Like any appreciator of crepe-soled footwear, from the British Army's famed desert boots to the Wallabees worn by Walter White on 'Breaking Bad,' we'll always have a soft spot for Clarks. But that doesn't mean we don't want to see some upstarts. The latest is Native Craftworks, a U.K.-based company launched by shoe designer Danny Willis, formerly of Woolrich Woolen Mills and Padmore & Barnes. Willis, who once worked in the Irish factory where Clarks were first produced, isn't a radical, but his shoes seem almost eccentric in a modern context, thanks to his strict adherence to classic cobbling principles.
While Clarks has grown into a huge company, turning out hundreds of pairs of shoes in dozens of styles and colors (you can now purchase tartan desert boots if that's what you're into), Native Craftworks keeps things simple, small-scale, and entirely handmade – hence the name, a nod to the earliest moccasin makers. Any good shoemaker starts with the materials and that is doubly true of cobblers dealing with crepe, which needs to be soft enough to absorb shocks yet firm enough to be durable. After a bit of searching, Willis found the ideal substance in Sri Lanka, where the natural material is harvested on massive Hevea rubber-tree plantations. The designer then sought out a small tannery capable of creating thick leathers and suedes for the shoe uppers.
The results of all that sourcing is the Tracker Boot, an exacting, indie interpretation of the iconic crepe-sole style, the two-toned, Trail Shoe, and the Country Shoe, which has a slimmer profile and full-grain, smooth leather for a smarter feel. In other words, it's a dress shoe married to the comfort of a softer sole, with the crepe stained for a darker, cleaner finish. Despite its name, the style is clearly made for both country treks and city life, making it an efficient travel all-in-one. And while you won't be able to customize your pair from an endless array of options – it's pretty much variations of brown here, from sand to rust to chocolate – you can feel good knowing that your shoes are made of the best stuff Danny Willis could find. [$240; oipolloi.com]