In this hands-on review, we’ll take a look at Amberjack’s inaugural shoe, The Originals.
The Originals combine a formal style with athletic shoe comfort. In this review, we’ll see how this hybrid shoe’s new technologies and unique design stack up.
I’m a big fan of clothes that combine form with function, so I fully welcome the hybrid shoe and dress sneaker movement. Off the bat, I’m impressed with newcomer Amberjack’s Original shoe.
This Brooklyn-based brand targeted gaps in the market for sustainability, function, and style. After my experience with a pair of Originals, I’ve put together this full overview so you can decide if these shoes may be a good fit for you.
Table of Contents
Amberjack: The Brand
Amberjack makes comfort-focused footwear in the smart casual realm. Founder John Peters was inspired by new apparel companies that built sustainability directly into their business models, rather than as an afterthought.
Allbirds is a good example in the shoe industry, but they focused on casual shoes. Amberjack is the first dress shoe company to be fully carbon neutral.
Unlike most companies which place their branded shoe boxes in secondary shipping cartons, Amberjacks are put directly in the mail packaging. They also come with a linen, not nylon, dustbag.
The full-grain leather comes from their partner in Monterrey, Mexico. It’s made from American cowhides, and sourced from an ISO-certified tannery that uses solar power.
The shoes are assembled in a fair wage factory in Portugal. Peters chose a factory experienced in traditional craft, but open to working with new materials.
The result is a premium leather shoe for $179.
Amberjack The Original Review
So what do we think of their only shoe line so far?
I attribute this to the design’s intelligent integration of both components. Typically, comfort-focused leather formals look like a dress shoe with a big obvious orthopedic outsole slapped on the bottom.
To break it down, The Originals boast a leather Derby upper, yet there’s subtle perforation for extra ventilation underneath the vamp.
The collar slopes elegantly like a dress shoe, but it features comfortable padding that gently graduates into the facing. The comfort and style facets fit together more like a tapestry, and less like a quilt.
The outsole looks a little more deconstructed than the rest of the shoe, so it definitely isn’t traditional dress style. The midsole and outsole contrast with each other, which results in a streak across the instep.
However, the streak is thin and the insole still does an impressive job of blending in with the smart casual architecture of the shoe. Certainly, it does a better job than most hybrids.
The layered sole is less blatant and more gradual-looking than a big athletic outsole. Few would notice that you’re secretly wearing a comfort shoe in an everyday office situation.
This is especially true of the brown version and the tan version, which is the one I have. The black version features a more distinct white insole. It’s perfectly stylish, but definitely gives away its true identity.
The full-grain leather upper is supple and undeniably A-grade. The patina at the tips is exquisite, and one of my favorite parts of the visual experience.
You can wear these shoes with any non-athletic casual outfit, whether it’s jeans and t-shirt, or khakis and a button-down.
Of course, they were made for smart casual situations, so The Originals go well with chinos or any office casual Friday outfits.
I think they look great with a tieless suit, especially if the trousers and jacket are different colors. Sometimes, wearing an outfit like this with traditional dress shoes makes the combination look unfinished, like you’re planning to put a tie on eventually.
It’s a perfectly nice look, but sporting Amberjacks instead of formal footwear looks more intentional (if that’s what you want!).
It may be controversial to claim you can wear these with a full-on suit. However, I think they look great together, and that they don’t veer too far off from sartorial traditions. Whether it’s professionally appropriate or not though, really depends on your office culture.
Comfort and Fit
The Originals get an A+ for comfort. These felt great right out of the box and stayed comfortable all day long when I first wore them.
The buck skin lining is exceedingly soft and I hope it stays that way after long-term usage. I’ve worn these shoes with and without socks, and both were equally as comfortable. The cushioning on the ankle and extra padding on the vamp were pleasantly cozy and supportive.
The removable insole is cushiony and thick in the heel area. In my experience, it’s at least three times thicker than memory foam insoles. It holds your heel like a work boot, but feels much softer. The insole then tapers off towards the toe-area, where it’s as flexible as an athletic shoe.
Without exaggeration, I think these shoes offer a perfect balance of support and softness. It’s likely due to the insole working with the midsole, which has heat-activated arch support. This layer responds to pressure and will eventually conform to your foot.
Even after wearing them all day, I still felt light and springy on my feet in these shoes. According to the Amberjack website, their outsole is a TPU custom blend that uses athletic technology in the front and hiking boot material in the back for support. This matches the architecture of the insole.
Another plus is that my feet never got overheated. The first day I wore them, I was out and about for a good three or four hours, and it was consistently in the low 80s outside. The perforation on the vamp must be really effective.
Size-wise, the Amberjack website claims to run large. I didn’t realize this when I chose my size, but the 8.5s I received fit me like a glove. There’s also a heel loop on the back that makes the shoes super easy to slip into.
If you have any trouble with an initial size order, Amberjack states on their website that they offer complimentary exchanges within 45 days, if the shoes are unworn and in their original condition. I’m sure trying them on for a minute to check the size still falls into the “unworn” category.
At $179, I would say the Amberjack Originals are a great value. They’re comfortable and versatile. Their genuine sustainability and fair wage practice makes this price particularly impressive. They definitely do cement soling, but that’s common for comfort-oriented shoes.
Pros and Cons
Here are the pros and cons of the Amberjack Originals…
The Originals are a unique hybrid shoe with a stylish design and innovative comfort technology. Amberjack does an exceptional job of integrating comfort and dress features in a seamless way. They come in traditional dress shoe colors, with the tan version displaying a sophisticated patina.
I have zero complaints on the comfort front. They felt broken in the second I put them on. Supposedly, they’ll feel even better as it molds to my foot.
If this is true, then they go from perfectly comfortable to somehow even more comfortable than that. They also come in half sizes, which isn’t always the case with hybrids.
As mentioned, these shoes are cement-soled. I don’t mind that so much for rubber-soled shoes, but it might be a deal-breaker for those who are leaning more into the dressy side.
Style-wise, you just might get away with the brown versions for formal professional situations. However, the white streak in the black version is a dead giveaway that you’re trying to lowkey wear comfort shoes.
Finally, holding Amberjack to a higher standard, they don’t offer sizes smaller than 8s or bigger than 13s.
Amberjack is an impressive company. James Seuss, the former Cole Haan CEO who oversaw the Nike merger, was also involved. Between Seuss and Kraljevich, it’s as if John Peters Avenger-assembled the shoe industry.
It’s therefore no surprise that their sustainability claims are more than just greenwashing, and that The Originals are so well-designed.
As far as hybrid shoes go, I fully recommend the Amberjack Originals. The design intelligently combines the athletic and the formal, and they’re comfortable right out of the box.
I know some strictly traditional gents are still holding out for a combination shoe that 100% looks like a dress shoe. However, I don’t think that the hybrid design components in The Originals are distracting, and they make them look pretty cool and unique too.