I’ve always liked red shoes and high-tops. This year, the fashion stars have aligned and both color and height are in style. Beauty and fashion writer Julia Marzovilla recently wrote about sneakers in Marie Claire, noting both that “brightly hued picks are trending” and “high-top sneakers are officially all the rage this year.” Best of all, there are at least two excellent vegan options for red high-tops. I tried out a pair made by Fuego Shoes, and one by Grounded People.
Meet the Fuegos
Kevin Weschler launched Fuego Shoes during the pandemic. They look like nice, shiny, red leather high-tops, but are actually made of all vegan materials. And they have an even bigger secret: a patented outsole made for dancing. Dual pivot points — one in the heel, one in the ball of the foot — let you spin without torqueing your knees. This is really cool if you want to break into dance anywhere, like in a real-life musical. Except my friends were underwhelmed when I demonstrated at the art museum. But they were probably just envious. Or embarrassed.
Weschler first started dancing after snagging a Groupon deal at a local Brooklyn dance studio. He immediately loved it. But his knees didn’t, thanks to his attempt to dance in his ordinary street sneakers. He tried to find the right shoes, but they didn’t seem to exist.
“I couldn’t find a brand in the dance world that really resonated with me,” Weschler lamented on the Fuego website. “A brand that sat at the intersection of dance and streetwear.”
Since he was a graduate student studying business and entrepreneurship, the obvious thing to do was to start a shoe company.
So far, Fuego has three types of shoes: high-tops, low-tops and split soles, which have a flexible neoprene arch-hugging midsection that “refines your style and supports your flow.” Colors are pretty basic — black, white, red, brown tones and pink in split soles. Fuegos allegedly dance on just about any surface, from concrete to carpet to grass, and range in price from $110 to $130.
Canadian brand Grounded People prides itself on 100% vegan and cruelty-free production. Founder Max Justus was inspired to start Grounded People after he saw first-hand the waste and exploitation of the fashion industry while he was traveling abroad. A few of his innovations: using recycled materials from yarn to rubber soles, no dyeing or other chemical processes, no animal byproducts, fair wages and paper packaging is plantable and filled with wildflower seeds.
You might have already heard of Grounded People. Inhabitat covered the brand in January of this year. But back then, the shoes were only available in brown and off white, for a kind of hempy self-denial look. Much more attractive colors are available now, including red, pink and dark blue.
Grounded People’s LACES (Learn to Achieve and Create Everlasting Sustainability) program allows shoppers to choose a contrasting pair of laces, with each color benefiting a different charity. Based in Vancouver, British Columbia, this brand also released its first collection during the pandemic. Low-tops are currently priced at $139.99, and high tops at $149.99.
Testing out the high tops
Both the Fuego and the Grounded People shoes are cute, comfortable and very red, from the laces to the stitching to the soles. The Fuego red is a bit deeper and the laces are flat and thick. There’s no ornamentation around the lace holes, keeping the design simple. I think they look a bit 80s, with a tiny bit of gold on the lace tips and, my favorite part, a wee gold flame (Fuego means fire, after all) on the heel.
They fit a little more snugly through the toes than the Grounded People pair, so I prefer lightweight socks or tights with them. And, of course, you can spin much more easily in the Fuegos. At nine ounces, this is a lightweight shoe.
On the other hand, the Grounded People pair are cloth, more of a Converse feel as far as material. The laces are thin and round, with visible plastic rings to weave through, making the lacing more of a focal point of this shoe. A patterned texture around the toes give the shoe added visual interest. And a silver, dollar-sized medallion on the side depicts the brand’s logo, a darling meerkat.
As Founder Justus points out, meerkats are highly cooperative critters who work together in teams, reminding us that cooperation can get the job done better than focusing on selfish motivations. This pair was a bit roomier through the toes and the red is a little lighter and the cloth material cooler than the Fuegos.
Both these brands have produced some cute vegan red high tops. If you’re in the market for a pair, it mostly comes down to aesthetics, and how likely you are to spontaneously bust out dance moves.
Photography by Teresa Bergen
Editor’s Note: This product review is not sponsored by Fuego and Grounded People. All opinions on the products and company are the author’s own.