," says distributor Ashley Ross, glancing brightly at the machine. "But it's still early. We're a little bit new to the L.A. scene. This is the first of many, is the plan."
It's a Thursday night at the club, and Ross and business partner Lindsay Klimitz are restocking shoes. Called Rollasoles, they cost $19.95 (or "an easy $20"). They are basically ballet flats. Soft and squashy, they drop out of the machine rolled up in a plastic can.
"The first time we came to L.A., we had no idea the streets were so bad," Klimitz says, popping cans into the machine.
"The streets here are so jagged," Ross adds. "A lot of girls that aren't from L.A., they come here expecting to walk in heels down Sunset? Yeah. Good luck. You need backup."
Ross, 25, and Klimitz, 26, are lean, pretty, leggy girls who became friends while partying in the Las Vegas scene. They could not have predicted they would be pioneers in the emergency-footwear business, though they did realize early on that they both wanted to be their own bosses and to work in fashion.
"We're doing black with gold studs, black with white rhinestones, black with black rhinestones, polka dots," Klimitz says. "We want them to be relevant to every girl's wardrobe. When you go out, you have tiny purses, so the shoes had to roll up as small as possible."
Along with the tiny purse and the tiny dress, the towering stiletto completes the holy trinity of sexiness, the club girl's uniform. Klimitz and Ross have built up considerable stiletto stamina over the years. Klimitz can go two hours; Ross, three. "Two hours is the limit for a lot of girls," Ross concedes. "If you put a few drinks in them, probably one hour."
Past that point, only discipline and peer pressure keep the shoes on. "I would say to her, 'I don't care, you're not taking your shoes off,'‚Äâ" Ross says. "It is not a good look. It's not classy."
Klimitz nods. "Both of us are not really people that would walk barefoot. I know a lot of girls are into walking barefoot -- when they're in just too much pain, they can't take it. But me and her would literally suffer through the pain."
"Mmmhmm," Ross says. "We would suffer."
"We would complain," Klimitz continues. "You go out in your heels to dinner. Then you go to the nightclub. By the time you get to the nightclub you can barely stand."
In the cold, sober light of brunch after one particularly atrocious night out, they discussed the situation, feet bleeding. You don't want to leave the club, drive to a store and come back. Plus, retail stores are closed by the time nightlife heats up. A vending machine on-site would be ideal. You can buy any number of things from vending machines nowadays. Why not shoes?
They tried stocking a cigarette machine, but the shoes kept getting stuck. For a while they imagined building a shoe vending machine from scratch, and even went so far as to price prototypes. But the British company Rollasole beat them to the punch. Rather than reinvent the wheel, Klimitz and Ross instead bought the rights to manufacture and distribute Rollasole in America.
In the year since, they've installed four machines: one in the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, in front of Tao nightclub; one in Vanity at the Hard Rock casino; one at the Tropicana -- and now the one at the Colony.
They sell 30 pairs or so a week at Vanity, although on New Year's Eve they sold 26 pairs in one night. Club owners like the shoes because girls who wear them stay out later (an average of 40 minutes longer, according to a survey Klimitz and Ross commissioned), dance more and, one assumes, drink more. Guys like the shoes because it keeps girls out partying for the night. Girls like the shoes because, well, they're shoes.
Klimitz and Ross can't help but reminisce about what they endured prior to their innovation. Klimitz used to bring Band-Aids to clubs. Ross would beg bandages from the security guards. They both tried inserts (which inevitably fall out of the shoe) and insoles (which take up space, making the shoes tighter).
"Or we would switch shoes," Klimitz says. "Like, 'Oh my God, my shoes are killing me, I need a break. Let's switch.'‚Äâ" The girl with the shorter heel takes the bullet and slips on the offending stiletto.
One of their friends is known for bringing a pair of flip-flops to clubs. Other girls look at her with envy.
As a last (or first) resort, some girls ask their gentlemen friends to carry them. Rollasole U.K.'s founder, in fact, created the product because he was tired of giving his girlfriend piggyback rides home from clubs.
"I have a pair of stilettos -- and she actually saw me fall in them -- that's just under five inches," Klimitz says.
"Mmmhmm," murmurs Ross. "Gotta be tall."
"And I don't care what girls say," Klimitz adds, "no heel is comfortable. After three hours? Regardless if they cost $50 or $500 or $5,000."
It seems an obvious solution, but would they consider just not wearing heels in the first place?
In unison, they declare emphatically, "No."