Yeardley Smith on Her New Shoe Line, Working in Fashion, and the "C" Word

Yeardley Smith
Photo courtesy of Marchez Vous
Yeardley Smith

Yeardley Smith is débuting her new shoe line called Marchez Vous this fall. Is Smith's name somewhat ringing a bell? It should: She's the voice of the one and only Lisa Simpson. That's right, Lisa Simpson has a shoe line.

The collection isn't what you'd expect. Get those visions of Lisa-approved vegan Birkenstocks out of your head. The line is full of pumps, heels, booties and wedges in fun colors and fabrics. 

FashionEtc sat down with Smith to talk about her shoes, jumping into fashion, and her microfinance initiative.

What made you decide to create a shoe line?

I love shoes. I have a lot of shoes and I wear them. When I realized I didn't have comfortable and beautiful shoes in my closet, I thought, Wouldn’t it be fantastic if you could go to the supermarket and run all your errands in hot, sexy shoes?

So 15 months ago I was having a conversation with a friend and he said, "Why don't you do a shoe line?" And then I met Ben [Cornwell], who is my business partner and apparel expert. He's the guy at this company that, say Britney Spears wants to do a fashion line but she doesn't want to design it, she's just going to license her name—Ben puts that together.

Was the design process difficult for you?

I don't know anything about design. I just know what I like, and I throw swatches around in my office floor and I get ideas. For instance, even with the burlap, I thought, Remember that really famous photo of Marilyn Monroe? She's literally wearing a burlap sack. And I thought that could be sexy in the right context.

The shoes are incredibly padded.

Yeardley Smith babette pink bootie

Photo courtesy of Marchez Vous

The Babette bootie

Yes, and the challenge was how do you put padding in? And because of the way the shoe is constructed—which is that you put everything in and you stitch it down—how do you keep its resilience? That took some trial and error. First round of samples—they were so gorgeous and I'm walking around in them and I go, "I'm dying. OK, this isn't good enough."

They hurt the balls of your feet?

Yes. It's all about the cushioning being in the ball of your foot, which is interesting because a lot of times, they'll put cushioning in your heel. And if it's a high heel, that's not where you need it.

The comfortable shoes are often the ones your mother would wear.

Exactly! Which is why comfort is such a bad word in the industry. But I refuse to play by those rules, and I'll refer to it as the "C" word.

Well, coming from the outside I think you're allowed to break the rules a bit.

You can totally run roughshod over everything that was—just because. And when they say to you, "Well that's the way it's done," you say, "Just because that's the way it's always been done doesn't mean that's the way it should be done."

And the response from women has been good?

The response has been phenomenal. And it's so much fun. You shouldn't have to wear the same three pairs of shoes in your closet just because you don't want to die that day.

Yeardley Smith ines purple heel

Photo courtesy of Marchez Vous

The Inés heel

What has the response been from the industry?

You know what's fascinating? People love the line. And then they proceed to tell you everything that's wrong with it. Your line is too small, you shouldn't have so much suede, or less color, your heel is too high, it's too low, this that. I just don't really care.

It's sort of the same thing as when I started out as an actress. I was 17 and I had never had an acting lesson and I'd done some school plays. I got a job right out of high school and was very successful right away. Before that happened, people thought, Well, it won't last. Even as I became established, they said, "Well, it can't last." Everybody will tell you why it's the worst idea you've ever had. I don't really listen to them.

Tell me about the microfinance initiative you're doing.

Microfinance, to me, is the most sustainable way out of poverty. I always believe a hand up is better than a handout. First of all, it's so much more dignified, and ultimately for me, charity work is best if you can step away from the situation entirely because they're doing well enough on their own. And I became hooked into the Grameen Foundation, which is an American NGO.

It's irrefutable, the success of these tiny loans to women and getting them back on their feet—the pride, the sense of community that they have. They're often so incredibly isolated, so I've given generously from my own income and I thought that one of the intriguing things about starting a business as well is that the success of that could further the support.

There are a lot of fashion brands coming out that are involved in one-for-one programs where they donate shoes. Are you at any point pondering doing that?

I actually thought about that when I was in Bangladesh, which was last July. What I noticed was that everybody wears sandals. I thought it would be fantastic to design a shoe that was more durable but also phenomenally comfortable. Because these people walk miles, right? [And the shoe] was affordable and manufactured there. Some way where they could participate and benefit practically from the product. Again, all of those ideas are right at the forefront of my brain and in the pipeline.

Marchez Vous ranges in price from $300 to $500 and will be sold at Fred Segal in L.A. come August, and on the Marchez Vous Web site starting next week.