When it comes to footwear, sneakers may be getting most of the hype these days, but a growing community of independent women's shoe brands are also generating plenty of excitement — and Instagram content — right now. Mirroring a recent boom in niche, "affordable luxury" handbag brands, independent footwear labels hitting the right blend of aesthetic uniqueness, reasonable price point and functionality are having a moment, as well, thanks to increased exposure by the editors and influencers who love them.
Maryam Nassir Zadeh's Olympia Wedge is one example of a shoe by a relatively under-the-radar brand gaining near-viral levels of ubiquity thanks, in part, to Instagram. While the brand creates much more than just footwear, its shoes, which hit a pricing sweet spot in the $300-$500 range and are somehow both simple and distinctive, and inspire cult-like devotion. A slew of similarly-minded labels are aiming to create the same kind of magic.
Read on for nine brands we've been spotting on the feet of our favorite fashion people and influencers, and on the shelves of the most discerning boutiques, with increasing frequency.
Since launching By Far in Bulgaria in 2016, founders Valentina Bezuhanova, Sabina Gyosheva and Denitsa Bumbarova have taken Instagram very seriously and it's paid off: They have 128K followers and are frequently spotted on the feet of the most stylish influencers (see above) and celebrities. Of course, their strategies have only been effective because the product is good. The founders saw a gap in the market for "affordable luxury shoes that are comfy, cool and not overpowering," as they put it, and their collection is filled with minimalist staples that feel of-the-moment. Their latest range was inspired by '90s TV shows like "Sex and the City" and "Friends," and bags will be launching this month.
Founded in 2015 by Keren Longkumer and Valerie Quant, this Los Angeles-based brand is all about redefining classics. Based on the founders' backgrounds, the brand fuses California's relaxed sensibility with the rich colors and textures of India, with the shoes themselves being made in Spain.
After working for other footwear brands, Ty McBride started Intentionally Blank in Los Angeles in 2014. Aesthetically, the brand takes inspiration from vintage styles while adding modern touches; the shoes are ultimately intended to fit into anyone's wardrobe. Practical and somewhat minimalist-leaning, the line is filled with sensible chunky heels and thick straps, primarily made in Spain and China.
Based in Stockholm and made in Italy, ATP stands for All Tomorrow's Parties and was founded in 2011 by Jonas Clason and Maj-La Pizzelli. The shoes combine an Italian ease with a Swedish sense of modern minimalism to very chic results. They are frequently spotted on the feet of cool-girl influencers.
Following a career in fashion branding and advertising, Silvia Avanzi began Gray Matters by asking, "What do women want today, and what do we need, really?" Inspired by Italy and New York, she takes a "less is more" approach to design, lending her shoes a minimalist-with-a-twist aesthetic.
With their bright, rainbow colors and otherwise simple design, Charlotte Stone's shoes are both photogenic and easy to wear. The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising grad and Steve Madden alum launched her line in LA in 2014 and has built a cult following (including a number of celebs and influencers) since. Living in an LA beach town informs the bright colors and mellow vibe, while a personal desire for comfort helps informs the shapes.
Unlike most of the brands on this list, Martiniano has not pursued any influencer marketing and barely does any promotion of any kind, but still has a strong following of stylish ladies. Martiniano Lopez Crozet launched the brand in 2011 in Buenos Aires with his still-bestselling and widely copied glove shoe, pictured above in a new shade. Inspired by "art, prehistoric objects, rustic lifestyle, farms, monks in monasteries, uniforms and the looks of the underground," according to Crozet, the small range of styles he designs is made from kid leather, giving them a distinctive (and comfy) soft feel and smooth appearance.
Nicole Saldaña launched her shoe line in 2017 after design gigs at Opening Ceremony, Kenzo and Tory Sport. Made in Portugal and inspired by Saldaña's circle of friends in New York, the line feels both nostalgic and on-trend, with its transparent slides and chunky clog sandals.
Emme Parsons, whom we covered here, also just launched her line last year, and already, the brand's easy, minimalist sandals are both an influencer fave and sold in a number of top retailers.