Shoe: Greats Brand Royale (Blanco-White)

Release: 2013

Price: $159 retail, from

In 2012, footwear legends Ryan Babenzien and Jon Buscemi disrupted the sneaker industry with a simple $60 trainer. That year, the two founded Greats, a Brooklyn-based footwear brand offering the world’s first direct-to-consumer, internet-driven sneakers. Greats’ first shoe, the Bab, released later that year at a price well below Nike and adidas equivalents. With no retailers to manage and a centralized supply chain, Greats could offer high quality shoes at a miniscule cost and still keep the lights on. The result: arguably the best value in sneakers. The Bab wasn’t just a great looking shoe – it was a state of mind.

Greats co-founders Jon Buscemi (left) and Ryan Babenzien (right)

Greats co-founders Jon Buscemi (left) and Ryan Babenzien (right)

Soon, Greats Brand was tasting real success: Babenzien and Buscemi had launched more sneakers, partnered with NFL player Adrian Wilson, and even had plans to open a Brooklyn storefront. While Greats had made bold strides in the athleisure market, the brand aspired to bring their production model to something other than just nylon and foam. In 2013, Greats announced their entry into the luxury sneaker market with the “Royale”, a handmade Italian leather low top.

Designer sneakers were nothing new: everyone from Lavin to Gucci offered an equivalent shoe, and just like before, Greats was entering a crowded market. Of course the shoe had to look good, but everyone else made good-looking shoes, too. They just cost $600, more than 10x the price of Greats’ first shoe.

To the outside observer, Greats was in a bind: how could the small American startup possibly win against its global competition? Simple – by beating them with efficiency and passing on the savings, just like before. The Greats Royale retails at $159, less than half the price of Lanvin, Saint Laurent, and Common Projects. Long story short, the Royale may just be the best value in footwear today.


The Greats Royale is a shoe you buy because you appreciate the finer things, but also like living indoors. Like any internet fashion dweeb, I’ve lusted over triple white leather sneakers since Common Projects first burst onto the scene – however, I also have rent to pay and even bulk ramen costs 10% of an Achilles Low. Beautiful shoes without the eye-watering price tag? Sign me up.

(Photo credit:  Christina Oh )

(Photo credit: Christina Oh)

Economics aside, let’s talk shoes. Out of the box, the Greats Royale is every inch as luxury as its competition. The leather smell wafts out from the moment you remove the lid. The exterior is eggshell white Italian leather, handstitched to a Margom outsole and finished with a branded heel tab. My one aesthetic gripe: why the stitched side paneling? I’d much prefer an unadorned side (a la Common Projects) or, if there must be paneling, a pop of complimentary colors (see: Gucci Tennis Classic).

Mountains out of molehills: just... why? (photo credit: Stephanie Rakestraw)

Mountains out of molehills: just... why? (photo credit: Stephanie Rakestraw)

Inside, a vachetta tan natural leather lining ensures comfort both with socks and without. Gold branding on each insole adds yet another layer of luxury, even if you don’t see the dozens of cities printed just under your foot. (If anyone from the Greats team is reading, s/o for including “Hockessin” – that’s the name of my tiny Delaware hometown, and I got a kick out of seeing it in the company of Paris, Tokyo, and NYC).    

(photo credit: Stephanie Rakestraw)

(photo credit: Stephanie Rakestraw)

Typically, I’m skeptical of details in “high wear” areas. With frequent use, these printed and stitched styling features end up disheveled, actually detracting from the luxury experience. Thankfully, with both the gold on the insole and the logo on the heeltab, this has yet to happen. In fact, every inch of the Royale has begun to wear in rather nicely.

I’ve owned my pair of Greats Royales for about two months now, and so far, they’ve broken in beautifully. The leather is creased in some parts, but as far as I’m concerned, the only way to avoid creases is to not wear shoes. I’ll take some toecap wrinkles over hookworm any day. Since I got them in early March, I’ve worn these shoes through rain and slush and snow (thanks, Michigan), and yet they’re just now showing their age. With frequent cleaning and some leather conditioner, I have no doubt my Royales will look good for years to come. And as long as they stay stitched, I’m certain I’ll keep wearing them.

Quality means "better with age" - slight wear on the Greats "Royale" (photo credit: Stephanie Rakestraw)

Quality means "better with age" - slight wear on the Greats "Royale" (photo credit: Stephanie Rakestraw)

Which brings me to the last part of my review: styling. In some past reviews, how wearable the shoe was made the difference between “good” and “great.” I have shoes I love emphatically, but wear rarely just because they don’t go with much. Then, I have the Greats Royale.

I won’t waste words: it’s a white leather sneaker.

You can wear it with ANYTHING.

Anything at all.

(Photo credit:  Christina Oh )

(Photo credit: Christina Oh)

Just leave the house dressed, and the Royale will make your outfit better. Case closed. Bring in the dancing lobsters. When I get lazy (or after *ahem* social nights), I’ll throw on unbranded t-shirts, any color pants, and my Royales, but still get compliments. Even with hangover eyes and bed-head in a ball cap, these shoes still sing in all four seasons.

Value? Check. Looks? Check. Wearability? Check. The checks have it - a Great shoe, indeed. 


COMFORT: ★★★☆☆

STYLE: ★★★★☆


VALUE: ★★★★★



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