When I landed in beachy Santa Barbara last year, I felt like a goon wearing my boots when the climate so clearly called for flip-flops and sneakers.
I took it as my wake-up call to find a pair of shoes that look just as good with shorts as they do with jeans.
So that’s when I stumbled into the “best Common Projects alternatives” debate. When I’m picking up a new pair of shoes, I go ham on research—PhD level stuff.
As I was searching the web for a killer pair of minimalist sneakers, a few brands came up time and time again.
Oliver Cabell was one.
Keep reading for the full breakdown.
What Is Oliver Cabell?
Oliver Cabell launched their first collection in 2018, and already they’ve made a name for themselves.
Their Low 1 sneaker is their most popular shoe, and they reportedly have trouble keeping it in stock. Growing pains can be tough.
But the brand has a simple premise: transparency.
The founder, Scott Gabrielson, used to work in finance, but he hit a wall. He filled his days trying to outrace a growing market, and he got the feeling his customer’s investments would be fine even if he didn’t touch them at all. So he left to pursue his passion: design.
In 2016, Gabrielson visited a factory in Asia and found that luxury brands who claimed their product was made “100% in Italy” were flat-out lying. Yes, there was frustration, but he also saw opportunity.
All Oliver Cabell shoes have a full price breakdown. You can see how much the leather costs, the soles, the laces, the manufacturing, the packaging—everything. And beyond that, each component has an origin, even down to the laces and eyelets.
That transparency has garnered a lot of fans of the brand. Oliver Cabell doesn’t just preach luxury quality at a low price, they show exactly how they achieve it.
Things to Consider Before Buying Mid-Range White Sneakers
You might be here because you want to know whether the Oliver Cabell Low 1 is a good alternative to Common Projects Achilles Low, the Koio Capri, or GREATS Royale.
So let’s get straight to it.
Common Projects are the gold standard, but at nearly $500 people are rightly asking if they’re worth it.
There’s one thing that Oliver Cabell, Koio, and GREATS can’t give you that Common Projects can: brand and status.
I really don’t care about either of those things, so I sincerely doubt I’ll ever buy Common Projects (though I have tried on a pair). Oliver Cabell uses the same sole, same quality of leather, and same manufacturing process, but cost half as much.
Common Projects Achilles Low do have a shank in the midsole, which adds a little extra heft, and the footbed feels marginally more comfortable, but Oliver Cabell, Koio, and GREATS are all super comfortable, anyway.
Between those three brands, Oliver Cabell does the best job of matching the super-low profile of Common Projects. The quality is the same as Koio, though Koio has a taller instep and a larger profile (though it’s important to note that Koio is about $50 more expensive than Oliver Cabell).
Oliver Cabell Low 1 Review
Unboxing and First Impressions
Forget about “new car” smell. I’m all about “new shoe” smell.
Oliver Cabell ships their shoes quickly, and I had my shoes the same week I ordered them. So Friday rolls around and I’ve got two sleek white boxes to open.
The box is sturdy and handsome—minimal like the sneakers.
I recently tried out the GREATS Royale, and I really like the style, but I was expecting something a little more sleek. The Oliver Cabell Low 1 is precisely the look I was hoping for.
Comparing the two, they may not seem that different (in terms of style—the leather is different and I’ll explore that later).
The Low 1 is more narrow like Common Projects. And the instep has a low profile, too. Ultimately, this makes for a really versatile sneaker.
The more bulbous silhouette of the GREATS Royale is solid for any casual event, but what I love about the Oliver Cabell Low 1 is that, if I keep them clean, I can even pair these with a suit (still casual, but I tried the look with the Royale and it didn’t work).
The leather is really where the Low 1 separates from the competition. Considering the price, the leather quality is tremendous.
Made with three-ounce full-grain Italian calfskin leather, the upper feels buttery smooth. And it’s not just the upper—the interior and insole has the same quality of leather throughout.
Calfskin leather ages nicely and doesn’t form hard, awkward creases. That’s a must for me for minimalist sneakers, because the draw is the clean aesthetic. So if I can only wear them a handful of times before they lose those sharp lines, it’s a losing situation.
I’ve worn my Low 1 sneakers a dozen times, so I can’t say how they’ll do over the course of a year, but they still look fantastic. The leather is breaking in nicely, so I’m confident they’ll hold up.
Oliver Cabell outfits the Low 1 with a classic Italian Margom sole. Now, you may not be familiar with Margom soles, but you can imagine how difficult it is to make a name for yourself just based on shoe-soles.
Really, there are three “brand-name” soles: Margom, Vibram, and Dainite. If any brand is advertising the brand of their sole, it’s a darn good sole.
Margom soles hit an excellent balance between softness/ bounce and durability. I don’t have any long-term experience with this sole, but I did a quick search through the web and found that many people were wearing Margom soles for multiple years with very little wear and tear.
The look is simple and the texture along the toe and heel is distinctive and classy.
You’ll be hard pressed to find any Margom sole for under $200, and Oliver Cabell is right at that price point. Common Projects uses the same exact sole, but offer their shoes at $400.
Fit and Sizing
Oliver Cabell doesn’t deal in half sizes. I’m a size 10.5 but sized up to an 11 and the Low 1 fits perfectly.
I recommend the same for anyone who’s a half size—the instep is snug, and the sneaker is narrow, so go with the larger size.
The lining, like the upper, is Italian calfskin and it’s very comfortable. The entire footbed is lined, including the insole so your whole foot gets that buttery smooth experience.
Overall, I’m really pleased with the Low 1. It has luxury materials, a sleek but casual silhouette, and a durable and comfortable sole. Even better, it’s less expensive than the nearest alternatives (half the price in some cases).
