Initial Impressions | Sept 03, 2015
Two pairs of black hightop sneakers from young web-based brands trying to break off a piece of the industry. Greats Brand focuses on Italian leather and production, while Oliberte uses Ethiopian leathers and Fair Trade Certified production.
Both pairs of shoes appear to be free of manufacturing defects (the crinkly look to the leather on the instep of the right Greats shoes is nothing, it’s very soft and supple and has already disappeared as the wear creases have begun). The Greats obviously have a cleaner aesthetic both in the all-black look, as well as the smooth leather, flat waxed laces, high stitch count, and partially hidden stitching on the tongue and cuff. They’re also a bit narrower, which creates a sleeker look, but might not be as comfortable in the long term. The Oliberte’s have a more rugged aesthetic with the exposed edges at the cuff, zigzag stitching, and pebble grain leather, but are still one of the simplest pairs of shoes offered by the brand. Thus far I’ve worn them more than the Greats, and find them to be super comfortable and durable as I beat them up doing yard work and biking around town.
Ethical Note: While I have written this post objectively, both pairs of shoes were purchased at a discount and I stand to benefit if Oliberte succeeds.
Greats Royale High in Triple Black
Greats Royale High in Triple Black (size 13). Italy. $179. Purchase.
The Greats Royale High fit is true to size in big toe length but they are quite narrow, causing my three outer toes to hit the end/side of the shoe. I’ll keep an eye on this as they break-in further to see if the shoes pack out or if the narrow toe box causes issues.
It appears that the smooth & glossy Italian upper is top grain leather due to the lack of character and homogeneous surface finish. The liner, however, is made of a superior, full grain calf leather that is very soft and supple and makes for a very comfortable shoe. There is also a suede patch in the heel to keep the heel from slipping, which is a good detail. The padded cuff and tongue are very comfortable, and in general the shoes look and feel very high quality.
Design-wise, the shoes are “inspired” by Common Projects’ Achilles High, a shoe even more minimal this Greats Royale High. In fact, Common Projects has always included the gold foil serial number on the outside right heel, which happens to be the same location that Greats is using for their gold foil BEASTMODE Royale High. In my opinion that is taking the “inspiration” a bit far. That said, I purchased the Greats because I really like their all-black, minimal aesthetic and didn’t know about their origins at my time of purchase. Plus, the original design of this style of sneaker dates back to 1910’s basketball sneakers, updated with a modern cup-sole, so it’s not like Common Projects pulled the design out of thin air–they just did a great job distilling.
The black cup sole is thinner than I expected under foot and thus it’s possible to feel pebbles and acute objects, but it’s thick enough for those objects to not cause discomfort. The minimalist edge texture on the cup sole is pretty generic, but fits in line with the shoes aesthetic. The insole is foam covered in smooth leather.
These are a good shoe if you have narrow feet and like the minimal, all-black aesthetic.
Oliberte Bokoroo in Bold Black Full Grain (size 13). Ethiopia. $140. Purchase.
The Bokoroo’s fit true to size in length and width. They were comfortable straight out of the box and, having now worn them for about three weeks, I continue to find them to be very comfortable shoes. Oliberte is also a very ethically minded company as a B Corp & 1% for The Planet member, with the worlds first Fair Trade Certified factory they’re trying to produce not only great, original products, but products made without exploiting our fellow humans.
The pebble grain textured leather upper is soft with a rugged look, while the inside is lined in smooth and supple goat leather (commonly used for high end work gloves due to the combination of strength and flexibility). They also have a suede strip in the heel to prevent slip. Their design has the same roots as the Greats, old school basketball shoes, but the take is a little louder with the larger toe box, textured leather, and contrast sole.
The crepe cup-soles are about the same height as the Greats, but due to their contrasting color, appear to be be taller. They have a “natural” texture in front and a traditional Ethiopian pattern down the side. They feel to be the appropriate thickness along the bottom, slightly thicker than the Greats for a more rugged environment. The insole is foam covered in a printed fabric map of Addis Ababa.
A super comfortable, go-anywhere sneaker from the company setting the bar in ethical footwear production.