This week I paid a long overdue visit to The Natural Shoe Store on Neal Street in Covent Garden. I’d met the store’s buyer Kuni Awai about a year ago at an event, but had been rubbish at actually finding the time to go in and see her. And now I feel quite the fool because frankly, it’s AMAZING in there.
The Natural Shoe Store has been around for over 30 years, and as one of the original UK stockists of Birkenstock, we have a lot to thank it for! But you might have a misconception of what the store is all about (I know I did). While it does have a range of vegan shoes, the “natural” bit doesn’t mean you can’t find stylish leather designs in there too. The focus is on craftsmanship and comfort (yay!) and many of the labels stocked there are family businesses, so there’s an emphasis on the production side of things too. What Kuni has brought in since she started buying shoes for them though, is a massive injection of cool. And you might be surprised at some of the brands available – you’ll see a lot of your very favourites, and also a whole bunch of niche ones you’ve never heard of (but will be really glad you’ve discovered).
There are so many great things to talk about that I thought it would be useful to list them all out. You can find most of this stuff on the website but I do really recommend going into the store as it’s such a nice experience in there.
- Nature Denmark
Here’s a brand I didn’t know about, and these beauts above (the style is called Anna) are made especially for The Natural Shoe store. They’re incredibly lightweight and come in cool colours. I liked the white but went for the orange as you don’t often see orange shoes. Mine aren’t available online at the moment but they are in store. They’re similar to Clarks Originals in size in that they come up a little small, so you might need to go up a size (another excuse to go in store and try them on!)
Yep, The Natural Shoe Store stocks one of my very favourite brands, Grenson. It’s a relatively small edit, but so nice to have them under the same roof as so many other brilliant brands. Most shoe concessions in department stores are owned by Kurt Geiger – there’s nothing wrong with Kurt Geiger! – but it’s really nice to see a an independent edit instead of the usual.
3. Shepherd slippers
With Christmas on the horizon, I’ve been thinking an awful lot about slippers in the last week or so, and TNSS has a brilliant range (I’ll cover some other brands later in the list). These ones from Shepherd just make me want to snuggle up in front of an open fire.
You know how much of a fan I am of Clarks, but you do have to wade through a lot of shoes you’d never wear in order to find the good stuff sometimes. Thankfully, Kuni has put them all in one place for your convenience. As well as my beloved Trigenics trainers (they have more stock of these than Clarks does), there are some really smart Wallabees and the new England range which, although a little more pricy, are beautifully made and look much more chic than your average pair of Clarks brogues. And as the name suggests, are made in England!
Don’t be fooled by the name! This is another Danish brand and super-cute it is too (they started out making badminton racquets). You can never go wrong with a retro plimsoll, particularly when the price is this good – bargain!
The Natural Shore Store sells its own MEGA shoe protector called Liquiproof. It’s £10 per bottle and you’ll need half the bottle per shoe (so yes, that’s a whole bottle for one pair #maths) but you’ll never need to spray them again and it’s pretty amazing, so well worth it to protect your favourite shoes. There’s a film showing in store demonstrating water, ketchup and other horrible liquids you’d never want anywhere near your shoes just falling off suede like they’re not even wet. Oh, and some of the shoes in there are already sprayed so if you’re lucky, you’ll get a pair that’s already protected.
7. Bonne Maison socks
Socks are becoming more and more a priority in my life, and I’m always excited to find a new brand. I used to settle for Gap socks on special offer – 3 pairs for £8! – but now I’m willing to fork out a bit more for something more individual and of better quality. Apparently these are inspired by the prints on old kimonos (I’m also wearing a different pair in the first image).
8. The service
The staff in store are lovely and very knowledgable. The gentleman who served me told me that he had the same socks on as the ones I was buying and that they wash really nicely. I love that kind of attention to detail!
You might not have heard of one of The Natural Shoe Store’s best selling brands, Arche, but you’ll be glad you did. This French label has some designs I wouldn’t wear because the heels are a wee bit too high, but I like the designs and colour combinations.
10. Bass Wejuns
I only got my first pair of Wejuns recently but they’re one of the original and best for loafers. In fact, they were the first to feature the penny ‘slot’ on the front of the shoe, which was originally meant to symbolise the designer’s wife kissing him on the cheek as he left for work each day. Cute, eh?
11. Scratch cards
At the moment, when you buy anything in store you’re given a scratch card which could win you anything from 10% off your next purchase to a free pair of shoes! It’s valid until Christmas Eve so don’t leave it too long before you go…
12. Haflinger slippers
More slippers! I love these, and some come with the added bonus of being able to remove the cork inner sole so that you can wash the felt.
13. Scott Nichol socks
Another snazzy socks label to swoon over, these don’t come in as many smaller sizes but I’m eyeing them up for Mr Brogue’s Christmas presents! They’re nice and thick and I love the fair isle designs.
My friend Holly has had a pair of Sorel boots for years and I’m always envious of them when we’re walking on the beach on the Isle of Wight in the winter. If we go snowboarding again any time soon, I think it’s time to invest!
Last but not least, the brand that The Natural Shoe Store is best known for. Although there is a Birkenstock shop on the same street, it’s still a great place to come in and browse these old favourites (and might not be as busy!). Kuni pointed out the new soft sole versions, which are great if you fins Birkenstocks hard to wear in.