Could Tevas, the sturdy, quick-drying sandal designed for water sports and other outdoor activities, be the shoe of summer 2019?
A few brands are betting on it. In early May, the activewear start-up Outdoor Voices released a Teva collaboration with sandals marked by mismatched, color blocked straps. Within a week, the company said, most sizes had sold out on outdoorvoices.com. Instagram fed the frenzy; one commenter called the sandals “STUPID CUTE.” Another suggested: “Maybe they can make crocs cool again too.”
At New York Fashion Week in September, upstart labels like Sandy Liang and Collina Strada showed their spring collections on models who wore simple black Hurricane Tevas (socks, too). Area, another brand, adorned its Tevas with a thick beaded fringe. At her runway show, Anna Sui debuted a collaboration with the company — colorful platforms whose straps were dotted with snakes and birds — that was released this spring.
According to company lore, Teva’s Velcro sandals were created in 1984 by a river rafting guide who wanted to prevent his flip-flops from flying off his feet. The shoes soon came to stand for practicality and adventurousness. But in recent years, Tevas have stepped into new territory: everyday style and even runway fashion.
Teva’s first fashion collaboration, with the New York-based label Grey Ant, came out in 2010. Media coverage of the chunky, sporty 4-inch stiletto sandal reveled in its novelty, but refrained from heralding it as the beginning of a Teva fashion moment.
The company tried out some collaborations in Japan (a region that Erika Gabrielli, Teva’s senior director of global marketing, described as “hungry and looking for newness”) before making fashion partnerships a bigger part of its strategy. Then, in 2014, Teva rolled out a collection with Opening Ceremony: classic styles updated with extra straps, buckles and graphic fabrics.
That collaboration, which Ms. Gabrielli sees as Teva’s “first real fashion launch,” was reprised in 2015 and 2016. Since then, Teva has worked with partners like the singer Jhené Aiko, the upscale outdoors brand Snow Peak and Herschel Supply Co., which sells a multitude of hipster-baiting backpacks. The company has also established a presence on the music-festival circuit. On Instagram, the hashtag #teva yields about 247,000 posts, many of the #ootd (outfit of the day) and #festivalstyle varieties. On Twitter, the Teva discourse is a bit more self-mocking.
Tevas — often grouped with Birkenstocks, Dansko clogs, Uggs and Crocs as “ugly shoes” — are popular in part because of their outsider status. “There’s something so normal about them that if you’re a fashion person and wear them it’s kind of funny and cool,” said the stylist Kate Young, whose clients include Selena Gomez and Sophie Turner, in an email. But that doesn’t rule out genuine appreciation for their functional design: Ms. Young wears Tevas in the summer while camping and swimming in streams with slippery rocks.
“They were way too crunchy for me when I first saw them. Lately they hold this sort of nostalgic minimal sport appeal for me,” she said. “I do wear the version The Row made in the city all the time and I think they’re dead chic.” Others, like Marc Jacobs and Miuccia Prada, have offered their own takes on the sandal.
The ascent of Tevas has coincided with the rise of “gorpcore,” a term coined by the writer Jason Chen to describe the rise of everyday technical gear. Patagonia fleeces are now the stuff of GQ style guides, the brand’s image bolstered by its stance against the Trump administration’s environmental policies. In addition to featuring Tevas in her spring 2019 presentation, Sandy Liang has developed a cult following around her own fleece jackets, which are sensible and stylish, with their leopard prints and neon linings.
Tyler Haney, the C.E.O. of Outdoor Voices, said that Tevas were a common sight around the brand’s Austin headquarters well before the collaboration’s release. Even Ms. Sui, a mainstay of New York fashion, has been wearing Tevas for years, usually when taking her nieces and nephews on vacation to rocky European beaches. “I thought they were brilliant because they were like not wearing shoes, they were so comfortable, but protected your feet,” she said, adding that the adjustable toe and ankle straps “hit in very strategic places so that they look good.” (Ms. Sui doesn’t count Tevas as ugly shoes.)
She believes that the current interest in Tevas is a function of the cultural dominance of sneakers, as comfort has come to trump formality at work and in daily life. The sandals from her collaboration are snazzier than many of its in-house styles, but at the end of the day, they’re still dependable, pillowy Tevas.
“Once you start wearing sneakers or comfortable shoes, it’s really hard to go back,” Ms. Sui said. “I never understood women who would carry their Manolos in their handbag and wear sneakers on the subway. Now I get it.”