Why Those Ballet Flats From Josefinas Aren't Just Another Pretty Shoe

Everybody knows if you start a high dollar, high fashion business you need serious capital, serious experience, and serious name recognition.
Turns out those assumptions are seriously wrong.
Let me tell you about Josefinas, a three-year-old Portuguese women's shoe company that started with none of those things.
"When we opened the business," says co-founder, Sofia Oliveria, "we had no money. We had no connections. We just had a dream of creating a business that would empower women in Portugal, in Africa, all over the world. And that's exactly what happened."
Co-founded by Sofia Olivera, Filipa Júlio, and Maria Cunha, Josefinas.com is the first enterprise begun by Portuguese women to open its own store in New York.
"We are also the first business really to respect the hard-working Portuguese women who are artisans and shoe craftswomen," Sofia says. "Each and every pair is hand-made. We work with master shoemakers, Portuguese artisans who really, really love what they do.
"Until now, they were never respected or paid properly. We're changing all that."
The change isn't just happening in Portugal; Josefinas, which has the support of "the mother of feminism" Gloria Steinem, in Sofia's words, also supports an entrepreneurial vision for women in Rwanda.
"Our long term dream is to be able to open a school in Rwanda to teach business skills to women in order for them to achieve economic independence. Until that happens, we help women in need through Women for Women International, a global organization," Sofia says. "Gloria Steinem lent her name to an edition we have called Women for Women. For each 10 pairs of shoes sold, we help another woman in need. Our clients also get involved in this dream and purpose.
Josefinas products, some of which take as long as 16 hours to make, aren't cheap. If you're heading down to the Josefinas store in Manhattan, at 252 Elizabeth Street, which the founders describe as "the flagship of our dreams," bring money and plenty of it.
The Nolita location was designed by Christian Lahoude, the architect who created stores for Jimmy Choo, Tiffany and Co., and Gucci. The founders are clearly trying to do things first-class.
A pair of Josefinas could easily set you back $500.
And don't expect to see Josefinas stores popping up in every suburban mall from here to the San Fernando Valley, however. The founders have set their sights on just two more locations -- one in Asia and one in Europe, to keep the brand unique and alluring.
Josefinas is absolutely a product of the Internet age.
"Our ballet flats were a big hit in Portugal," Sofia says. "After that, I have to give credit to Instagram, fashion bloggers, and Fashion Week for getting out word about our shoes.
"Everybody fell in love with them. We've been able to grow like crazy.
"We all work 16-hour days, and I always have a nervous feeling in my stomach because I'm thinking of all the things I haven't done.
Technology has reduced the need for seed capital when starting new ventures, Sofia says.
"But more than that," she adds, "creating a business in the Internet age means that you're trying to make more than money. For us doing business, it must have a meaning. It needs to make money and everything, of course. But if things don't have a meaning for us, they're just things.
"We need an emotional connection to what we do, just like Toms. We love Toms. We really admire what they do. I personally admire their CEO, Blake Mycoskie, he's just wonderful.
"That's what we really want to do -- be a brand with a meaning that will change the world."
The founders weren't thinking about charity when they started off; they wanted to create a shoe that would be "practical, elegant, and present in every moment for a modern woman," Sofia says. "We knew our shoe had to mean something to the women who wore them. They needed to feel they could conquer the world with flats feeling comfortable, beautiful, and elegant."
The doubters dominated.
"As we went along constructing our brand," she says, "people would tell us, 'You three girls just can't do this. You don't know what you're doing. This is impossible.'
"We felt that just because we were women, we weren't taken seriously. It's like, 'Oh, these three girls are just doing something because they need to fill their time.'
"Women need to know that they can do anything, because people will easily say, 'Oh, no, you can't.'
"It's not true, and if you don't believe me, step into our beautiful New York store and see what three women can do."

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The Josefinas team.

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The store.

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Josefinas Rose Couture.

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Josefinas Classic Black.