Immigrant, Third Culture Kid, LGBTQ+ and more, accessories designer Nik Kacy’s journey may just help you discover your own life purpose.
Fashion accessory designer Nik Kacy has a message for in-betweeners: Be Unapologetically You.
Though these specific words don’t fall from their lips, the message is clear and unmistakable:
“Asian, didn’t speak English, immigrant, born in body I didn’t relate to, lesbian, butch, trans and finally, non-binary and feeling the most ME I’ve ever felt,” Kacy writes in a particularly salient post on Facebook. As a transmasculine individual who identifies as non-binary, Kacy uses the pronouns they and them.
Born in Hong Kong, seven-year-old Kacy immigrated to Queens, New York, with their family and became a U.S. Citizen. “Chinese families are very big and we all lived together,” says Kacy. Kids made fun because they didn’t speak English. “I knew I was different, but I didn’t know why.”
An only child, Kacy weathered storms of parental divorce and other childhood traumas alone. “Being with neighbors, being with grandparents — constant trials figuring out who am I and what do I want to be? But it made me such a strong person [that] everything I’ve put my mind to, I’ve done,” explains Kacy, who believes there are no setbacks; rather lessons from which we learn.
“Sometimes I’ve been told I’m opinionated, or aggressive or outspoken. And I used to feel bad when called those things because those who called me these things made it seem like it was a bad thing. But now I’ve learned not to care what others think because standing up, shouting out and speaking up can save lives.”
CHANGING THE TIDE
No stranger to being an outsider because of their many differences, Kacy tells of the time an elementary school bully pushed too far: “I beat this kid with a wiffle-ball bat.” Both parties found themselves in the principal’s office, where Kacy, a self-described “principal’s pet” realized that the bullying came from a place of pain and chose to end the cycle, rather than repeat it. That distinct action caused the two youths to become friends.
“I Went from being a victim to not being a victim, but not lowering myself to reciprocating violence with violence,” they impart.
CONFIDENCE VS. ARROGANCE
That specific moment may have changed the course of Kacy’s life. Instead of confusion and victimhood, now sprouted the will to not only stand up for self, but for others. It also may have marked Kacy’s entrance into the world of entrepreneurship. Learning to speak up also meant asking for help, a trait that’s often not accessible to first-generation Americans or people of color according to Dr. Eric Aoki, an expert in multicultural identity and professor of communication studies at Colorado State University.
Confidently speaking up, however, can have negative consequences when navigating spaces of privilege. Instead of being praised for having boundaries or knowing one’s limitations and lauding stellar abilities, words like “bossy,” or “arrogant,” have been thrown Kacy’s way.
“Privileged people were raised to ask for help, people of color were raised to overcome,” they elucidate. “When I started my business, I had to push myself, ‘I’m going to ask for help from my community, to change the world — ask people to help me change the world.’ People with privilege wouldn’t even think twice about asking.”
“Being referred to as ‘arrogant’ is a descriptor that has been ascribed to TCKs. There are multiple ways in which this arrogance can be viewed due to the lived experiences and global lifestyles of many TCKs. For some, what is viewed as arrogance is self-confidence and resiliency beyond usual expectations that had been developed due to lived experience in other countries and cultures and learning how to cross-navigate multiple cultures at an early age. This confidence can be perceived by others as arrogant and boastful and most especially by those who may not have had similar experiences.”Trauma and growth mindset expert Dr. Paulette Bethel
Kacy asserts, “I stand by the fact that I will never idly stand by if someone is being treated unjustly or disrespected. Call me whatever names you want but I will never not speak up.”
FROM PERSONAL STRUGGLE, A BRAND IS BORN
Kacy’s experiences have brought them full circle. Celebrating their outspoken nature and interest in giving back to community, they developed NiK Kacy Footwear — a Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender (LGBT) certified business, that creates gender-equal footwear and accessories. Using fashion for activism to promote gender equality, Kacy hopes to provide properly-fitting stylish footwear solutions that promote an authentic expression of self.
The journey began after traveling Europe in search of masculine-styled shoes made to fit petite feet because Kacy was unable to find a proper pair of shoes that was comfortable while also befitting their sense of style.
On a mission to find out why shoes have traditionally been divided on the binary between men and women, Kacy kept hearing a similar story from footwear industry manufacturers: There’s no profit in it. The shoe market for niche designs and sizing would be too small to be lucrative, they said.
This emboldened Kacy to design a collection of “masculine of center” and “feminine of center” shoes in a range of unisex sizes.
In 2015, Kacy’s new brand raised $47,000 US from a Kickstarter campaign and went into production. 2019 marks the release of the brand’s second collection.
The line’s use of quality materials, commitment to ethical workplace standards and focus on sustainability creates a more expensive product, which means a higher price point, but — just like the elementary-school kid who faced down a bully — Kacy is not daunted.
A POWERFUL MESSAGE
“How about we stop supporting fast fashion and start supporting small businesses who support gender equality,” they ask. “I believe in this mission. You see celebrities now going gender-neutral and they think they’re helping but they’re taking away from us — I don’t have millions to compete,” says Kacy, adding that 20 years of personal savings has been poured into the concept.
“People with money tend to buy brand names. How about brand mission? Inspiring a cause to become more inclusive and inspire equality? Sometimes I do miss a full-time job just so I don’t have to worry about finances, but then I wake up to emails and calls from people who talk about walking taller — it’s because of how [our products] make them feel inside and outside.”
Beyond shoes, the company’s offerings include accessories like a unisex utility holster, keychains and bracelets that are gender-equal and gender-neutral in design. The designs break the traditional ideals of male and female proportions and fit.
Nik Kacy designs have been showcased in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles and the company’s unique concept featured in numerous publications including DapperQ, Diva, FashionTimes, Forbes, Fortune, Refinery29, SheWired, The Huffington Post and more.
ROOTED IN GRATITUDE
Growing success, however, does not erase the memory of Kacy’s personal background on which the concept is rooted. The company has a strong focus on giving back to community in many areas, including raising funds for Los Angeles’ TransLatina Coalition, an organization that advocates for Trans individuals who are immigrants and reside in the USA.
Shop for your own unique style at Nikkacy.com