Sure, the staple Canvas Low from Obra, a new sneaker line from two industry vets, is a handsome shoe. Custom cream-colored foxing—the rubber strip joining the upper and midsole—makes it stand out. So does the big blue pull-on strap on the back. But the real juice is inside, founders Arnaud Delecolle and Dave Cory explain.
With Obra’s signature shoe, they had one goal: “Improve on the fit and wearability of a vulcanized product, which are historically appealing but not the most comfortable when you wear them all the time,” Delecolle explains over the phone. “Your knees get tired after a while, it’s not the best.”
The fix? A drop-in, tech-y liner—“essentially the equivalent to a running shoe’s midsole,” he says, “but in the form of a footbed. It’s a dual-density, thermo-formed EVA insole lined with high-tech microfiber.” And it works. “I’ve been wearing my test shoes like eight months straight, day in and day out,” Delecolle says. “I’ve actually used the insoles in my running shoes to test them out. So we’ve accomplished a product that looks traditional, in a sense, and utilitarian, but that’s sort of tech on the inside.” As Cory puts it, “It’s thick and cushy under your foot.”
In a never-more-saturated sneaker market—and one in which even the humble canvas vulcanized shoe is getting regular fashion upgrades—innovation is hard to come by. But the Obra fellas were well-positioned to find it. Delecolle founded Lower East Side streetwear emporium Alife back in 1999, and had moved onto other projects. Cory had been at Converse, helping shepherd that brand’s One Star back to the top of the sneaker heap. Delecolle was missing the sneaker world, and wanted to find a way to update his old business model with an emphasis on ethical, sustainable manufacturing and a community focus. Cory was feeling hemmed in at Converse, making a lifestyle product for a performance company. So they linked up, and Obra—Portuguese for construction, but also for a work of art—was born.
Delecolle comes from a line of shoemakers in Brazil, so the choice to produce there was easy—especially, he says, after locating a factory “that has medical onsite, that has daycare onsite, that has continuing ed programs for all their employees, not only in the field of footwear but in any field that they choose.” Ethical production—not just in terms of sustainability, but of labor, too—is a principle focus. “We’re at a point in our lives where we want to be able to do what’s right for us,” Cory says. That also means donating $10 from every sale on the Obra website to “non-profit organizations focused on arts, education and/or civil liberties within local underserved youth communities.” Right now, that means when you buy a pair, you’re supporting strong labor practices, and contributing to Scope of Work, a “talent development agency for underrepresented young people.” Oh, and one more thing: you’re getting an unbelievably solid pair of summer kicks.