What’s the Big Deal With Vachetta Tan Kicks?

Recently, there’s been a craze brewing in sneaker culture, one you may have overlooked in pursuit of those pesky Omari West German imports. “Vachetta tan” or “natural leather” colorways from brands like Jordan, Nike, New Balance, Asics, based on higher-end releases from smaller footwear brands, are slated to release through the rest of 2016.

The emergence of this luxe motif is often credited to Japanese footwear and accessories brand Hender Scheme. To help you understand what all the buzz is about we’ve put together this quick study guide.

What is “vachetta tan” leather and what’s the appeal?

Vachetta Tan

According to Wikipedia, vachetta leather is defined as the leather “used in the trimmings of luggage and handbags. The leather is left untreated and is, therefore, susceptible to water and stains. Sunlight makes the natural leather darken in shade (develop a patina).” This patina that results from wear is another aspect of “vachetta tan” kicks that make them so appealing. After some prolonged wear, your sneakers will bear the marks of your everyday life and will fit you like no one else’s.

A small Japanese brand dropped a pebble in the pond and caused a ripple effect.

Already manufacturers of an array of leather accessories, Hender Scheme created a vachetta leather footwear range that paid homage to iconic sneaker silhouettes, but without the branding (in order to avoid any legal troubles). Offered in the growing collection were kicks “inspired” by the Vans Authentic, adidas Micropacer, Air Force 1, New Balance 1300, and the Margiela Low Top. These sneakers made major waves in sneaker culture, but what really shook things up was when Hender Scheme unveiled their version of the heralded Air Jordan 4. With the release of this particular interpretation, they had the sneaker world in their hands, leaving folks around the web anticipating what they’d do next.

Vachetta tan kicks received the “cool stamp” from a major sneaker influencer.

A photo posted by John Geiger (@johngeiger_) on

When Hender Scheme’s take on vintage kicks originally released, people were skeptical. Sneakerheads tend to be wary of appropriations, or “bootlegs,” but that changed with the help of a few influential types. After a year of rocking his pair, custom-sneaker impresario John Geiger teamed up with The Shoe Surgeon to heat-stamp his pair of Hender Scheme MIP-10s, adding the coveted Nike Air and Swoosh branding on the heel. Along with customizing the 4’s, Geiger also added the logos that were missing from a few other pairs, further bolstering the hype around bespoke kicks.

A photo posted by John Geiger (@johngeiger_) on

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Soon the big boys started to take notice of the natural-leather wave. Since 2013, a variety of silhouettes have been released under the “vachetta tan” or “natural leather” banner, showing signs that the hype is real. Global and more established brands seized the opportunity to offer luxe versions of their own footwear, since a niche brand doesn’t have the same distribution channels as a major corporation.

Vachetta tan price tags are not for the faint of heart.

Some may consider monochromatic tan sneakers on the bland side, but they bear a hefty fee. A pair from brands like Hender Scheme, HeyDay, or LASCO cost upward of $1,000, due to the cost of materials and manual labor necessary to cobble these gems.

Images: Hender Scheme/Haven Shop & John Geiger

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