Alumna Spotlight: Caprice Neely '85, Co-Founder and Designer of BALA shoes
When St. Mary’s Academy alumna Caprice Neely set out to launch a new shoe company, it never occurred to her that she couldn't. “I think that’s what St. Mary’s taught me,” she shares “that anything I imagined doing is possible.” She adds, “We were encouraged to have freedom and diversity of thought and to ask questions. I learned that my voice and ideas mattered.” It was with this mentality that Caprice left her longtime position as a designer at Under Armor to launch not just a new shoe company, but a new shoe category: BALA, premium footwear for nurses.
BALA was born of the insight that traditional athletic footwear companies design their shoes using a male foot form despite the fact that there are biological differences between male and female feet. As a result, women are constantly forced to sacrifice fit. Caprice shares “she was determined to reverse this trend.”
She was introduced to John Eberle, her now business partner, who was exploring the idea of a shoe designed specifically for nurses, and "it was like kismet. I wanted to create a shoe designed specifically for a woman’s foot, and John wanted to design a performance shoe for nurses. Over 90% of this country’s nurses are women.” Enter BALA.
Neely goes on to explain that not only is there a particular need for this shoe category, but a shoe has never before been designed in real cooperation with a specific industry on both the functional and emotional level. “We talked to nurses across the country, asking questions ranging from biomechanics to materials. We listened to every idea. We recruited nurses to assess the fit and function throughout the design process and considered their input at every revision along the way.” She adds, “Right now, most nurses either wear clogs or running shoes, but there are benefits and detriments to each of those options. We wanted to create a shoe that eliminated all the detriments.”
Coincidentally, the COVID-19 pandemic had yet to hit when the initial BALA designs were in early development. Caprice tells the story, “We conducted our research in April of 2019 and began the design work in November 2019. In March 2020, everything hit. It was a very scary time to be starting a business, but the need for this type of shoe became clearer than ever.”
The name BALA comes from the word “balance” and the balancing of impossible things that nurses must manage every day. Caprice summarizes, “We hope this shoe speaks directly to who nurses are."
For more information on BALA, including how to pre-order shoes and to see a promo video featuring real nurses, check out the website www.wearebala.com.