A Leather Shoe That Grows More Handsome With Age

NOT MANY THINGS get better as you use them. Cars rust. iPhones crack. T-shirts get pit-stained. But not everything has to be on a slide to the garbage bin. Just consider vachetta, or unfinished leather, shoes.

Uncolored and unvarnished, vachetta footwear (also called natural-leather shoes by brand designers) arrives from the factory in a matte-salmon shade that slowly morphs into a rich amber over years of wear.

“The more the shoe is exposed to air, light and sun, the more the leather patinas,” said Tull Price, the co-founder and creative director of Feit, a New York-based shoe label that produces several models. With wear, the leather breaks in, molding to your foot and developing idiosyncratic creases and shading. And because the leather doesn’t have an adhesive coating like most shoe leather, it breathes, making these pairs cooler to wear. Said Mr. Price, “It’s similar to how a leather couch ages.” Just as leather furniture wrinkles and retains water stains, so do these pairs. A pristine shoe it’s not.

But therein lies their charm, said Ryan Babenzien, founder and CEO of Greats, a Brooklyn-based sneaker label. “Customers buy the exact same shoe,” he said, “but everybody gets a different end result.” He often receives progress reports or photos from folks showing off their unique sneaks from Greats’s limited-run Natural Selection collection.

Vachetta footwear from niche-label brands— such as Hender Scheme, a small-batch Japanese brand, and Yuketen, a California maker of hand-sewn shoes—can cost from $484 to $1,095 a pair. Still, those $540 Feit natural-leather lace-ups will continue to get better with time. If only your smart phone did too.

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