When her employer sold the 100-year-old Italian shoe company she loved, Jennifer Stucko decided to take an entrepreneurial leap and start her own company, Prota Fiori, a women’s luxury footwear brand built upon an ethos of sustainability, designed in New York, and made in Italy. Stucko attributes her appreciation for tradition to her Italian roots. Her ancestors moved from Piana di Monte Verna, Italy, in 1901, to Brooklyn, New York, where they took up jobs as shoemakers and doll-factory workers.
Prota Fiori shoes are crafted in Le Marche, a town nestled between the Apennine Mountains and Adriatic Sea, which proudly proclaims itself as the birthplace of shoemaking. Stucko’s innovative approach has breathed new life into the heartland of Italian craftsmanship by bringing in upcycled materials and 21st-century leadership. Prota Fiori literally translates as protect the flowers.
How did you come to choose Prota Fiori as your company name?
I chose the Italian translation of protect the flowers because I love the scent of fresh soil and watching a seed transform into a bloom. I’m inspired by the joy created through giving and receiving flowers. I chose Prota Fiori because flowers are signs of hope, beauty, and femininity.
You’re both American and Italian. Your company is in New York and your factory is in Italy. Tell us a little about balancing those two worlds.
Interestingly enough, although there’s a physical separation between the two worlds, they’re both intertwined into my day. It’s something very natural to me. I’ve been working for Italian companies like Armani, Valentino, and A. Testoni for over a decade. I’ve practiced that balancing act long enough that it’s become something I really enjoy. I will say though, when I travel to Italy, my lifestyle changes almost immediately. Overall, I move slower, have an espresso for breakfast, and eat longer lunches and later dinners. And this I really love!
What are some things we can look for in shoes to determine whether they’re worth the price tag or will hold up over time?
To start, I never look at price to determine the quality of a shoe. What’s important is the quality of the material and the workmanship of the shoe. If you have a high-quality raw material mixed with hand-craftsmanship that’s been practiced for decades, then you know that the shoe will last a very long time.
That said, all shoes need to be taken care of. I suggest visiting your shoe repair at least once every 6 months for a regular clean-up, never wearing the same pair of shoes two days in a row, and investing in shoe trees to keep the shape.
It’s a huge leap to start your own company. What advice do you have for anyone thinking about taking that leap?
Ask yourself if you trust yourself, trust the process, and trust the universe. To some, this may seem like hocus-pocus, but in my opinion, there’s nothing more powerful than having faith. If you have passion, that’s a great start too—but make sure there is a real market opportunity, whether it’s big or small. Your new company can be a side gig, or it can be the next big idea. Do your thing, and understand that life and your path are not one-size-fits-all. Don’t pay attention to anyone’s doubt or fear. Take the leap, and always listen to your gut.
I suggest to anyone who wants true success to spend time in nature and meditate regularly. It’s when I’m in nature that I experience a euphoric opening of the heart and the mind that clears and reenergizes my spirit like no other. Throughout the years, I’ve deepened my meditation practice, and now I feel one with the universe. That’s why I value the natural world. It’s where I feel alive and the most connected to my inner self and sense of being, something successful people need.
You’re certainly the first luxury shoemaker to take your approach. Are there other luxury brands in different industries doing something similar? What other brands do you like right now that are doing good work for the world without sacrificing style or quality?
I’m really glad you’ve brought this up. In fact, as I built the supply chain for Prota Fiori, I looked into the auto, aircraft, and design industries for innovation. I felt they were more forward thinking, had more financial investments, and possessed advanced sustainability technology.
For example, Bentley’s EXP 100 GT utilizes the same upcycled grape skins for the interior of their car as we do for the lining and insoles of our shoes. Another great example is Philippe Starck, the French designer who created collection furniture for Cassina out of the same upcycled apple skins that we use for the upper of our shoes. Both of these brands are representative of the Prota Fiori values, and are iconic in their own right.
What do you do in your daily life to stay healthy, focused, and happy?
I practice daily yoga and meditation to maintain my overall mental and physical well-being. To stay focused, especially with Prota Fiori, I like a good routine. Twyla Tharp’s book Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life taught me how important habits are. To stay happy, I love to learn and incorporate non-work-related activities into my day. I take care of my garden, which is full of roses, perennials, herbs, and vegetables. Watching everything grow is really fulfilling. I’m reading Deepak Chopra’s Metahuman, and I’m taking Will Kemp’s online acrylic painting classes. Above all, connection with family and friends is what keeps me happy. During quarantine, I’ve been mailing love notes and sunflower seeds to the special people in my life, and that brings me a lot of joy.