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Heart & sole: inside NiK Kacy's gender-neutral footwear brand.

I wear men's shoes. Tough broads often do. For the 10 years we've been together, my vertically challenged wife with fun-size feet has been living vicariously though my favorite leather boots. Nobody manufactures luxury gender-neutral footwear to accommodate her (she wears a women's 7.5), so she settles for appreciating my much cooler and more comfortable situation. Most fashion-conscious 5-foot-3-inch queers could tell you a similar story. So NiK Kacy is taking it upon himself to solve this.

As a transperson, Kacy has long been using clothing as a means to authentically portray his insides on the outside. He recalls with gravity how he burst into tears the first time he tried on his favorite T-shirt after having top surgery. It finally looked just right, after he'd been struggling with the way it fit for years, while others all around him took the simple act of getting dressed for granted. Because of Kacy's unique size, shape, and gender expression, his wardrobe often suffered a lack of good-quality basics. But his strongest lamentations were always about the futile search for that perfect shoe.

So he left his dream job at Google and took a leap of faith that led him to an international shoe fair in Italy. Kacy had been doodling shoes since he was a little kid, and in Porto, Portugal, he found a manufacturer willing to make his sketches a reality. He saw that the extreme kindness and generosity with which the Portuguese treated him was reflected in the way one special factory treated its workers, and he chose that place to produce his line of NiK Kacy Footwear.

The company is pretty much a one-man show, but thanks to the budding trend in queer alternative apparel, Kacy doesn't feel lonely. He's been learning the ropes from other entrepreneurs through collaborations with Butch Basix, Harvey Charles, and particularly Leon Wu of Sharpe Suiting. Where the LGBT community at large often hits speed bumps--ranging from petty divisiveness to fundamental differences--the LGBT fashion business is full steam ahead in its duty to serve and to build inclusiveness. The fledging industry is short on veteran mentors for the moment, but the list of partners and colleagues grows larger every day, one introduction paid forward into the next, with many designers pitching in to pull the next one up.

Kacy in particular is poised to rocket to the top because he designs shoes that are classic without devolving into the mundane. He has stuck closely to an accessible, traditional set of designs because for years his own closet had been missing just such foundational pieces. This first collection consists of masculine-of-center boots and derby wingtips, with plans in the works for a feminine-of-center collection of heels. As he builds a clientele base, Kacy plans to drive his prices way down to make awesome gender-neutral shoes more available to everyone.

One look in his eyes and you just know this is a 40-year-old with a heart of gold. Every decision Kacy makes is about furthering his sense of community. It's why he began as a brilliant workaholic at Google and why he left to serve his fellow small-footed friends. It's how he picked his manufacturer and the army of volunteers who model in or photograph his ad campaigns. It's why he specially arranged to get the first pair of shoes off his line two months before the public shipping date in early November: in time for my wife to rock them at our 10th wedding anniversary in Vegas.

The NiK Kacy Footwear slogan is "walk your way." On its face, it's promoting individualism and acceptance. Indeed, my wife finally feels respectable kicking her feet up next to mine. She no longer has to sacrifice comfort or fashion, the twin demons of Doc Marten and John Fluevog. Brands like those two have actually been uniting the LGBT community for a long time. We collectively gravitate toward them because their fashion is also a sound philosophy, which means Kacy is next in line in a most excellent tradition.

He wants to lift up a group of overlooked, disenfranchised people. He knows about it because he's one of us, and longed to have this particular need met. People judge you by your shoes. When we galloped down the aisle for a second time together, I wanted my wife to have on some shoes so fully expressing the type of person she is that the Elvis impersonator presiding over the ceremony would glare down at them with envy. And he might have been 14 inches taller than she is, but you know that old saying about dudes with big feet? Thanks to NiK Kacy, it's about to go out of style, (nikkacy.com).

Caption: Footwear afficionado NiK Kacy

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Title Annotation:features/STYLE
Author:Volpert, Megan
Publication:Curve
Date:Nov 1, 2015
Words:801
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