Review: Do Oliver Cabell’s Minimalist Leather Sneakers Live Up to Their Affordable Luxury Billing?

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See why I think Oliver Cabell’s minimalist leather sneakers for men are comfortable, versatile, and make an excellent new addition to your work-from-home or back-to-work wardrobe.

This review is based on my experience with my low-top leather sneakers from Oliver Cabell and my interview with founder Scott Gabrielson.

One note before jumping in: Oliver Cabell provided a pair of shoes at no cost for the purpose of a review.

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Get to know Oliver Cabell

Oliver Cabell is a great example of a direct-to-consumer brand disrupting men’s fashion.

Entrepreneur Scott Gabrielson moved to the United Kingdom and founded Oliver Cabell in July 2016 with the aim of disrupting the premium footwear space with handmade footwear for men and women. (Scott has since moved the brand to Minneapolis, Minnesota.)

The company marries the use of luxury materials from Italy and Spain with a focus on supply chain transparency and offering affordable luxury shoes at a fair price.

Scott emphasizes that his goal is,

“To offer handcrafted sneakers using old school shoemaking and the finest materials, and then reveal it all, from factories to costs. For us, it’s all about the process. Ninety percent of our shoes are made with cobblers using simple tools.”

For men, Oliver Cabell produces a deep range of beautiful leather sneakers, work boots and interesting Chelsea boots with a unique crepe fabric outer.

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For women, Oliver Cabell offers their signature “Low 1” low-top leather sneakers.

They are also pre-selling alluring suede loafers and “dream mule” sandals for women.

One way Oliver Cabell stands out is by providing visibility into its supply chain.

On each product page, Oliver Cabell maintains a tab labelled “Price Breakdown,” which unpacks the cost of materials (leather, in-soles, etc.) and services (cutting, manufacturing, packaging, transit, tariffs, shipping, etc.)

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Oliver Cabell’s Take on the German Army Trainer (GAT)

The German Army Trainer (or GAT for short) has a strong cult following, which has led a number of companies to produce their own take on the classic military shoe, including high-end luxury brands such as Common Projects and Maison Margiela.

Oliver Cabell doesn’t mess with the design. Their minimalist GAT sneakers feature a thick, gum sole in a light, almost translucent, tan, on top of which sits an upper constructed of leather and suede.

It’s a classic. Oliver Cabell does not attempt to mar the shoe with sharp color accents or a prominent logo. In fact, Oliver Cabell adheres to a “zero branding” philosophy.

Take a look at the lip of their sneakers, where a logo might normally reside. The company included a simple stitch in a rectangular pattern, but no logo, adding to the minimalist nature of the shoes.

It’s the combination of quality, craftsmanship and affordability that make Oliver Cabell’s GAT trainers stand out.

“Handmade in Italy” (Reviewing Oliver Cabell’s shoe construction and materials)

Scott notes that, “our shoes are hand made in Italy using the best materials possible, and we strive to find the best factories and partner with them for the long term.”

The GAT is made from a full-grain calfskin leather and suede upper sourced from Veneto, Italy — OC uses the same tannery that supplies Prada and Saint Laurent — and a footbed made from Italian calf-skin shaped over a removable molded in-sole. That footbed is lined with vegetable tanned Spanish leather.

I especially like the look of the GAT outsole, which is made from Italian rubber.

I also am extraordinarily fond of the very thick, very soft laces that grace my sneaker.

Scott highlighted that, even though his company was close to the industry and knows where to find shoelaces, they just couldn’t find the kind of high-end waxed laces they were looking for.

“There are just so many crappy laces everywhere,” Scott said, noting that they finally found an old factory, which had been around for over 100 years who still made the kind of quality laces they were searching for.

That kind of attention to small details is evident in the final product.

The shoes are held together with tight, clean stitching that add interest.

The leather is downright buttery, and has felt wonderful from Day One.

The rich two-toned navy suede and leather is also compelling.

I’ve seen some online chatter specifically about the color accuracy of Oliver Cabell’s navy sneakers in person compared with the photos online. I’ve done my best to capture the deep navy tones in natural light. My shoes match the online photographs well.

They add up to an extremely comfortable and gorgeous pair of sneakers.

“It’s not only about being ethical, but truly producing the best possible pair of kicks we can,” he added.

How much do Oliver Cabell’s shoes cost?

The other distinguishing feature of Oliver Cabell’s minimalist sneakers are their cost relative to quality.

With its direct-to-consumer model and focus on supply chain transparency, Oliver Cabell is focused on delivering affordable luxury shoes at a fraction of the cost of traditional luxury brands.

As of this writing, Oliver Cabell’s shoes cost between $98 – $268 depending on the model. Their signature Low-1 leather sneakers retail for $198.

Oliver Cabell occasionally has sales that can take down the price of the shoe. For example, a Memorial Day sale took down the price of their Low-1 sneakers to $168.

