With a contemporary footwear line that is one of the highest grossing brands in Saks 5th Avenue, Filipina-American designer Ivy Kirzhner is ruling the footwear industry--both in the U.S. and abroad. But when asked about her global success, Kirzhner gives a lot of credit to her immigrant upbringing and her beloved Queens, the New York borough from which she hails.
Kirzhner was born in Cabanatuan City, Philippines, though most of her early childhood was spent in Manila, the country's capital. In 1989, she moved to the United States, where her family settled in Woodside, Queens, an area with a large Filipino-American community.
"I think of Queens as the underdog compared to Manhattan or Brooklyn," Kirzhner said in an interview with NBC News. "But I strongly believe that Queens is the most culturally rich borough in the city with the most ethnic groups. It is still down-to-earth and humble. It doesn't have a pretentious air about it. I always felt it is where the real New Yorkers are."
"It's time to show we are to be recognized. Our culture is so incredibly rich. I have always been proud to be Filipina."
Aware of the sacrifices her family made to create a new life in the United States, Kirzhner said she knew she had a responsibility to make something of herself. "I knew that I had to do my family's sacrifice justice. I saw what it took for me to move here. I promised myself I would never take it for granted," Kirzhner said.
Raised in a creative family, Kirzhner was always encouraged to follow her passions. Her father was an architect and engineer, her uncle a couturier, and her two older sisters are fashion designers. The only rule her father had was that she put all of her focus into whatever path she chose to follow.
"Being brought up by Filipino parents in Queens gave me a grounding element that I still carry to this day," Kirzhner said. "You focus on what matters: hard work."
That upbringing led Kirzhner to be a top academic performer since elementary school. In junior high, she won national awards for her art projects and was accepted into the infamous LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, known as the "FAME School" that inspired the classic 80s film, "Fame."
At LaGuardia, Kirzhner learned all aspects of art: sketch, photography, watercolor, and more. When the school opened its fashion program, she knew immediately what she wanted to do: design shoes. "Designing footwear was a perfect combination of my sisters' fashion influence and my father's architectural background. I guess I always knew I would be a shoe designer," Kirzhner said.
Kirzhner went on to study Footwear and Accessories Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) on a state grant. After graduating, she worked at Steve Madden, Dolce Vita, and Alice & Olivia before she was personally asked by footwear mogul Vince Camuto to be the Creative Director for the brands BCBGMaxAzria, Herve Leger, and VC Signature by Vince Camuto.
But after a few years in Camuto Group, Kirzhner wanted to transform her creative energy into her own project: it was time, she said, to design her own line. Kirzhner debuted her eponymous shoe brand at New York Fashion Week 2012.
"I want to empower women," Kirzhner, who cites gladiator sandals as one of her favorite designs, said. "There are women who want to be pretty, and there are those strong, badass women who are stunning and command attention. I design for them."
Kirzhner's designs have been spotted on the heels of stars such as Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez, and Shakira.
In addition to empowering women, Kirzhner is also focused on using her platform in the fashion industry to represent her Filipino heritage. Along with showcasing a new Spring/Summer 2016 collection at this year's New York Fashion Week, she will collaborate with Filipino-American restauranteur Nicole Ponseca on a special brunch event for Filipino-Americans in the fashion industry at the Maharlika restaurant in hopes of creating a more personal support network within the community.
"It's time to show we are to be recognized," Kirzhner said. "Our culture is so incredibly rich. I have always been proud to be Filipina."