(This article was originally published on October 6, 2021)
NiK Kacy (they/them) is not afraid to speak up. After years of being silenced and mansplained to as a transmasculine, nonbinary, queer, gaysian immigrant, Kacy decided that they were fed up. “I will no longer keep my mouth shut,” Kacy says.
The founder of NiK Kacy Footwear, a genderfree luxury footwear and accessories line, has learned to use their voice to advocate for themselves and others. One way they have done that is by creating Equality Fashion Week, the first LGBTQ+ fashion week in Los Angeles. “I felt like [queer designers] couldn’t join mainstream fashion weeks, so I decided to create my own,” Kacy explains.
In this interview with Queerency contributing editor Rocio Sanchez, Kacy shares how their identities inform their work, how they found their voice, and what’s next for their brand.
Rocio Sanchez: In your own words, please tell us who you are.
NiK Kacy: My name is NiK Kacy. I am a transmasculine, nonbinary, queer gaysian from Hong Kong, raised in the concrete jungle of Queens, and now have been based in LaLaLand for the past 25 years. I received a BFA in Fine Arts and also Advertising with a minor in International/Intercultural Communications from Pepperdine University. I spent the first 15 years of my career in Advertising and Marketing, working for an ad agency called RPA and later Google as a Senior Interactive Producer. I have spent the last seven years pursuing my dream of starting the first genderfree footwear and accessories brand and creating the first LGBTQ+ fashion week in LA. I’ve done this all while undergoing my transition and gender affirmation surgeries, and learning to live as authentically and honestly as I can.
Sanchez: How do your identities inform your business?
Kacy: My identities as a person who is queer, trans, non-binary, immigrant, Asian, AFAB, and raised-by-a-single-mom have everything to do with the person I am today and how I live my life and run my business. The very core of who I am is about persistence and believing in the impossible.
I came to this country as a child who didn’t speak the language, plucked from my paternal side of the family whom I spent most of my time with and moved in with my maternal side of the family, who spoke a different language. I had to learn two languages when I immigrated to the US, make new friends, and navigate through a world where I knew I was born different from others but didn’t know how to communicate it.
When I started my business, without any formal fashion training or business degree, I dived right in, just like I did as a child. With most things in my life, I have always just committed myself to something I want and I achieve it.
My queerness was no different. Once I came out, I was ALL in! I entrenched myself in the queer community and have dedicated the last 20 years to doing my best to contribute however I can to our community. Creating my businesses was just another avenue and I know in the future there will be many more ideas that I will turn into fruition.
Sanchez: How has your journey as a queer entrepreneur been so far?
Kacy: As a queer, trans, AND Asian entrepreneur, it has been very challenging. It can often be so gut-wrenching that you want to walk away and go back to a full-time job with benefits. As a person who was AFAB (assigned female at birth), I can’t count the number of times I’ve been mansplained to and disregarded.
However, I am grateful for the experience because it helped me find my voice. As AFAB Asians, we are raised in a patriarchal society where we don’t matter and are here to serve and to keep our mouths shut. We are not to be seen. It took being in Europe and being mistreated and disrespected to the point that I was fuming mad for me to finally learn to be vocal and DEMAND to be heard. I now have become the person who must say something if I see something. I will no longer keep my mouth shut. I deserve to be heard and I want our community to learn this as well. That’s why I created Equality Fashion Week and NIK Kacy Footwear. All of my creations are about being heard and seen and being proud.
I’ve also faced funding challenges, as queer/trans businesses have a much harder time accessing capital. Luckily, I had a good job at Google and had always lived frugally, having been on my own since I was 17 years old. I used my savings from being a workaholic for 20 years to fund my own startup and then did a Kickstarter to help fund the first production of my first collection.
Sanchez: What does queer fashion mean to you?
Kacy: It means unapologetically and creatively expressing yourself through fashion in whatever the hell you want. It means being proud in the way you present to the world and being unafraid to be seen and acknowledged as queer. Ironically, I think fashion has always been queer until patriarchal society took control of it and set rules regarding what was “appropriate” to wear, and for whom.
Sanchez: What is the origin story of Equality Fashion Week?
Kacy: When I first started my brand NiK Kacy Footwear, I attended many queer fashion shows in hopes of helping elevate and increase visibility for not only my brand but for queer fashion in general. In 2015, me and my fellow queer designers and promoters were at the forefront of creating these queer safe spaces for designers, models, audiences, etc. However, what I realized quickly was that we were basically preaching to the choir and spending a lot of our already limited funds to participate, only for it to not generate income afterwards.
Creating a collection for a fashion show can cost thousands of dollars...and you’re looking at potentially using your entire company budget to do a show. Most small brands like mine do not have the funding to sustain these kinds of shows season after season. The barrier to entry was too high, and because I felt like we couldn’t join mainstream fashion weeks, I decided to create my own.
Sanchez: Where does NiK Kacy Footwear fit within the current market?
Kacy: NiK Kacy Footwear is the first genderfree luxury footwear and accessories line. I firmly believe that products like clothes and shoes should have no gender implied and that the wearer makes the decision on how they identify and how they want to express themselves through fashion. My shoes are uniquely custom designed with genderfree lasts (molds) and the styles range from masculine of center, gender neutral or gender free, and feminine of center. Currently my development of the feminine of center line is on hold due to the pandemic, as sourcing was already challenging in trying to create high heels or feminine styled designs in genderfree sizes.
Many people think I created a shoe company making men’s shoes in women’s sizes. This is a very common misconception. I make stylish, durable, and comfortable shoes for humans of all gender spectrums and let them identify however they choose in whatever shoes they want, whenever they want.
Sanchez: What is the future of NiK Kacy Footwear and Equality Fashion Week?
Kacy: My goal is to scale NKF enough that I can actually expand my sizing to include wide and narrow shoe sizes, and to create more sizing for my accessories as well. Plus, I’d like to finally launch my feminine-of-center high heels collection! I want everyone to be able to wear shoes and accessories that help them express themselves regardless of their body shapes, sizes, identities, or orientations.
My goals for Equality Fashion Week are to host another event in 2022 and to bring EFW to other cities that lack the representation and visibility for our QTBIPOC community. There are folks like us literally everywhere, but representation is lacking in most places. So I want to help change this. I know there are so many talented queers out there who just need an opportunity, a chance, a stage––someone to help them shine. I want to be that person.
Sanchez: What advice would you give other queer entrepreneurs?
Kacy: Most advice I have ever heard others give are things I already knew innately or from life experiences. It is really about whether we heed that advice and learn from our experiences. But if I have to share my most important learning, it is this: always stay true to yourself and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t achieve something or that you’re crazy for believing in something that “seems impossible.” Anything is possible. Just be you, and with hard work and persistence, sprinkled with compassion, friendship and loyalty, you can make anything happen.
Also, never be afraid to ask for help. That’s my second favorite learning.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.