These shoes weren’t just made for walking; at least that’s what Bay Area artist Rachel Mahlke will tell you. As Giddy Spinster, Mahlke makes it her business to remold plastic stilettos into charming planters with a message. By rehabbing castoff heels into homes for cacti and other succulents, the Berkeley resident transforms them from treacherous icons of sexuality to objects of utility. They also serve as prickly reminders of how difficult it is to navigate other people’s notions of gender and femininity. One thing’s for sure, you have to be prepared to get your hands a little dirty.

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Dubbed everything from the “Pinup’s Revenge” to the “50-Foot Woman,” Mahlke’s planters perfectly embody her “femme-feminist” credo. After sawing the top off each shoe, Mahlke sands it, drills holes for drainage, and packs it with organic soil and fertilizer. She then plants a cactus, obtained from a local certified-organic grower, that’s at once dangerously sharp and delicate to behold. But even the blackest of thumbs will have no trouble keeping these little guys alive. “The succulent plants will need very bright light and just a little water from time to time,” Mahlke says. “In return, they’ll repay you with a stark reminder of how hard it is to…well, to be a woman.”

Beyond creative recycling, Mahlke explores the mythology of beauty and how discomfort and artificiality have become the norm.

A schoolteacher by day, Mahlke prefers to work with objects that have a history. In fact, she created her first stiletto planter after saving a friend’s old heels from the dumpster. Beyond creative recycling, Mahlke finds herself exploring the mythology of beauty and how discomfort and artificiality have become the norm. (Blasting off the tops of the stilettos with power tools is nothing if not symbolic, not to mention empowering.)

Coincidentally, her new endeavor dovetails with her obsession with plants. “Cacti and succulents are the perfect foil to plastic beauty products,” she says. Combining the two mediums, Mahlke contrasts natural beauty with artifice, retooling the shoes into new objects of her own intent.

+ Stiletto Planters $45-$65

+ Giddy Spinster