One of the best attributes of social media — and Instagram in particular — is the element of discovery. There is no better way to find emerging and under-the-radar brands than by falling into the depths of an Instagram rabbit hole, perusing the posts of your favorite influencers and editors, tapping from one tagged photo to the next, scrolling through the explore page. When it comes to footwear, a handful of new indie shoe brands have risen to the top as every fashion girl’s online obsession. These brands have capitalized on the direct access to shoppers, building their feeds into full-fledged commercial successes.
A couple hours of screen time and you can find a bevy of niche, contemporary designers to suit your personal style. The niche collections range from minimalist luxury to ‘90s cool, and even a few surprisingly chic riffs on the ugly shoe trend. They fall in that ideal middle zone, better quality and more unique in aesthetic than what you’ll find at fast-fashion retailers, but at a more approachable price point than luxury designer options. If you’re looking for ways to refresh your shoe collection this season, here are nine brands that will give your wardrobe a distinctive edge and surely earn your wholehearted devotion. Give them a follow and shop a few highlights below.
Gray Matters is made for the minimalist who has a secret extra side. The collection features modern, streamlined shoes enhanced by sculptural heels that peek out like a subtle surprise, making each piece as special as it is versatile. Whether its the classic ankle boot with an agate heel, the sock bootie with the diamond-shaped heel, or the more nuanced high-vamp pump that rests atop a square-block heel in a contrasting color, any shoe in the Gray Matters lineup will take your look to the next level.
It’s hard to pick a favorite from Korean footwear brand Reike Nen’s growing collection. The signature ankle boots are arguably the most recognizable of the lot, featuring back closure details like oversized pull-rings or metal-tipped ties. But the brand has branched out to deliver other equally covetable styles, like chunky, buckled Mary Janes with a schoolgirl sensibility, or leather mules with fur-wrapped block heels — all in an autumn-ready range of rich hues and luxe materials.
Another Seoul-based brand, Salondeju builds on the minimalist footwear movement that’s happening lately, and adds intrigue with cool cut-outs, gold medallion details, and asymmetrical straps. The collection has a sophisticated sensibility, but it’s never stuffy or stale. These shoes would be as well suited to jeans and a sweater for off-duty days, as they would a feminine skirt or suiting during the work week.
In the two years since its launch, by Far has gained a cult following and rapidly become one of fashion’s most beloved indie shoe brands. (Case in point: designers Valentina, Sabina, and Denitsa recently collaborated with millennial-favorite label Reformation.) The line has a nostalgic quality to it, referencing shapes from the 90s, like square toes, blocky heels, and thick straps. The lace-up boots and button-strap mules are perfect for autumn, then come summer, switch over to the simple, low-heel sandals.
‘90s babies, prepare to be filled with nostalgia for your youth. Nicole Saldaña will have you drooling over her collection of lug-sole loafers, nylon zip boots, and fluted sandals and mules that feel reminiscent of prom shoes you’d see in the high-school dance scene in every ‘90s teen movie — but better. The brand counts Rihanna as a fan (she was spotted wearing them at New York Fashion Week last fall), so you know it must be cool.
Creative director and founder Aurora James was inspired by traditional African footwear when she launched Brother Vellies. Her pieces speak to the sustainability and artistry of the shoes that gave rise to the line, with fur, hides and rich leather featured heavily throughout. Plus, while James designs her collection in Brooklyn, each shoe is handcrafted by locals in South Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya and Morocco, helping to bring jobs to these communities across Africa.
The Spirit Boot just might be the most perfect ankle bootie for your autumn wardrobe. The shaft is just tall enough to look good with pants and skirts alike, and the sturdy block heel is the ideal height to be dressed up a bit but still easy to wear and walk in. That said, Dear Frances does more than just boots. The croc-embossed slides, tortoiseshell-heel mules and elegant ballet flats all possess a quality of understated luxury (very Céline-esque) that the modern woman will appreciate.
Designed in California, LOQ maintains the relaxed vibe of its home state, elevated with a vintage refinement and polish. The styles are simple and crafted in color palettes and materials that are subtle and rich. Think croc-embossed boots with thick block heels, slingback satin mules, and square-toe pumps in hues like muted blue, cream, and ochre. LOQ exudes an easy elegance that feels both classic and modern at once.
Designer Sunyuul Yie founded the Korean footwear brand with the goal of abandoning the ordinary, creating pieces that would be trendy, but still casual and classic. The thought is evident in the concept and craftsmanship of every collection, whether it’s the melty silver hardware that tops the vamps of this season’s velvet mules and satin ankle-strap flats, or the architectural heels propping up the ankle boots and criss-cross leather pumps.