How Tevas Became the Most Unlikely 'It Shoe' of the Fashion Set

The "ugly-chic" footwear trend continues, this time with the rise of a sports sandal that was once considered the ultimate faux pas among the style set.
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The "ugly-chic" footwear trend continues, this time with the rise of a sports sandal that was once considered the ultimate faux pas among the style set.
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If last summer belonged to the Birkenstock, this one will surely go down as the season of the Teva. The simple sport sandal historically shunned -- maybe even held at arm's length with fingers pinched over noses -- by the fashion crowd is now considered cool. It's a nice birthday gift to the company, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year and, in honor of that, will officially launch two new styles based on the brand's first design: The Original Universal and the Original Sandal, on Wednesday. That's in addition to a slew of new fashion-y collaborations it's set to roll out over the next few months.

Our own Nora, much to her disbelief, spent a recent Monday tracking down the perfect pair, and Lucky magazine just ran a love letter to to the shoes in its April issue, with its editors -- and renowned stylist Kate Young -- singing their praises. But this didn't happen overnight. One could argue that the tipping point of the trend, the thing that really got the style set sitting up and paying attention, was when high-end designers, like Marc Jacobs, Prada and others, sent look-alike versions down the spring 2014 runways last fall.

"Anytime you see the high-end brands take inspiration from your product, it’s always flattering -- so that was amazing," says Lorie Pointer, global product director of Teva, which is owned by Deckers Outdoor Corporation and based in Goleta, CA. "The whole time we’ve been doing what we’ve always done -- we started the brand with this sandal 30 years ago -- so it is kind of funny to see how it comes full circle. That’s what it feels like right now." (For the record, Pointer's "inspired by" award goes to Balenciaga for its studded version -- which was not on the runway but is now in stores -- "because they're blinged-out a little bit.")

A Teva Original Sandal from spring 2014. Photo: Courtesy

A Teva Original Sandal from spring 2014. Photo: Courtesy

But this sea change started happening for the brand a lot earlier. According to PR manager Jaime Eschette, who's been with the company for over 11 years, things really started to open up when New York-based fashion label Grey Ant asked them to collaborate on a stiletto in 2010. "People either got it or they didn’t, but it was still a really fun conversation to have with the brand and a place where we just never ourselves thought of going," says Eschette. "So I think that’s when that all started."

As for why people are suddenly embracing what was once considered a fashion faux pas, Pointer signals to the simple fact that culture shifts, as well as a craving for heritage. While the product line has expanded a bit from its initial sporty design from three decades ago, Teva has always pretty much been doing Teva. "I think that’s what's resonating with consumers right now: We are original. This is authentic product. Trends come and go, but Teva has stayed true to our nature." She also cites the sandal's pared-back, unassuming appearance as a selling point. "It’s such a clean, simple design, there’s so much you can do with it," Pointer adds. "It’s kind of like a blank canvas -- you can build an outfit around it, no matter where you’re going." This is especially true for members of the new #normcore army, who have adopted the shoe as a building block of their wardrobe. "They fit in perfectly with the faded denim, you know the mom jeans and all of that."

In addition to the unveiling of Originals, which the company is calling the "largest sandal launch in recent history for the brand" (complete with fancy digital and social rollout, as well as on-site promotional events at music festivals, such as Bonnaroo), it's also got a number of exciting collaborations in the works. Namely, with the arbiters of all things cool, Opening Ceremony. "The best part is, they came to us," says Pointer, who says the project started around nine months to a year ago, even before the high-end designers unveiled their takes. "They saw what was happening with the trend on the street and they wanted to do a collaboration." While tight-lipped on the details, she reveals that there will be three unisex styles that are "Teva like you haven’t seen Teva before." The product will hit stores mid-May, with a special kickoff event during the first weekend of Coachella in April. Then there's Glamour magazine, for which the company rendered one of its Original styles in an exclusive material, to be featured in the July issue. The brand even has an answer to that old "socks and sandals" conundrum: It's teaming up with Woolrich and Urban Outfitters on matching combos to be sold together, available Oct. 1.

A Teva Original Universal sandal from spring 2014 -- kind of chic in white, right? Photo: Courtesy

A Teva Original Universal sandal from spring 2014 -- kind of chic in white, right? Photo: Courtesy

The buzz has also opened the door for Teva to wholesale to more retailers. "As we have this success, we have more and more retailers who are interested in buying our product," says Pointer. Previously, the main points of sale were outdoor specialty doors, but now the company has, selectively, broadened its scope, first soft-launching an exclusive Originals color pack with Urban Outfitters in March 2013, and now additional stores, like Nordstrom, have come knocking. DSW, for one, is the company's biggest partner this year, carrying the widest assortment available.

While Teva certainly seems to be smartly capitalizing on this newfound fashion momentum, Pointer says this is not an overhaul, but rather, the brand is casting somewhat of a wider net. "We're not looking away from [our traditional] consumer but broadening it," she states, describing the common thread of Teva's customers as a mindset of spontaneity, adventure and "wanting to live life to the fullest." In line with that, the brand's latest campaign video (see below) captures artfully disheveled and fantastically fit tattooed hipster types doing "crazy" things like taking road trips and jumping -- Tevas intact -- into swimming holes.

But there is undeniable change afoot. "We’re not taking ourselves quite so seriously," she says. From a product standpoint, that pretty much opens the doors for the design team to become mad scientists of sorts, experimenting wildly with all sorts of colors and materials. "It’s so much fun to push the envelope. We are so excited, looking at it in a different way than we ever have before." That said, she tells me that if you think this season is good, spring 2015 is going to be bananas. Whether the fashion crowd will still be paying attention, only time will tell -- but we have a pretty good feeling this trend's gonna last for a while.