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Meet Armando Cabral, Model Turned Men’s Footwear Entrepreneur

By Noah SilversteinMay 26 2022
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Charting the model-to-entrepreneur pipeline over the last decade, you see a clear throughline from supermodels making the jump to start their own ventures to models using social media to create an additional source of revenue. With such direct exposure to high-caliber industries like fashion, beauty, and entertainment, it only makes sense to want to take a bite out of the proverbial apple. Just think: Would reality TV be the same if Tyra Banks hadn’t created America’s Next Top Model?

This enterprising spirit is what brought model-turned-designer Armando Cabral into the world of men’s footwear in 2008, creating an eponymous label of exquisitely-made shoes for the man with global sensibilities.

“I was walking in a Michael Kors show in the tents at Bryant Park, and he paired a large, deconstructed suit with sneakers. I thought this was so cool… but when I looked at the sneakers, I thought of all the things I would change,” Cabral told The Center Magazine, on the phone from his family’s home in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.

Born in the West African country of Guinea-Bissau, raised in Portugal, and discovered by a modeling agency while studying in London, Cabral designs from a unique vantage point, reflective of all the cultures and people who helped shape him as a person (particularly his sartorially-conscious father). “My goal is to bring the customer into my heritage, which is a global heritage,” said Cabral.

Nearly 14 years later, having relied solely on direct-to-consumer and stockists for sales and to communicate his brand’s ethos, Cabral is opening his first brick-and-mortar store. The Rockefeller Center location will act as a physical form of storytelling, perfectly capturing all the reference points that go into his creations.

We spoke with the multi-hyphenate Armando Cabral about what we can expect from the store and his journey to get here.

How did this whole journey start for you?

AC: My family moved to Portugal from Guinea-Bissau when I was only 4 years old, so my upbringing was very European — and that’s the culture I grew up around. My father was a very stylish man, always wearing suits for work and being well put-together. He sent me to London to study, [which was] possibly also as a way to distract me from pursuing modeling in Portugal. When I arrived, people would come up to me every day saying I should model, so I finally signed with an agency and started down that path. It was then that I [began] to develop my own style and sensibilities, and I realized I was always the most excited by the shoes.

Working with such legendary, creative people as Paul Smith, Michael Kors, and Dries Van Noten, I got to talk to them about the shoes, and it became a sort of obsession for me. So I decided that with the experience and contacts I had from the fashion industry, I’d start to learn about making shoes and creating a business. From there, we started the business in 2008 and launched our first collection the next year.

Can you believe this is where you are more than a decade later?

AC: A friend was talking to me about this recently, and I had a pinch-myself moment thinking about the first collection and all the miles walked between then and now. But time flies when you’re doing something you love.

Tell us about your process now compared to when you began.

AC: The new direction we took during the pandemic was in reaction to the murder of George Floyd. In the wake… there was an urgency for me to reconnect and discover myself. I’ve been living in New York for 17 years, so I’m aware of the inequalities that exist in terms of race in this country, but I never felt like it was that close to me and my experience. But after the tragedy that happened to George Floyd I thought, “This could be me, this could be my kids.”

So then I think, “How do I try and bring people together?” My philosophy is that we come together when we learn more about each other’s backgrounds. If you educate people on who you are, people become less intimidated by your differences. The results are these shoes featuring beautiful African textiles we developed mixed with exquisite Italian craftsmanship, a direct reflection of my own heritage.

Now you’re opening your first store at Rockefeller Center. What has the process of creating this retail experience been like?

AC: I’ve always felt like my brand is more than just the shoes; it’s also an experience and community, and I’m very grateful to have a global community of friends. When thinking about the store, I wanted to bring to life this concept of coming together. Now more than ever, I want to honor my African roots. I’ve invited African designers to create in-store pop-ups to broaden the range beyond footwear and leather accessories. I want this space to transport you and make you learn about Africa and the designers in a very luxurious way. I always envisioned having a store in New York, but it never occurred to me that it would be in such a historic and emblematic place as Rockefeller Center. It’s the heart of New York City!

Armando Cabral is open at 30 Rockefeller Plaza Tuesday through Sunday 11am to 6pm.

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