A Luxurious (Yet Affordable!) New Sneaker

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If you’re going to give your sneaker brand a lofty sounding name like Greats, chances are, you’ve taken steps to ensure it goes above and beyond expectations. Which is exactly what Ryan Babenzien has successfully done with Greats, the sneaker brand he created in Brooklyn in 2013.

The first thing one notices about a pair of Greats sneakers is the materials – soft supple leather. Even the insides are lined in calf leather, making it a treat for sock-less feet. The next thing – and this is the astounding part – is the price.

“We have one of the most disruptive pricing structure – starting price at $50 right up to a few hundred dollars. Our core line from Italy starts at $160,” says the boyish looking Babenzien, who was in Toronto recently for a meet-and-greet at the newly opened Nordstrom stores at Toronto Eaton Centre and Yorkdale Shopping Centre.

So how do they compete in the crowded sneaker arena – a marketplace dominated with Goliaths with names like Nike and Adidas?

Simply by offering the sneakers for sale directly to consumers via their website, Greats.com. By eliminating the middleman, Greats is able to offer a luxury sneaker at an incredibly low price. Babenzien also believes that the three pillars of the brand – price, quality and style – also helps them stand apart in that crowded arena.

Sneakers has been one of the fastest growing categories in the men’s footwear market. In the past few years, the continuing rise in popularity of this shoe, once only worn in the gym or for running or for the most casual of occasions, has soared in popularity and has gone from being merely trendy to revolutionizing menswear. Sneakers are now worn with suits and come in an array of luxurious materials from croc to suede.

Fashion clothing brands have also gotten into this lucrative game and have helped elevate the sneaker status from casual to haute and hip. No longer just a soft laced up shoe, designers have taken to reinterpreting this casual footwear with neoprene, buckles, studs and bedazzling them with crystals. And naturally, price tags for designer sneakers have jumped over the $1000 mark and continue to soar.

But as a startup without the deep pockets for splashy ad campaigns like those legacy fashion brands with coveted sneakers like Gucci or Valentino or mega-sports brands like Nike, Greats have relied on social media to help get brand recognition. Street style star and menswear fashion icon, Nick Wooster, helped gather momentum for the brand by posting pictures on his Instagram account of Greats sneakers. Wooster also made a guest appearance in Toronto at the Nordstrom stores for the Greats in-store event. (Also collaborating or retailing at a few select brick-and-mortar stores, such as Nordstrom, where Greats is available exclusively in Canada, helps expose the brand to new customers.)

But while sneakers might be showing up just about anywhere – from the red carpet to the office – there are still some sartorial rules governing the wearing of sneakers.

For Wooster, he favours the look of a monochromatic outfit paired with a white sneaker. And most importantly, he advises, “The whole success of sneakers is a little ankle.” That’s right guys, be prepared to crop those pant hems just a little bit above the ankle if you’re wearing a great pair of sneakers to the office.

For Babenzien, he has a simple rule of thumb regarding what style of sneakers is right for the office, “If you’re going to work out in them or run a marathon, it’s probably not appropriate.”

Better start looking at investing in different kinds of sneakers because a single pair will not cut it for every occasion and the popularity of sneakers is not just a fad or trend likely to die soon.

“We think of sneakers as – and this is part of the reason we went into the business – as a staple classic, like a t-shirt, a pair of jeans or a pair of khakis.” says Babenzien. “Silhouettes, materials and the heights might change but the sneaker is never going away and it’s never going away as part of your weekly wear. It’s eternal.”

Click below for images from the Greats event at Nordstroms. 


Greats sneaker founder, Ryan Babenzien (left) with street style star and men’s style influencer, Nick Wooster at a meet-and-greet at Nordstrom, Toronto.

Greats sneaker are available exclusively in Canada at Nordstrom and retails from $149 to $250.

Greats sneakers can be found exclusively in Canada at Nordstrom and retails from $149 to $250.