Struggling with depression a couple of years ago, Aida Stenholm said she was given several options by her doctor: counseling, medication or “doing what I love to do.”
Stenholm decided to do the latter and make shoes. And who wouldn’t be cheered up by her colorful line of custom footwear?
“This is kind of my dream, my business, something I wanted to do,” Stenholm said.
Her shoe line is called Killasumaq, which means “beautiful moon” in Quecha, a language in Stenholm’s native Peru.
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Many of the shoes feature a combination of leather and hand-woven cloth from that South American country. All are made in Peru by workers using sketches and designs by Stenholm.
Stenholm grew up in Lima, Peru’s capital and largest city, where she says she had to share shoes and practically everything else with seven sisters. She made her first pair – out of cardboard and twine – when she was 7 or 8 years old.
She was teaching Spanish in the Bahamas when she met her husband, who’s from Wichita. They lived in Bermuda until the birth of their son, who is now 5, when they moved here.
Stenholm says she always has enjoyed painting and other artistic endeavors. She spent several months in Peru studying traditional methods of shoemaking before launching Killasumaq.
Stenholm makes flats, boots and heels in casual and formal styles for women. She also designs men’s shoes but says her focus is women because “men never shop.”
She has produced about 20 shoe models in all, the most popular being the Stenholm boot, an ankle-high leather boot with a square heel and swatch of Peruvian blanket on the side. It comes in 17 colors, including purple, pink, red, green, black and “limon,” each with its own pattern of blanket.
She buys materials from several different sources in Peru to ensure their authenticity. Because she buys leather and other materials in small amounts, she makes a limited number of each model, meaning you probably won’t run into somebody wearing the same pair at the next cocktail party.
Stenholm’s shoes range in price from $85 for flats to $185 for heels and $220 for boots.
Stenholm primarily sells shoes through her website and events like the annual Women’s Fair at Century II, although a couple of shops here and elsewhere have carried them. She also has shown her work at fairs in Kansas City, Oklahoma and Texas and plans to attend a show for shoemakers in Las Vegas later this year.
She said customers “go crazy for these colors” and also appreciate the fact that they’re handmade from leather.
“They’re going to last a long, long time.”
In addition to the United States, Stenholm has sold shoes to customers in Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Canada and Peru. Stenholm, who works as a part-time paraprofessional for Wichita schools, said she would love to be able to focus solely on running her own business one day.
Without downplaying the seriousness of depression, Stenholm said her doctor’s suggestions turned out to be just what she needed.
“I love it,” she said. “I’m so happy.”