how this NJ native created a line of affordably-priced luxury footwear that’s sold directly to consumers
by Jessica Jones-Gorman Photos By Anne Molnar Photography
Christina Lombardi has always loved shoes—sparkly, spiky, round or pointed toes—and for years, amassed an impressive collection. But with each pair she envisioned more: a flirty cut-out here, a sexy ankle strap there.
So, after college and a few years in marketing and advertising, she decided she would launch her own shoe brand.
“I’ve always had a love for fashion and wanted to work in the industry,” Lombardi said. “So, with a lot of support and encouragement from my family and friends, I quit my job and enrolled in some courses at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan.”
A few years later, she moved to Milan to study at Arsutoria, a world-famous fashion school that specializes in the design of footwear and handbags. Later, back in the States, she began studying the business of starting a footwear label.
“After some trial and error, I found a great factory outside Florence, Italy, put a great team in place, and was fortunate to launch my first collection in 2016,” she explained.
Her company, Christina Lombardi, creates footwear that blends ultra-feminine elegance with classic but unique silhouettes.
“My first collection was the toughest because these were my babies,” Lombardi said. “But over the past two years, the process has gotten easier as each collection rolls out.”
Still, the process is comprehensive: Each shoe is handcrafted in Italy. From design to sketching, prototyping, and production, every style is examined, tried, refined, and retried to create designs that appeal to a wide range of women. Lombardi uses only top-of-the-line materials and components, many of which are produced exclusively for her.
“Every pair of shoes is a special work of art,” she said. “The process from sketch to production is extremely labor-intensive and rigorous, so when the factory is hard at work developing my previous collection, I begin work on my next line—researching trends and new technologies and pinning to an inspiration board colors, materials, and patterns that inspire me. Over the years, I’ve built a catalogue of swatches and materials, and I go to trade shows to see what’s new. Then I begin sketching. Flats, heels, sandals, boots—whatever I envision wanting to wear—it just spills out.”
For Lombardi, a New Jersey native who as a little girl would dress up as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz in a costume complete with ruby-red slippers, the idea of this business is still something of a dream come true.
“Growing up, I had a mannequin and a simple sewing kit in my room that I would play with, making dresses and embellishing shoes—just for fun,” Lombardi said. “I was also inspired by my grandmother, who was always fashionable—she was a model in her day, and used to draw fashion ads for newspapers and magazines. She was an incredible artist, and I think a lot of my inspiration is drawn from her.”
Lombardi also comes from an entrepreneurial family. Her mother owns Sweet Expressions by Geri, a chocolate store, and Foodies, a cooking studio, in Denville, while her father owns SportsCare Physical Therapy, which has more than 70 centers in New Jersey, New York, and Florida. She says her parents were instrumental to her success.
“They always told me that there were no limits to what you can accomplish if you put your mind, heart, and soul into it, and to always reach for the stars,” she said. “Having that kind of support and love instilled in you is a very unique thing.”
Her designs, which range from flats to stilettos, are inspired mostly by her journeys.
“My travels and day-to-day life, as cliché as that sounds,” she noted. “I do find inspiration in patterns, architecture and art, color, and nature when I travel, but ultimately my collections are designed for everyday girl bosses—because we really do run the world. As a woman designing for women, it is important to me that my designs help them feel empowered while also being able to live their lives. I know and live the hustle of balancing a career, a home, a social life, and more, and I want to create shoes for ladies to wear through it all.”
She thinks the best feature of her shoes might be their comfort.
“We create a high-quality, luxury aesthetic with added comfort,” Lombardi noted. “A lot of beautiful shoes are just not wearable for more than an hour or two. We strive to make ours feel as good as they look. We use the same factories and suppliers as the major fashion houses, but are able to bring our products to a broader spectrum of women. But we have also been told that our leathers and patterns are what our customers love. We custom-make a lot of our materials and components, and I think that gives a bit of uniqueness in an overpopulated market.”
Lombardi’s enterprise has also enjoyed success because of its direct-to-consumer business model. Styles are available online at christina-lombardi.com as well as on Amazon.
“Today, e-commerce is becoming the standard in retail,” she said. “By skipping the big-box stores, we are able to offer footwear directly to the consumer at a more attainable price. We’re still creating beautiful shoes with the same passion and craftsmanship; we’re just cutting costs by bringing our product straight to buyers,” adding that her business model also allows the company to over lines more quickly, avoiding strict seasonal release dates.
This summer, Lombardi’s best sellers were the Aria slide and anything featuring the company’s palm or maiolica prints.
“But as we transition into fall, the Kenzie II mules and anything in pony hair and velvet are really picking up,” she said. “The embellishment and craftsmanship on the studded Kenzie IIs is just incredible. They are handcrafted, and the attention to detail is off the charts. They are like little gems for your feet. Our nude patent leather Alessandra with studs is also a very solid seller throughout the seasons—it’s the perfect nude pump with a little something extra.”
Despite her success, Lombardi wants to do more than sell shoes. “My mission is to empower women and help them feel confident by providing them with accessible glamour,” she explained. “As a woman designing for women, I have firsthand experience in what works: what they want to wear, are comfortable wearing, and what it is like to run around all day in a pair of stilettos. Those experiences combined with my design aesthetic gives Christina Lombardi the ability to allow women to have fun and express themselves with fashion, while not having to compromise the comforts and certain aspects of their day-to-day lives.”
“I intend to continue to stick to, while expanding on, that message in the future,” she said. “I will always be hands-on in every aspect of the process, which I think is so important in such a fast-fashion, robotic world. I think handbags would be something fun to dabble in, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I have been getting pressure from day one to do men’s shoes— thanks to my dad and husband—so we’ll see where life takes us in terms of that!