At this price point, Oliver Cabell’s premium kicks are dramatically cheaper than luxury sneakers from the likes of Common Projects, Maison Margiela, and Saint Laurent.

How versatile are Oliver Cabell’s Sneakers? Comparing the GAT in navy vs. Low 1 in white

I was drawn to the distinct GAT sneakers, but Scott told me that Oliver Cabell’s best selling style is the minimalist Low 1 sneakers in white, which he calls “the most versatile shoe around.”

The Low 1 is also the first sneaker that Scott and his team produced.

When he first started the brand, Scott had positioned Oliver Cabell to focus on accessories. Then he discovered “a set of old, dusty sneaker molds” in their factory.

“I thought it was a real treasure, and that we could make something really unique with them,” Scott noted.

They went on to make 22 samples and ultimately wound up with the Low 1.

“We became so obsessed with footwear that we decided to focus on them almost exclusively going forward,” he added.

Scot notes that the Low 1 is so versatile because, “it can be dressed up with a suit or down with a casual pair of pants or shorts.”

I think you can make a similar case for a range of Oliver Cabell’s minimalist leather sneakers.

I certainly feel the same way about my pair of navy GAT kicks.

My navy low-top leather sneakers are dressy enough for a business casual office, and definitely a great alternative to boots or dress shoes for going out on the weekend, as well as around the neighborhood.

Other variants of Oliver Cabell’s Low-1 line are equally versatile. I especially like the look of their Low-1 minimalist sneakers featuring a dark brown leather calfskin upper.

Reviewing Oliver Cabell’s sizing: True to size or not?

It’s important to note a couple of things about Oliver Cabell’s sizing:

First, their shoes come in whole sizes only.

Oliver Cabell notes that their Low 1 fits short and narrow and recommends sizing up if you have a wide foot or wear a half size.

They suggest that their GAT fits true to size, and to size up if you have a wide foot.

Scrolling through the reviews on their website and across the internet, there are different opinions about Oliver Cabell’s sizing.

I can only tell you about my experience:

I have a wide foot and I took my normal size. The width is perfect, but there is definitely a little more room in the toe than some of my other sneakers of the same size. They feel great on my feet as long as I cinch up those thick laces nice and tight.

Free U.S. shipping and returns

Oliver Cabell offers free shipping and free returns within 30 days of purchase within the United States.

The company offers free shipping worldwide as well, but international return policies may differ.

See Oliver Cabell’s Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page for more details on shipping and return policies.

How Oliver Cabell stands out from the crowd

I spend a lot of time here at Modern Fellows exploring how digital-native brands stand out from the crowd.

Innovative e-commerce brands like M. M. Lafleur and Bonobos are opening showrooms and developing Brick and Mortar 2.0. Canada-based online custom suit tailor Indochino hosts occasional pop ups and has developed its own brick-and-mortar presence around the United States and Canada, including a great showroom in Washington DC’s Georgetown neighborhood.

I asked Scott about how he positions Oliver Cabell to cut through all of the digital noise and get in front of customers.

He told me that, “the great thing about fashion is that it’s not a winner take all market.”

He added:

We cut through the noise by creating releases that are truly unique and not available anywhere else, and pricing them as best as we can. Most of our growth is fueling through word of mouth, so we try not to spend too much time focusing on how to cut through the digital marketing noise that exists.

That cachet comes from producing styles in small batches full of unique silhouettes and materials. If you’re worried that a particular line is likely to sell out, you’re more likely to jump in and buy. (See: inflatable pools and toilet paper during the COVID-19 crisis.)

Scott pointed to Aime Leon Dore, a lifestyle brand based out of New York City, the footwear and apparel company Kith, and Copenhagen-based Norse Projects several other brands that he admires.

Verdict: Oliver Cabell’s luxury trainers live up to their premium billing

Oliver Cabell’s minimalist sneakers are characterized by high-end materials, quality manufacturing and rich hues. They’re incredible comfortable and can be utilized for a number of social and business casual situations as well as just knocking around the house or the neighborhood.

Their low-top leather sneakers have become a regular on my work-from-home walks, and I look forward to wearing them out and about in Washington, DC.

I would never shell out $500 or more for high-end sneakers from a luxury brand, but I’m sure glad Oliver Cabell offers the chance to own a leather trainer of similarly-premium quality and craftsmanship at a fraction of the price.

What has your experience been with Oliver Cabell?

Have you tried Oliver Cabell’s minimalist sneakers, boots or sandals? Please tell me about your experience in the comments.


About Jake

Jake is passionate about exploring entrepreneurs' global journeys. He founded Modern Fellows in 2012 to get to know the entrepreneurs behind the innovative brands helping men dress sharp in the digital age.  Jake has written about entrepreneurship, international business and/or fashion for outlets including Business Week, Forbes, Inc., Details Style Syndicate and Primer Magazine, and has provided analysis on international business for BBC Radio, NBC News, CNN and Time Magazine.

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