Like UGG bots, velour tracksuits and stretchy-fabric belts, ballet flats ruled the mid-00s. Every influential youth, be they fictional (see The O.C. or Gossip Girl for evidence) or real (hi Hilary Duff, Paris Hilton and Avril Lavigne), had a pair of the dancewear derivative in their closet and for good reason: ballet flats are practical, comfortable, and lest we forgot, chic.
After their swell in popularity, ballet flats clout disintegrated rapidly. The style's clear homage to the uncontested femininity of ballerinas — a profession to which we all once aspired — suddenly they were too girly, too flat, too, well, basic. Then came Instagram, and with it The French Girls. Women around the world have long dreamt of achieving a mere fraction of effortless Parisian beauty associated.
Paris-based creatives and influencers like Jeanne Damas and AnneLaure Mais have amassed hundreds of thousands of women closely keeping up with their every sartorial move, and with the help of some of the savviest designers, brought ballet flats back.
Among those labels is Josefinas, the Portuguese brand whobuilt their brand on the ballet shoe. They're likely the reason your friend dug out her decade-old Tory Burch flats from her closet recently, and why you've been scouring Zara for some tie-up shoes. Their impact knows no bounds; creating waves if not for the fact that they are completely female-founded, five-years-old and credited with reviving the once-massively prevalent style, then because they're the first enterprise begun by Portuguese women to open its own store in New York. The brand also contributes to the Women For Women organization — a charity that dedicates itself to marginalized women around the world, and will soon create a new sneaker to benefit domestic violence survivors directly.
Now, Josefinas translates internationally to luxurious comfort (they've even created a pair of ballet shoes for women to wear on their wedding day). PAPER caught up with co-founder, Maria Cunha, to talk bringing ballet flats back to life.
It wasn't too long ago when ballet flats had an "UGG boot" effect, how do you resurrect a massive trend from the dead?
Every trend has a cycle, it shows up, it goes away, it comes back again. In the case of ballet flats, it's a little different, because it's a classic style, it's always out there, it can't go away, it can only be enhanced from time to time. Everyone remembers Audrey Hepburn in a pair of ballerinas, not to mention Brigitte Bardot or even Grace Kelly, Katherine Hepburn or Twiggy, they were all fans of flats and they were all stylish women. When you look at ballet flats as a style, it's a style that can never become unfashionable.
What do you think is so enduring about the style?
Besides the simple chic look and the ergonomics of the design, the classic ballet flats are deeply linked to the imagery of ballerinas, a timeless, pretty look that women always saw as a source of elegance and as a beautiful imaginary place to be in.
What are the components of a great shoe, and what should it do for its wearer?
First the ergonomics, not always achieved because of the design; second, the great materials, such as breathable, flexible materials; and third the design, always aligned with the rest. The wearer should be happy in a pair of shoes, not feel pain, but most of all, they should feel confident, even if that confidence can be translated into feeling feminine, comfortable, modern, free, sexy…
What do you consider to be the worst footwear trend of our generation?
Oh that's a hard question… the first thing that pops into my mind are the eight-inch stilettos. In my perspective, they should be considered art and not design, because this type of shoe can be dazzling, but I've never known a woman that feels happy in a pair of those for more than 5 minutes.
I know you've credited influencers a lot for your exposure, how can you ensure someone fits and will boost your brand?
Our partnerships with influencers usually go beyond their number of followers, we try to work with influencers that resonate with our ethos, that understand who we are; it can be an amazing travel influencer, it takes a lot to be a woman traveling the world; it can be Chiara Ferragni, she's a great example of a self-made woman in fashion, she's successful without following the "normal path"; it can be an editor, such as Eva Chen, she's an amazing example of a successful woman in the fashion industry, because she follows a path of authenticity; it can be a writer or even someone who's anonymous. It's not about the number of followers, it's about the woman, her style, her path.
What did it mean to you to be the first Portuguese footwear brand to open a store in New York?
It was a very proud moment, it was very overwhelming and a great business experience, in every sense. We have never been in retail, and we had only sold shoes online, so this was a great challenge, it was huge for us. As a Portuguese brand it was a great moment, as a young brand it was incredible to be able to be in touch with customers, to be in New York, and to have some one-on-one with fans that just wanted to get to know us, to meet amazing women.
How has the industry evolved during your time?
The footwear industry is evolving as is the entire fashion industry, collections are changing and including unique product launches more frequently, and there is a bigger dialogue with customers now – it's a dialogue instead of a monologue. Also the environmental and social responsibility is growing and it's already in the minds of young designers when they start a brand, and to be part of all this is very hopeful.
What would you love to see more or less of in footwear?
Specifically in footwear, I would love to see more female shoe designers being successful by designing shoes that will resonate with other women, and less men dictating the shoe trends in woman's footwear. I hope there will be more woman getting out there and making a difference in this industry.
Tell me about Women for Women.
Women for Women is a very personal story. I discovered the organization many years ago, and once I understood the concept, I immediately started to contribute to it personally. During many years this was my small personal cause. When I started Josefinas, this cause was almost immediately associated with the brand, I was just waiting for the right project to work directly with this amazing organization and it fit perfectly. So I got in touch with them and we started to contribute with our shoes, and not just personally. I still get tears in my eyes whenever I receive a letter from a woman in whose life I'm making a difference, and this means a lot to me, it reminds me how lucky I am, and how much I have to be grateful for, but it also makes me think about what I can do to change the world and make it a better place for women.
Josefinas is a really young brand, what would you share with other emerging footwear designers?
Try to make it out there with your passion, always remember what makes you go, it's not about the money, it's not about the status, it's about the 'why.' Showcase your real values, think about the difference you are making in the world, not just from an aesthetic point of view, but also in society. Add a great dash of resilience, put together a team who cares, create an open honest relationship with your suppliers — they will help you. Talk to your customers, create a great relationship with them, they will be your most amazing ambassadors. Be grateful, the universe will be grateful to you to.
Photo courtesy of Josefinas