In her dream shoes

The Portuguese company Josefinas has choreographed a female shoe brand – and the ultimate feminine universe. Along the way, it has not only helped redefine modern Portuguese fashion, but also shown the world how far-reaching women’s dreams can be in their social impact. For most of us, the word “ballerina” conjures up either a masterful dancer – or the flats so many women around the world slip their feet into each day to feel and look great on the go.

But at Josefinas, “ballerina” means far more. For the shoe brand that’s made it its mission to help women lift themselves and follow their dreams, each ballerina is synonymous with female empowerment. So much so that Josefina has gotten the support of Gloria Steinem, the “Mother of Feminism.”
Maria Cunha, CEO and co-founder of Josefinas, believes that female empowerment can change the world. “I think I was born an entrepreneur. I can’t see myself doing other things,” Maria says. Her entrepreneurial path has long been closely intertwined with women’s communities and stories – and she doesn’t see this changing. “Before Josefinas, I worked as a business partner in a company managing women’s communities online, such as communities for pregnant women and bridal communities,” Maria says. Another dream of hers down the line: to establish yet another brand – one that is even more social.
For now, however, Josefinas is experiencing extraordinary momentum worldwide – and with it, new opportunities to make a profound impact on women’s lives. And Maria doesn’t want to miss a moment of the story she helped set in motion.

Ballerinas with a mission
“I met Filipa Júlio, one of my business partners, in an idea contest. She told me about her dream to create ballerina shoes for women who love this type of shoe, and we decided to embark on this journey together,” Maria says. They co-founded the company together with a third partner, Sofia Oliveira.

Josefinas is named after Filipa’s grandmother, who always found ways to make Filipa’s life an adventure, especially when she took her to ballet class. “This was where the idea to create ballerinas originated,” Maria says.

Never mind that Maria, Filipa and Sofia knew next to nothing about shoes when they set out to build their company. Sofia had a background in communications, Filipa in architecture, and Maria in management. “People thought we were crazy,” says Maria, who herself had moments of doubt about the flat shoe concept: Didn’t most women want heels?

Josefinas’ first classic ballerina launched in six colours in 2013 – and proved that women were yearning for fun, elegant, easy-going comfort. “I myself started to wear them – and that was it, they won me over and I wanted to wear nothing else.” More partners have since joined the company and its dream of empowerment, which begins in the making of each shoe. Josefinas relies on the hard work and skills of local craftswomen to bring the designs to life. “In Portugal, we have fantastic leather craftswomen who have helped our dream materialise,” Maria says.

Josefinas is a luxury shoe brand with price tags to match, but the founders stand behind the cost one hundred percent. “We were the first Portuguese company to say: You know what, these shoes are priced fairly. They are the work of expert artisans who work hard, do everything by hand to make exceptional designs, and have historically been exploited and underpaid,” says Maria, referencing the fact that a single shoe can take 16 hours to make. “Taking a stand helped us validate Portuguese fashion, and we were one of the first brands to do so.”

Since Josefinas was founded, its collection has expanded to include a wide range of shoe styles, from sneakers to boots to slippers, that have landed on the pages of top international glossy magazines – and now have a flagship in Manhattan to call their own.

Each new design is inspired by a powerful woman – and seeks to pass the inspiration along. “Today, it is our hope that the Josefinas story inspires other women to pursue their dreams,” Maria says.

Kindness never goes out of fashion
Josefinas stands behind its empowerment promise in everything the company does, including donating a portion of proceeds from sales, and raising awareness about women’s issues through the company’s blog. Josefinas also hosts inspirational talks in its New York flagship store.

Through its partnership with the NGO Women for Women International, Josefinas helps grow awareness of women’s rights and provide business skills, schooling for children, financial and emotional help, and nutrition. Josefinas’ Women for Women shoe editions, to which Gloria Steinem lent her name, celebrate female friendship: each special edition consists of two pairs of shoes – one for you, the other for a friend. When the pairs face each other, they form a perfect circle symbolic of the friendship between women. For every ten editions sold, Josefinas helps another woman. Kindness, after all, is always fashionable.

“It makes me so proud to work for a company founded on the belief that by helping a woman, we’re contributing to a better and more just world,” Maria says. “Josefinas is proof that there is no dream that can’t be realized – and that a more feminine world will be a happier world.”

To learn more about Josefinas, visit Josefinas.com

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