Oliver Cabell SB 1 Review
Oliver Cabell is most famous for their sneakers, but I wanted to get a better view of the brand as a whole, so I decided to pick up a pair of their SB 1 service boots. I love the rugged look of service boots and I’ve had more experience with them, so I figured it’d give me a good chance to judge.
One of the first purchases I made when I became interested in style was a nice pair of service boots. Now, all these years later, they’ve begun to look rough around the edges.
I’ve been wanting a fresh pair, and when I saw Oliver Cabell’s SB 1, I had to try them.
Like the Low 1, the SB 1 has a creamy full grain vegetable tanned leather upper. It’s a pull up leather, meaning that it requires little maintenance. The leather is packed with oils and waxes, so it is fairly water-resistant, and if I treat these boots with leather balm every six months, the upper should last for decades.
The lining is vegetable tanned leather too, which is tougher and more stiff out of the box. I prefer vegetable tanned leather, especially for boots, because it keeps its shape better than chrome tanned leather.
If you’ve ever had a boot with a toe-cap that caves in, it can be a major hassle to repair. With the top quality leather of the SB 1, I doubt I’ll ever have that problem.
This is a Blake stitched boot, which is a departure from the more common Goodyear welt. This cuts a few mm off the top for a slightly lower profile, but is still easy to resole when the time comes.
The SB 1 is outfitted with a studded rubber sole that looks remarkably similar to a Dainite sole.
If you’re unfamiliar with Dainite soles, it’s a similar story to what you saw with Margom soles. They’re so good they’ve become a brand name, and any shoemaker that uses them shouts it from the rooftops.
Now, the SB 1 isn’t using the Dainite sole, because that brand recognition comes at a hefty cost. It’s difficult to find a Dainite sole boot under $300.
Instead, Oliver Cabell has their soles made custom, and from what I can tell, the quality is comparable to Dainite. I’ll only be able to give a final verdict on the soles in a year or so after I’ve given my boots their proper exercise.
The SB 1 features a German steel shank, and I can feel a ton of support in the heel. The steel adds a decent amount of weight, but these are less heavy than my Thursday Captains (surprising, because those have a composite shank).
A big bonus for the SB 1 that doesn’t apply to me, but may be helpful for you: the insoles are removable, so if you need orthotics for flat-feet or plantar fasciitis, you can order your true size and still use your insert.
Fit and Sizing
Like the Low 1, the SB 1 is only available in full sizes. Despite most boots running a little large, I still ended up getting the size 11 (I’m a 10.5).
I’m happy with my choice, and I recommend any half-size folk bumping up rather than down. Already there is very little heel-slip and the instep is snug.
If you have wide feet, I can imagine these boots being problematic—they’re quite narrow. It’s part of what makes the boots look so stylish, but if you have an extra-wide foot, they may be too uncomfortable.
Comfort and Durability
There is a break-in period with these boots, but it was nowhere near the worst I’ve experienced. I feel it most in the balls of my foot. And as long as it’s not my heel, I don’t really care. With this much vegetable tanned leather, it just takes a few wears to form the creases and let my foot sink into the insole.
The trade off for the initial stiffness is well worth it. Vegetable tanned leather holds up better to everyday wear and can take a beating. Plus, it ages better than chrome tanned leather, and with boots like these, I’m excited to see the patina they develop over the next five, ten, fifteen years.
Oliver Cabell may be more well known for their minimalist sneakers, but that doesn't mean you should sleep on their other offerings. The SB 1 service boot offers rugged style with excellent value.
What do Other Reviewers Say About Oliver Cabell?
Founded in 2018, Oliver Cabell is still in its infancy, so there aren’t too many reviews. There are a few other professional reviewers out there who are fans of the brand, and Oliver Cabell’s popularity is booming because of the Low 1.
One issue we saw in crowdsourced reviews was with import taxes. If you’re shopping outside of the US, you may be subject to an additional tax. In some cases, the tax was nearly half the price of the shoe.
Obviously, this issue is out of Oliver Cabell’s hands, but it’s worth noting.
My Thoughts Overall On Oliver Cabell
What I Like
It’s hard to beat the quality for both the Low 1 and SB 1. All that veg-tanned full-grain leather is amazing.
When sizing up (from 10.5 to 11) both models fit perfectly.
The Low 1 is an incredible alternative to Common Projects Achilles: it’s made with the same materials but is half the cost.
Both models have a modern and versatile silhouette
What I Don’t Like
The brand recommends sizing down if you’re a half-size. I recommend sizing up, and if I sized down, my shoes would be uncomfortable.
Who is Oliver Cabell for?
Oliver Cabell is an excellent choice for the guy who wants to add refinement to their wardrobe and doesn’t mind investing in high-quality footwear that will last for years.
Oliver Cabell is threading the needle. While the brand uses all premium, luxury-quality materials like Italian full grain calfskin leather, they keep their sneakers and boots under $250.
Few brands have been able to do that.
And it’s even more considerable when you factor in the cost to produce the sneakers in Italy and the boots in Spain.
I’m earnestly curious how Oliver Cabell will keep their prices as low as they have. And if you want to know how much your shoe costs, just go on their website and they’ll show you exactly the cost of each component.
Be ready to incur some extra costs if you’re ordering from outside the US—check what your local import taxes are because you don’t want that type of surprise.
But otherwise, Oliver Cabell provides excellent value, and I’ll be shopping with them again soon.
Where are Oliver Cabell shoes made?
Oliver Cabell’s most popular sneaker, the Low 1, is made in March, Italy. Other shoes, like their popular service boot, are made in Spain. Most components of their shoes either come from Italy, Spain, England, or Germany.
What is Margom sole?
Margom soles are some of the most popular soles today. They’re made in Italy and are renowned for their blend of softness and durability. Many luxury sneaker brands use Margom soles.