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For some unfortunate reason, the shoe rack is always the last part of my wardrobe to get a refresh. While I can't head into July without a crisp new linen, I somehow expect decade-old sneakers to carry me on my way. When a few of my most… diplomatic friends suggested it might be time for a re-up, I heard them loud and clear. What better way to use my TQE community than to look into what summer shoes the DTC world has to offer?
The answer is: one hell of a lot. As someone who usually bought shoes in traditional retail spaces, I was bowled over by the embarrassment of riches to be found from DTC brands worldwide. The seven brands below make their mark not just with style, but with fit, craftsmanship and durability. But be warned: start scrolling and you might need to clear some closet space.
First up: dress shoes. The hardest category to transition into warm-weather relaxation. But nothing breathes better than suede, and lucky for us, Amberjack is an expert in it. Founded by designers who were unimpressed by the ho-hum dress shoes on the market, Amberjack makes showstoppers that can easily be dressed up or down. I've practically been living in the Chelsea boots ($195), which I ordered in Grizzly, but now that warmer months are upon us I'm ready to break out the sand-hued Original Oxfords ($175) for a pop of color during the work week. Dubbed "the world's most advanced dress shoes" by GQ, Amberjack is no stranger to acclaim – but we still recommend you snag this collection before they're a household name.
It's hard to think of a single style more timelessly cool than the cowboy boot. Though not always easy to pull off, they're the ultimate mic drop when it comes to sartorial confidence – and few make them better than Hevias. Though the brand makes all kinds of other boots, loafers, and even belts, it’s the Heritage Boot in Copper ($350) that I knew I had to have. With high-quality leather designed in Texas and made in León, Mexico, they're the modern interpretation of a Western classic that'll serve me through every desert trip the next few months throw my way. When I say "yee," you say "haw."
When it comes to running shoes, style over substance will get you nowhere – except maybe to Urgent Care. But no need to sacrifice aesthetics for performance when Hylo's got you covered on both ends. The brand has a strong commitment to materials science, using products like corn fiber and algae bloom to minimize waste and offset emissions while engineering a highly athletic shoe. The newest Hylo Run 2 ($135) uses a proprietary Corn Spring technology to ensure maximum energy return – but if sprinting's not your style, rest assured it's light and breathable enough for everyday errands.
Time to break out my megaphone: the Lusso Cloud is the most comfortable shoe I've ever worn. Point blank, period. With a triple-stacked sole that brings memory foam to the party, the Lusso promise of 360° Comfort is truly no joke. The tops of your feet stay just as cushioned, thanks to a waffle knit that's heaven to slip into, making these the slippers to end all slippers. While the brand offers several models, including ones that use shearling wool, summer months call for the good old Pelli ($135). If you catch me around town in my slippers, now you know why.
With the sleek finish of a boot but the comfy profile of a slipper, there's almost no summer scenario that doesn't call for an espadrille. Nisolo makes my favorite, hands down: the Alejandro slip-on ($180). While the strands are tightly woven, without any noticeable gaps, they still breathe like a dream, and the soles are sturdy enough for all-day use. Plus, unlike most leather on the market, Nisolo’s is fully water-resistant, making these perfect for the poolside. With high scores across 200 different sustainability metrics – from living wage payment to raw material integrity – this is a brand as intentional as they are stylish.
We all love a good high-top – but what if I told you my new favorites were made entirely from recycled post-consumer plastic? Nothing New's product line has to be seen to be believed: an effortlessly cool take on Converse vibes with a serious environmental mission. With a $20 rebate on used sneakers to prevent any pair from ending up in a landfill, Nothing New truly puts its money where its mouth is. And just as importantly, these low-tops ($95) in striking Forest Green and the white high-tops ($108) look and feel fantastic. Recycling never felt so good.
If you spent your quarantine dreaming you were on a Hawaiian beach instead of staring at your ficus plant again, then Olukai is the brand for you. While they might lack the cutting-edge chicness of other brands, these broad, comfy sandals instantly transport you to a vacation state of mind. I've become a huge fan of the leather Tuahine model ($100) in particular and love lounging in the Lae'ahi Lauhala slip-ons ($165). They're the kind of shoes both you and your dad could equally dig – and you know we love a crowd pleaser.
Well there you have it: a full spectrum of kicks to help you start your summer off in style. No matter if you're headed for the beach or the boardroom, these pairs are versatile enough to be your standbys 'til fall chill sets in, and beyond. Take it from someone who had years' worth of inertia around leveling up: a shoe rack refresh is never a bad idea. So go ahead. Hit the ground running.