Are sneakers appropriate for a business casual office environment? Direct-to-consumer menswear startups have rushed to develop dress sneakers for men as a workplace alternative to oxfords, loafers, Chelsea boots and chukkas. Continue reading for our review of 12 footwear brands offering low-top, minimalist leather trainers that might be dressy enough for work.
Colombian menswear startup Beckett Simonon is better known for its line of limited-run men’s dress shoes, but has started to release limited edition, minimalist leather sneakers. The company’s two-tone Morgen Classic sneakers ($145), which are handmade in Portugal, were inspired by a shoe commissioned by the German Army in the 1970s, the Morgens are made of full grain calfskin leather and water-resistant repello suede. (Disclosure: The company gave Modern Fellows a pair at no cost.) The shoes are comfortable and have held up well to frequent wearing. Beckett Simonon makes shoes on demand, which means a customer can wait up to 6-8 weeks (but often less) for an order to arrive.
The team at Moral Code brought experience working at the likes of Allen Edmonds, Florsheim and Clarks to found a fashion-forward, footwear-focused brand whose designs and colors stand out from more staid brands. Moral Code’s Alec leather lace-ups ($129 as of this writing on their website; also available via Amazon.com) stand out for their sharp colors, including a vivid red, and feature leather throughout the upper, lining and footbed. Unlike many other options, the shoes feature EVA, or ethylene vinyl acetate, soles, a synthetic material that absorbs shocks.
Founded by menswear entrepreneur Enrico Casati in Milan in 2012, Velasca is best-known for its line of affordable luxury dress shoes for men and women. The company also offers a range of sneakers including the slick Italian-made Belèratt ($185), a modern, minimalist leather sneaker with a white sole. These kicks sport a rubber sole and a full-grain leather outer and are lined with Vacchetta leather inside.
A Day’s March
Based in Stockholm, Sweden, A Day’s March specializes in a range of Scandanavian-inspired menswear staples meant to get you through the day. Founders Marcus Gårdö, Pelle Lundquist and Stefan Pagreus started the company in 2014 focused on “clean-cut basics…of the highest quality, at a friendly price.” Their minimalist Marching Leather Sneaker for men ($190) is handmade from high quality Italian calf leather and features a durable sole from Italian outsole manufacturer Margom.
While the brand sure sounds Italian, Scarosso is based in Berlin, Germany, the brainchild of founders Moritz Offeney and Marco Reiter. The duo launched the direct-to-consumer affordable luxury footwear brand for men and women in 2010 and has since taken on investors, aiming to be the Warby Parker of shoes. Scarosso’s Italian-made Cosmo Rosso leather sneaker stands out for it’s bright red heel, which anchors an otherwise clean design.
In 2015, self-professed “sneakerheads” Chris Wichert and Johannes Quodt launched Koio Collective to bring “European sensibility and quality to American ambition and attitude.” Koio pushes the envelope, featuring styles and colors not available elsewhere. Their Capri Red Clay nubuck sneakers ($248) are a great example, with a textured, muted red clay hue atop a nubuck sneaker with suede accents.
In 2016, Scott Gabrielson left his nonprofit career, moved to the United Kingdom and started Oliver Cabell, an independent, direct-to-consumer footwear brand. (He and his team have since moved to the United States.) Handmade in in Albacete, Spain, Oliver Cabell’s GAT sneaker ($188) was inspired by traditional German athletic trainers. The two-tone outer alternates between 3oz calfskin leather and suede from Veneto, Italy; inside you’ll find an Italian calf-skin footbed.
Unlike some of the other brands on this list, menswear startup Greats started with and specializes in leather sneakers. Way back in 2007, Ryan Babenzien and Jon Buscemi came up with the concept, and finally launched their vertically-integrated brand in 2012 aimed at selling a better sneaker for less direct to consumers. Their Royale ($179) are luxury kicks: Handmade in Italy of full grain leather throughout, on the outer and inside lining, designed to develop a vintage patina as they age. The shoes come with waxed cotton laces.
Based in Portugal and founded by Rafic Daud, Undandy offers the ability to customize dress shoes and sneakers, which are made to order in Portugal and can take up to 2 weeks to arrive. Undandy designed unique leather sneakers with a full brogue in interesting colors including pine green.
New Republic by Mark McNairy
Mark McNairy founded New Republic in 2016 to a chorus of positive press from the likes of GQ, who praised the menswear entrepreneur’s trendy styles and affordability. New Republic looks to keep prices below $100 for its range of Chelsea boots, chukkas, loafers and sneakers, plus the company will knock an additional 25% off orders of $250 or more. At $89, the Kurt Leather Sneaker sports a round toe, leather upper, microsuede lining, tonal laces and a padded collar.
Cobbler Union has a range of high-top and low-top leather sneaker options, including the Uno ($245). The Uno comes in range of colors like green and a sweet vintage blue. Like A Day’s March, Cobbler Union places the sneaker atop a rubber sole from Italian manufacturer Margom that offers superior traction and durability. The upper features premium calfskin, and a soft insole helps mold to your foot. They also come with two sets of different colored laces (white and matching).
JACHS NY is a complete menswear brand that sells everything from outerwear to sweaters to chinos. Founder Hayati Banastey began the company in 2008 dedicated to making “perfect clothing for those who want to live their own American dream.” Their monochromatic Ralph Moc Toe Oxford Sneaker ($195) stays true to the brand’s philosophy that “great style should be effortless.”
Sneakers aren’t appropriate for every occasion.
Explore Scarosso, Undandy, Beckett Simonon and many more brands via our guide to the best men’s dress shoes for work.
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