One year after opening the doors to his flagship store in New York’s Rockefeller Center, Armando Cabral is still in growth mode.
In fact, the model-turned-designer told FN in an exclusive interview that he’s expanding his brand in more ways than one this year. In late April, for instance, Cabral launched extended sizes in his footwear as a way to be more inclusive. Now, a curated selection of shoe styles range in size from EU 38 to EU 46.
“When we opened our doors in Rockefeller Center last May, women were a significant part of our customer base,” Cabral admitted. “Often, they would come in and pull a style off the display and request it in their size. It wasn’t a good feeling to tell them that we don’t carry the piece they wanted. Now that we’re expanding our size ranges on a curated selection, we are delighted to be a brand they can shop.”
The size expansion is only part of the seasonal story from the African-influenced luxury brand. Cabral has undertaken new designs in the collection this spring, including Balanta, a colorful range of rich but casual espadrilles, and Lisboa, a hand-woven laceup that’s already proving to be a best seller. Rounding out the offerings are a wider selection of his best-selling Bolama loafer and the Monsoa sandal.
“The new designs we are launching are styles that I wear myself,” Cabral said. “Easy to enjoy with a wide variety of styles, 12-hour wear and craftsmanship you will only see in the finest, hand-made artisanal footwear.”
And that’s not all. Cabral also said that he is launching two new categories this spring as he continues to work toward becoming a full lifestyle brand. In addition to his collections of footwear, jewelry and small leather goods, Cabral noted he will be launching fragrance this month with New York-based perfume house D.S. & Durga. And in June, he will debut his first shirt collection designed in collaboration with menswear designer Todd Snyder. The made-in-Portugal shirts will “expresses my vision, the spirit of my brand and my heritage,” the model said.
Snyder added in a separate interview with FN that it has “been a pleasure” to develop a friendship with Armando over the years. “I take pride in searching the world for best-in-class brands to sell alongside my collections and Armando’s shoes are just that,” Snyder said. “When he approached me about his first shirting capsule, I was thrilled to help him design and source the best Portuguese mills and factories to bring his vision to life.”
The entrepreneur has been expanding at a rapid place, after putting his business on hiatus during the pandemic.
Cabral closed his store in Portugal and halted production during the height of the COVID outbreak. But in 2021, he relaunched the brand with a new vision, refocusing his marketing and design to highlight his African roots. (Cabral was born in Guinea-Bissau in West Africa and raised in Portugal.)
In an interview with FN at the time of his brand relaunch, Cabral said that the death of George Floyd in 2020 and the resulting social justice movement inspired him to reimagine his business and the impact it can have beyond the fashion world.
“I decided to really go back to my African heritage, my background and tell a beautiful story of pride,” he told FN in 2021. “Africa was always there with trade and craftsmanship, and very proud people. I wanted to bring those things in, show people and combine the African artisanal techniques with Italian craftsmanship, to create beautiful bespoke shoes.”
To that end, last year the entrepreneur opened his own Afro-centric retail experience dubbed The Armando Cabral Mercado, a concept shop that showcases other African brands along with his shoes. Currently, Cabral is featuring the brands Art Comes First, Labrum London and MaXhosa in his shop.
“We’ve seen growth on a scale we could have only dreamed of,” Cabral said. “With the launch of the Rockefeller Center Mercado, we’ve been able to tap into our customers on a very intimate level. This has led directly to our ability to embrace the momentum, improve our offerings and deliver what our clients want, even if they don’t yet know they want it.”
Cabral’s own story is as unique and global as the Mercado he opened. While pursuing his business degree at London Metropolitan University, Cabral was recruited into modeling and began traveling the world for clients like Louis Vuitton, Dior Homme and Thierry Mugler. He later eventually settled in New York and started his own footwear brand in 2008.
The model has also teamed up with Caleres and its men’s shoe brand Allen Edmonds for campaigns and co-branded collaborations. In fact, Cabral most recently starred in Allen Edmonds’ 100th anniversary campaign last year. But it was Cabral’s friend Diane Sullivan, who stepped down as CEO of Caleres in January, who rekindled their partnership.
“We were coming out of the pandemic, and I was telling Diane about this new direction of the brand and how it was going to tell the story of where I come from and utilize some of those artisanal techniques that will make my brand unique,” Cabral recalled. “And she felt that it was a very compelling story, and that we should do something as a collaboration. So I worked with Allen Edmonds on a two-season deal on capsule collections that bring both of the brands together in one design.”
As for the future of this partnership, Cabral noted that the door is always open for another collection, but there is nothing in the works just yet.
In the meantime, Cabral is busy running his new store and his burgeoning wholesale business. As of now, the footwear line is for sale in Nordstrom, Saks, Matchesfashion and Todd Snyder. “Next season we are adding retail partners in Canada and a handful in Europe,” Cabral said. “We are also talking to a handful of other retailers we are thinking of partnering with for the spring ’24 season.”
And another Mercado may be in the works by the end of the year. “The details will hopefully fall into place before the end of this year, and we will be able to announce the location then,” the designer said.