Sole Brothers

My friends get me. As they stumble across something that is just on the other side of the norm, I imagine them with a cartoon bubble over their heads thinking, “That’s so Mindy!” Sometimes they send photos, emails, and private messages. Mostly I take it as a heart-warming gift of inspiration and friendship. Then there was this one time…

In March of 2015, two separate friends shared NiK Kacy’s KickStarter campaign with me. I was reluctant. I’m not one of those ‘investor’ types. Ironically, I’m risk averse. After spending time viewing NiK’s video about his mission and journey, looking through the Fortune collection, and stumbling across his double monk strap boots, I knew I’d found the shoes in which I’d be married. To those masculine of center friends who love a double monk strap, you know the challenge of finding a women’s 7.5 that doesn’t have a 4 inch lift or a Capezio feminizing look. “Finally!” I thought. “A shoe that spans the gender shoe sizing spectrum­­ without losing quality or dapperness!”

After I decided I had to support this shared dream, I received a very touching email expressing true gratitude for my support of the campaign. I responded to this email sharing why the vision resonated and how more than anything I wanted to wear NiK’s blue monk strap boots when Megan and I get married — again. Though the Fortune shoe-line line wasn’t set to ship until September 2015, NiK made it a mission to ensure I’d walk down the aisle in The Monk Boot.

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A private moment captured by brother Rob

Megan and I first got ‘married’ at a Quaker church in Decatur, Georgia on September 13, 2008. It was ornate, spectacular, ‘traditional,’ and emotionally flawless. To Megan and me and all who shared in the event it was somehow more legitimate than a legal ceremony — though without any of the legal protections in which our heterosexual counterparts share.

We regularly joke that we will get married as many times as it takes. So, when marriage equality became legal in Nevada, I knew my Las Vegas dream wedding was possible. Then, two-and-a-half-months before the date of our ceremony, the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court decision raised the stakes. We would no longer just be married in the state of Nevada. Our marriage would be celebrated and legally respected throughout the U.S.

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Elvis take the wheel

We chose to be married at the Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel after Googling “gay weddings Las Vegas” and discovering gaychapeloflasvegas.com, their companion site. Megan had found us the only gay-owned wedding chapel in Las Vegas. We’d be married by Elvis and driven into the chapel in a pink Cadillac.

As soon as Megan shared the news on our wedding website, my friends all must have figured that I had my outfit planned. They wondered and asked me — what about the shoes?  Thanks to Kate and Liza, I found the answer. NiK Kacy Footwear needed to become a reality. And, it did.

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Curve magazine – Heart & Sole – by Megan Volpert

The genuine emails and chats exchanged between NiK and me revealed that we were kindred of spirit, and has led to a beautiful bromance. After hearing me talk non-stop about my ‘virtual relationship’ with NiK (which included an ask/accept invitation to the Vegas wedding), she wrote an article about NiK Kacy Footwear for Curve magazine. Knowing that Megan would be interviewing NiK on the phone, I left the house so I wouldn’t be tempted to hone in on their talk time. I was also set that my first real contact with NiK  would be after the wedding ceremony.

At IHG one of our Winning Ways is ‘Room to be Yourself.’ It’s a part of why I thrive working there. Those of us square pegs ­­who have been marginalized, disenfranchised, overlooked, or poked at ­­– we know that we’re our best selves when not forced into that round hole. My feet feel the same way. The nearly half-dozen pair of NiK Kacy shoes I currently own (with my Georgios forthcoming) have been such a foundational part of my style r-evolution.

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Cue on Queue

NiK did manage to ‘crash’ our wedding. He brought two friends in-tow and arrived a few minutes into the ceremony. During the post-ceremony madness, we hugged for the first time. It felt so familiar. NiK stayed the weekend in Vegas and attended as many of the post-events as possible. The wedding posse all headed to Herbs & Rye for ‘major partying’ after the ceremony. We arrived so early that they hadn’t even opened yet. We got started at a bar next door. There, NiK and I first got to really talk and connect face-to-face. And, thanks to my brother Perry, we also engaged in a bro-photoshoot.

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From Suit to Shining Shoe

Since then, NiK has become an omnipresent part of my life. NiK has introduced me to an amazing LGBT fashion, style, and visual activism community that I wasn’t aware even existed. I was introduced to Anita Dolce Vita — Owner, Creative Director, and Editor-in-Chief of dapperQ. Later that year, I was honored by the dapperQ team as one of the 100 Most Stylish dapperQs of 2016.

During a visit last year to Los Angeles, I designed a suit with the help of NiK’s bud Leon, owner of Sharpe Suiting. I felt like the Great Gatsby as I graced the red carpet at the 29th HRC Atlanta Gala Dinner & Auction with my wife handsomely beside me while wearing my Sharpe suit and NiK Kacy wingtips.

My lexicon, vision, and even life mission have evolved since The KickStarter Incident (given a post-humous two enthusiastic thumbs up by Siskel & Ebert) and continue to do so.

With a heart that is truer than the North Star, NiK is a vocal and visible ambassador for LGBT youth, the LGBT community, and to other small businesses that are trying to survive and thrive in these historic times. I’ve heard/seen NiK sad, but never negative. Taking the high road frequently makes the journey longer. That just means that there are more sights to see and new people to meet along the way. When I reach that low point and can only see the low road out, I frequently reach to NiK for words of inspiration or pivot to hear NiK’s inner-voice. We do this for one another.

Whether it’s a Skype call, FaceBook private message exchange, text messages, we hear each other as if in the same room even though 3,000 miles separates us. Those times we have been in the same room are epic. I recall an evening that began as a dinner somewhere in LA and progressed to a Narnia-like Cuban Speakeasy. That same evening transitioned to an SUV filled with enough passengers for bad car karaoke on the way back to my hotel. And, it ended with someone stealing off to the bathroom to chase down the promise of a hot tub that never actualized. So long as no one noshed on the mini-bar or disturbed my niece who I’d invited to crash in my suite, I knew my wife wouldn’t mind.  In fact, the mini-bar restriction was mine, not hers. A very PG-13 evening — mostly for language.

The beautiful thing about gratitude is that it tends to beget gratitude.  NiK has opened a Narnian wardrobe for me. I owe a debt of gratitude to NiK and will always be grateful for the friends who opened my eyes to the possible. It’s the possible that keeps us borne forward ceaselessly toward the future.

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