The Natural Shoe Store and I go back a long way. To the eighties to be precise, when its Bass Weejun loafers were the height of cool, albeit far out of reach of my meager pocket money budget. Founded in 1976 by Robert Lusk as a destination for all things earthy and comfort-soled, it was always a bit of a stealth influencer. From appealing to London’s affluent muesli munching post-hippies, it carved itself a niche as more of a luxury stop-off for those seeking functional style and comfort.
Eventually I did grow up to avail myself of its Bass Weejuns, not to mention my favourite red Sanita clogs a few years ago, plus endless pairs of rugged German-made Hirsch socks. Then there were the Birkenstocks. Lusk introduced Birkenstocks to the UK in the seventies, but it wasn’t until the 2000s that insane queues coiled outside the Neal Street flagship store, necessitating full time security staff to keep the peace. The rest of course, is history.
But with global brand availability, it’s harder for retailers to monopolise their niches. They have to expand, diversify and modernise. And so The Natural Shoe Store has had a revamp, enlisting Kuni Awai (formerly an in-house designer for B Store), as its chief buyer.
The remit has broadened to include newer brands and more fashion-forward styles, while staying true to Lusk’s dedication to quality and thoughtful design. German-made Trippen is a key brand. These jolie-laide comfort shoes have an avant-garde appeal and are ethically produced with environmentally-friendly materials. They get an entire wall of the new store (which has recently relocated to 70 Neal Street). Bass loafers are still present and correct, alongside new entrants, Grenson shoes and Charlie May for H By Hudson. (Charlie May’s laceless boyfriend shoes in the main pic attracted a lot of love on my Insta.)
BELOW: TRIPPEN, TRIPPEN, G.H. BASS, GRENSON
Birkenstock may have grown into its own behemoth brand, but there’s still a big presence at The Natural Shoe Store. (Awai told me that these Birkenstock £19.99 slides are a huge consistent seller and you can easily see why.)
BELOW: BIRKENSTOCK X 2
A part of me misses the quiet charm of the old Natural Shoe Store, but Neal Street is a huge tourist destination and Lusk is mindful that passing footfall needs to be attracted by exciting product, not just brand values. That explains the saturated suede designs of French brand Arche as well as Salt Water’s classic seaside-y sandals and Tracey Neuls’ sculptural offerings. It’s eco chic for today’s design-conscious generation and should secure a bright future for The Natural Shoe Store.
BELOW:ARCHE, SALT WATER, TRACEY NEULS, NATURAL SHOE STORE
Visit The Natural Shoe Store at 70 Neal Street, WC2 and Thenaturalshoestore.com
WORDS: Navaz Batliwalla/Disneyrollergirl
IMAGES: Disneyrollergirl and The Natural Shoe Store