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“I don’t think you have to be an Ivy League graduate, just a risk-taker,” says Armando Cabral as he considers his leap from international model to creator of an eponymous men’s footwear label. But as his daily 5:00 a.m. wake-up will attest, the path to successful entrepreneurship still asks much of those who take it. “It requires a lot of persistence, perseverance and hard work,” he concedes.

Born in the tiny West African country of Guinea-Bissau and raised in Portugal, Armando was first taken to a runway class when he was 17. (Good looks run in the family: His brother, Fernando, is also a well-known face on the modeling circuit.) By 2006, Armando and his gleaming bone structure had hit the big time, walking the catwalks for Louis Vuitton, Dior Homme and Thierry Mugler. Each interaction with a major brand was a new opportunity to study the industry up close, providing pearls of business wisdom that he stored away for later use. “I learned a lot while working with these fashion houses,” he remembers. “I was always attentive and keen to learn about their business.”

Eventually, the glitz and glamour of fashion shows wore thin. Armando—who studied business in London before his modeling career took off—briefly toyed with finance during an eight-month stint at a small, private wealth management firm. “Five months in, I realized it wasn’t for me,” he admits. “Soon after, modeling picked up again and I decided to earn the capital necessary to start the Armando Cabral brand.”

“I don’t think you have to be an Ivy League graduate, just a risk-taker.”

In 2008, he founded a premium footwear line. The shoes—from red deerskin leather high-tops to the shaggy rabbit fur “Jetset” slipper—were designed with Armando’s own lifestyle in mind, prioritizing sleek design, comfort and Italian craftsmanship. “The Armando Cabral man is a global nomad,” he says. “I believe the modern man requires a shoe that conveys a timeless aesthetic without sacrificing comfort.” To this day, he adheres to the simple advice of J. Crew CEO and personal mentor, Mickey Drexler, who once told him to always listen to his customers. As a result, his shoes walk a fine line between aspirational and affordable. “I wanted to create something that was beautiful and comfortable, but was not needlessly expensive,” he explains.

Now, his brand is sold at Mr Porter and Bloomingdale’s, with a flagship store in Lisbon. “To me, being an entrepreneur is a gift,” Armando says. “My greatest professional accomplishment has to be building this brand. It’s something I’ve done from the ground up, on my own. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

This story appeared in The Kinfolk Entrepreneur in 2017.

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