Sneakers have become an acceptable choice of footwear just about anywhere other than at weddings and on Wall Street, but not everyone is comfortable wearing the playground staple to work. Enter FEIT, a Brooklyn-based clothing company run by brothers Josh and Tull Price that specializes in natural, hand-sewn leather goods. Their fiercely minimal leather sneakers fall right at the intersection of comfort and formality.
"Our sneakers are not as athletic as athletic shoes, and not as dressy as dress shoes," says Tull Price, 38, who manages the design side of the business. "They're right in the middle. We wanted products that looked rich but weren't too intimidating for our everyday lives. That's a tough balance."
This month, FEIT released the Bio Trainer – the brand's answer to the running shoe. It's a far cry from the flashy, synthetic sneakers that populate style blogs and sporting goods stores. The Bio Trainer is sewn from single piece of dyed leather and the sole is made by harvesting the milk of a rubber tree. The process takes two weeks to finish, and the result is a supple, boot-like sneaker that is as subtle as it is distinct.
Growing up between Australia and Israel, Tull Price developed an early interest in footwear and founded his first sneaker company when he was 20. Called Royal Elastics, the shoes straddled athletic and skateboard sneakers and were manufactured without laces. "I thought it would look progressive and fresh," he said. The company exploded, but as demand skyrocketed, he was exposed to the negative side of mass production, with decreasing quality and design shortcuts. Disenchanted, Price bowed out in 2002. "I learned that if you wanted to be in the bigger-volume-lower-price game, it was constant compromise in order to compete," he says. "The product suffered greatly."
Price took a two-year hiatus and flew to Europe, where he sought out traditional cobblers to teach him old school shoemaking techniques. His journey brought him to Italy, Portugal, Spain, and England, where many of his apprenticeships centered around bootmaking. When he returned to New York, Price says he had an entirely new idea of what high quality shoes should look and feel like. So in 2005, he started FEIT to bring old-fashioned craftsman techniques to the tennis shoe.
It's no secret that the Bio Trainer was designed more for style than the gym, but don't underestimate the shoe's athletic functions.
"Natural leather is the skin of an animal," Price says. "It has pores and breathes the way human skin does. Believe it or not, it's actually cooler than wearing a synthetic, mesh sneaker. It will not – I repeat, will not – smell." [$430; feitdirect.com]