As I’ve written before, the world on the web is filthy with new brands hoping to put a dent in the menswear universe. They’re like aspiring young actors fresh off the bus in NYC, hoping to light a spark and make their mark. Like those legions of actors, the odds of success for these bright-eyed brands become lower and lower as the market becomes more saturated (and maybe even overwhelmed) with so many options.
I’m repeating myself again by saying that no one is going to reinvent the way men dress on any real scale in our lifetimes. Suits, shirts, ties, shoes, jeans… Lapels might be wider this year, ties might be skinnier next year, fabrics might be stretchy and wrinkle-free (gross), but they’ve all essentially been perfected already. The only real new twist in this Age of Disruption is the delivery system. The new kids are figuring out ways to get it to us cheaper and faster, and the best ones do it without compromising quality.
One of those new brands doing something interesting is Toca Shoe Co. Toca Shoes was started by two college mates who decided to come up with a solution for a comfortable shoe with the luxurious look of a good-looking dress shoe. The goal was to make the shoes very comfortable, well-made, handsome and affordable, using high quality materials and ethical manufacturing standards.
Toca Shoes recently launched with a humble collection of four different models: Osbourne (a penny loafer), Boynton (an oxford wingtip), Arthur ( a traveler slip-on) and Andrew (a tassel slipper). The Osbourne and the Boynton come in black or brown, in smooth or “pebbled” leather; the Arthur comes in black leather or suede; and the Andrew is available in pebbled brown or black suede. I got a pair of Andrew tassel slippers in pebbled leather.
Built on a last that was hand-shaved by Italian master Stefano Gardini, the shoes are made by one of the oldest shoe making families in León, Mexico’s shoe capitol. The lining and uppers are made with American Grade A leather and the sole (with a signature ostrich design) is made with a cushy yet durable natural rubber.
The result is an extremely comfortable casual shoe disguised as a dress shoe. There are other more established (and more expensive) brands that do this trick, but Toca is a very elegant new option.
Like a lot of other successful disruptors like Harry’s, Warby Parker, Black Lapel, Dollar Shave Club, Jack Erwin, et al, Toca has bypassed the middlemen and their requisite markups, and passed those savings on to the customer. In addition to their nicely-executed website and online store, their HQ at 219 Mott Street in Little Italy also serves as their brick and mortar outpost here in New York City, where I pedaled on my bike the other day. The shop is small, but – like its shoes – smart, comfortable and handsome. They’ll even offer you wine, water or a delicious coffee from their Nespresso machine while you try on their wares. (After they plied me with two espressos, I never pedaled home so fast.) It’s a great spot. And unlike Jack Erwin’s somewhat clumsy “buy now/get your new shoes two or three days later” model, you get to take your new shoes home right then and there, like a regular shoe store.
The only drag with Toca Shoes has to do with the sole. That signature “ostrich-print” sole of natural rubber is attractive and comfortable, but irreplaceable… literally. Unlike shoes made with welted construction, these shoes cannot be re-soled. Perhaps an updated construction model that enables re-soling – maybe even making Toca’s signature sole available to purchase separately when it’s time to re-sole – might be something the company could consider for the future.
People of a certain age would understand and laugh at how I thought of Easy Spirits, the women’s shoe that “looks like a pump, feels like a sneaker” with the hilarious commercials featuring women playing basketball in heels. But I don’t consider these shoes totally legit “dress shoes” in the strictest sense, and certainly not a legitimate alternative to Goodyear-welted brogues or oxfords, which last a lifetime with replaceable leather or Dainite rubber soles. As I said earlier, I’d consider them casual shoes with a dressier flair – a sexier notch up from an easy slip-on, a good sneaker or a boat shoe. Perfect for a lunch, a brunch, a casual cocktail party or a weekend thing. (Or, in my case, an upgrade to my dog-walking look.)
The great news and big miracle here is that each pair of Toca Shoes costs $150, and shipping is free. So if you’re in the market for a handsome pair of well-made, comfortable and affordable casual shoes, here you go:
Toca Shoe Co.
219 Mott St.
New York, NY 10012