Teva sandals step into cool territory

Activewear start-up Outdoor Voices teamed up with Teva for a collection of sandals marked by mismatched, colour-blocked straps.
Activewear start-up Outdoor Voices teamed up with Teva for a collection of sandals marked by mismatched, colour-blocked straps.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK • Could Tevas, the sturdy, quick-drying sandals designed for watersports and other outdoor activities, be the shoe of summer this year?

A few brands are betting on it. Last month, activewear start-up company Outdoor Voices released a Teva collaboration with sandals marked by mismatched, colour-blocked straps. Within a week, the company said, most sizes had sold out on its website.

Instagram fed the frenzy. One commenter called the sandals "stupid cute". Another suggested: "Maybe they can make Crocs cool again too."

At New York Fashion Week last September, upstart labels such as Sandy Liang and Collina Strada showed their spring collections on models who wore simple black Hurricane Tevas. Area, another brand, adorned its Tevas with a thick, beaded fringe.

At her runway show, fashion designer Anna Sui debuted a collaboration with the company - colourful platforms whose straps were dotted with snakes and birds - which was released this spring.

According to company lore, Teva's Velcro sandals were created in 1984 by a river-rafting guide who wanted to prevent his flip-flops from flying off his feet.

The shoes soon came to stand for practicality and adventure. But in recent years, Tevas have stepped into new territory: everyday style and even runway fashion.

Teva's first fashion collaboration, with New York-based label Grey Ant, came out in 2010.

Media coverage of the chunky, sporty 10cm stiletto sandal revelled in its novelty, but refrained from heralding it as the beginning of a Teva fashion moment.

The company tried out collaborations in Japan before making fashion partnerships a bigger part of its strategy.

In 2014, Teva rolled out a collection with Opening Ceremony: classic styles updated with extra straps, buckles and graphic fabrics.

That collaboration, which Teva's senior director of global marketing Erika Gabrielli sees as the company's "first real fashion launch", was reprised in 2015 and 2016.

Since then, Teva has worked with partners such as singer Jhene Aiko, upscale outdoors brand Snow Peak and Herschel Supply, which sells a multitude of hipster-baiting backpacks.

The company has also established a presence on the music-festival circuit.

On Instagram, the hashtag #teva yields about 247,000 posts, many of the #ootd, or outfit of the day, and #festivalstyle varieties.

On Twitter, the Teva discourse is a bit more self-mocking.

Tevas - often grouped with Birkenstocks, Dansko clogs, Uggs and Crocs as "ugly shoes" - are popular in part because of their outsider status.

"There's something so normal about them that if you're a fashion person and wear them, it's kind of funny and cool," stylist Kate Young, whose clients include celebrities Selena Gomez and Sophie Turner, said in an e-mail interview.

But that does not rule out genuine appreciation of their functional design: Ms Young wears Tevas in the summer while camping and swimming in streams with slippery rocks.

"They were way too crunchy for me when I first saw them," she said. "Lately, they hold this sort of nostalgic sport appeal for me. I wear the version the Row made in the city all the time and I think they're dead chic."

Ms Tyler Haney, chief executive officer of Outdoor Voices, said Tevas were a common sight around the brand's headquarters in Austin, Texas, well before the collaboration's release.

Even Sui, a mainstay of New York fashion, has been wearing Tevas for years, usually when taking her nieces and nephews on holiday to rocky European beaches.

"I thought they were brilliant because they were like not wearing shoes. They were so comfortable, but protected your feet," she said, adding that the adjustable toe and ankle straps "hit in strategic places so that they look good".

Sui does not count Tevas as ugly shoes. She believes that the current interest in Tevas is a function of the cultural dominance of sneakers, as comfort has come to trump formality at work and in daily life.

The sandals from her collaboration are snazzier than many of its in-house styles, but at the end of the day, they are still dependable, pillowy Tevas.

"Once you start wearing sneakers or comfortable shoes, it's hard to go back," Sui said.

"I never understood women who would carry their Manolos in their handbag and wear sneakers on the subway. Now, I get it."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 22, 2019, with the headline 'Teva sandals step into cool territory'. Print Edition | Subscribe