How Prota Fiori Turns Food Waste Into Italian-Made Footwear

Jennifer Stucko didn’t want Prota Fiori to be the typical made-in-Italy footwear launch.

After gaining insight into the world of high-end fashion and footwear by holding positions at brands such as Giorgio Armani, Valentino and A. Testoni, Stucko began to think about fashion’s faulty relationship with sustainability. With pride in her heritage as a fourth-generation Italian-American as well as a focus on health and wellness, Stucko came up with Prota Fiori — a luxury women’s footwear line that uses innovative upcycled materials such as apple and grape leather from Italy. 

“I thought, ‘Wow, you’ve been spending your whole career working in an industry that is not very good to the environment. How can you make a difference?'” Stucko said.

jennifer stucko, prota fiori, sustainable fashion
Jennifer Stucko, the founder and CEO of Prota Fiori.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Prota Fiori

Stucko gained insight into traditional Italian shoemaking during her time at men’s footwear brand A. Testoni, where she worked until 2018, when Hong Kong-based investment holdings company, Sitoy Group Holdings Ltd. acquired the family business.

That fall, Stucko began to work on Prota Fiori, which means protect the flowers in Italian.

“Everything is sourced from Italy and made in Italy,” said the founder and CEO. Through research, she was able to find factories that use solar panel facilities to convert apple skins into textiles as well as grape skins from wine production into a leather-like material.

The shoes are produced in Le Marche, Italy, one of the country’s main shoemaking hubs.

So far, the sustainable fashion brand has rolled out three styles in white on protafiori.com ranging from $385-$595.

prota fiori, azalea shoe, sustainable footwear
The Azalea mule from Prota Fiori.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Prota Fiori

Each look features an upper and bow made from upcycled apple skin as well as a lining and an insole made from upcycled grape skin. Additionally, the shoe has an insole cushion made from recycled foam rubber and an outsole constructed from vegetable-tanned leather. 

“So essentially, we’re taking food waste and turning it into a shoe,” Stucko said. “And these manufacturers really grew first in other industries such as auto and furniture and paper before they went into footwear.”

Even in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, the Prota Fiori has already gained traction within the fashion world by landing on the feet of Selena Gomez for Allure’s October issue.

Despite COVID-19’s toll on the industry, Stucko has also been able to acquire funding for Prota Fiori during the lockdown.

One of her big goals? Establishing her company as a Certified B. Corp brand to meet the highest standards as a sustainable business. “It’s a long process and something that isn’t really, truly designed for new fashion startups by any means,” Stucko said on the certification process. “But I think that that’s where there’s an area of opportunity and it’s been great to be able to build my company with this structure from the beginning.”

Stucko attributes the brand’s momentum to the mentors and advocates helping get Prota Fiori off the ground. She has an advisory board of nine members from across various industries, including media, business and fashion.

“I knew I had to create a team,” said Stucko. “The people who really believed in what my mission was, which was to make a difference and show other brands and people that you can truly make a brand sustainable, were the ones that I stuck with.

margherita heel, prota fiori, luxury sustainable footwear
The Margherita heel from Prota Fiori.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Prota Fiori

As she plans to release more colorways, Stucko said the first 100 customers of Prota Fiori will also get a fruit tree planted in their name on behalf of the brand in its garden in Italy. The brand has partnered with Treedom in an effort to offset carbon emissions made by the fashion and footwear industry.

“We have our own Prota Fiori garden in Sicily, where we’ve planted orange trees and pomegranate trees. And with this garden, we hope to grow all over Italy with different gardens,” said Stucko. “It’s something that is very, very early stages, but we’ll definitely grow, no pun intended, in the future.”

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