AKIN Gear SHIFT Driving Sneakers

I have a love/hate relationship with shoes, especially sneakers. On one hand (uh, foot?) I love the look of them, the comfort, and that they can be versatile. On the other... foot... I hate spending a lot of money on nice ones because I inevitably destroy them.

I've been needing a new pair of driving-oriented shoes for a long time. I say "driving-oriented shoes" instead of "driving shoes" because I'm not looking for dedicated driving shoes. There are plenty of driving loafers out there, but they're too 'old man' for my taste. I want driving sneakers.

Enter AKIN Gear and their SHIFT shoes, which are actually billed as driving sneakers. How convenient for me.

Compensation and Review Notes

I was provided two pairs of SHIFT shoes by AKIN Gear in exchange for my feedback on the shoes and some social media mentions.

Any edits made to quotes are strictly to correct spelling and grammatical errors. I may provide a draft of my reviews to the companies involved so they can verify the factual correctness of the review’s contents and answer any pending questions I have before publishing the review.

About AKIN Gear

AKIN Gear is a small business based in Minnesota. Work on the company and its products started in 2016 with sales starting in 2018, so it's still a very new company. As of this writing (31 January 2019) there are two products available: SHIFT shoes and a pair of T-shirts, with color options for each. Plans are in place for high top shoes but they haven't yet been released.

I have a bad habit of analyzing business names so I asked about the origin of AKIN Gear's.

We called it AKIN because we feel car enthusiasts are a family that share a love for cars... so we’re all akin in our passion for cars, regardless of our different tastes.
— Nicolas Echeverri

The name of the company is pronounced the same as its source, ah-kin.

Initial Impressions

I love the styling of these shoes. Obviously, right? That’s why I got them. I don’t care if something is “free” - if I don’t like it, I won’t accept it even if I didn’t have to pay money for it.

There are three colors available: Black, light grey with navy blue, and white with brown. The soles of all three are white. I rarely ever wear black shoes when a suit or tuxedo isn’t involved, so I opted for the light grey and white ones.

AKIN Gear SHIFT Driving Sneakers unboxing.jpg

They aren’t loud and flashy, they aren’t obnoxious. They’re simple and stylish. The leather collar around the top (just below your ankle) is an awesome touch that adds class and complexity to an otherwise understated design. The AKIN Gear logo imprinted on the side is easy to see without screaming “LOOK AT MY BRANDING” like many companies do these days.

Materials

My first thought when I pulled the shoes out of the boxes was, "What are these made of?"

The product listing on the company website said they have a leather upper, but this didn't look or feel like it. They're textured and feel synthetic when I run my fingers over them. It looks and feels cool, but it doesn’t look or feel like leather. I emailed Nic to ask.

They are what’s called ‘action leather’ - which is real leather, with a coating applied on top to make it more weather-proof. This is what soccer cleats for example are made of, and we chose it because of its durability.
— Nicolas Echeverri

Well that solves that. It was actually a bit comforting to hear that given my aforementioned penchant for destroying shoes. The action leather looks cool and I didn't mind the texture, and knowing it was a functional quality for improved durability was that much better.

The rubber sole has a tire tread pattern underneath, an obvious nod to AKIN Gear’s target market of drivers and automotive enthusiasts. I like that the spacing in the ‘tread’ is wide enough to not hold onto pebbles. One of my favorite shoes is a Nike that has one massive flaw: The sole design makes them prone to getting pebbles and small rocks stuck in the grooves and, even worse, the design causes suction cup noises when walking on super smooth surfaces like polished tile. It’s a weird thing, but it’s a huge pet peeve of mine because of those Nikes.

Another sole-specific thing is how much grip a shoe has in the wet. Yes, just like a tire, this plays into my opinion of footwear rather heavily. I’ve slipped and fallen on a few wet surfaces, usually with an audience, so I’m a bit… sore… about this. It hasn’t rained since I’ve gotten the SHIFTs so I’ll have to update this review once I get to put them to that test.

Construction

The shoes are very well made and look like they’ll hold up despite my inevitable abuse and lack of proper care. The stitching looks good and even and nothing stands out to me as a concern.

There is one place I’d suggest an improvement, and that’s in the edge of the leather around the ‘collar’ below the ankle. It isn’t bad and not obvious but, when looking at it closely, it looks a little unfinished.

AKIN Gear SHIFT Driving Sneakers collar detail.jpg

I can see it in the product pictures on AKIN Gear’s website, so it’s not like those pictures were touched up or taken with cherry-picked examples. What you see is what you get. I’ll admit I’m hyper-analytical at times and many people would probably never notice if I wasn’t pointing it out. Regardless, I think that the little extra expense in finishing that edge would make them look like a higher-value item, and would even warrant a price increase to cover that cost. Even with a slight bump in price, these shoes would still be affordable and great value for money.

It’s a complex section of leather given the shape and stitching, complicated more by the diamond stitching that crisscrosses it. This collar adds a classy touch to the shoes and that it isn’t perfect bugs me a bit because it’d otherwise be such a cool feature. Okay, knit-picking over, let’s move on.

Nic explained that driving was a primary focus from the very beginning of the design phase.

They’re cut and stitched in a way that makes them more comfortable when your foot is pointing up (like on the pedals) - while most shoes are designed only for walking/running comfort (foot pointing down).
— Nicolas Echeverri

Even further, the tongue has a “hinged” design with notches cut out of each side. The notches allow the top of the tongue to flex more than it otherwise would so it can contour more against your shin as you move your foot.

AKIN Gear SHIFT Driving Sneakers hinged tongue.jpg

Sizing

The product listings have a clear note stating that the SHIFT driving sneakers run large and it might be best to order a half-size smaller than you otherwise would. I usually wear a 9.5 (US) so I ordered them in size 9. While this is uncommon, it isn’t the only time it’s happened to me. Half the Puma sneakers I’ve ever bought have been size 10 because the run small. Still, I was a little concerned because I wouldn’t have a chance to test-fit a pair before ordering.

My concerns were realized when the shoes arrived and the right one was a touch tight. The left one felt perfect, the right could use an extra quarter-size more room. Having a slight difference in size between each foot is normal for a lot of people, me included, so I wasn’t worried about that. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to deal with the right being a little too tight for total comfort.

I mentioned it to Nic and he said I could give them a try and exchange for larger if I wanted, or just send them back for an immediate replacement. I gave them a try, and I’m glad I did. After wearing them for a full day, the right shoe felt absolutely perfect and, dare I say, the left was a hair roomy. They broke in nicely and I’m happy I stuck with the size 9 shoes.

Comfort

After the first day’s break-in period, the shoes are very comfortable. I have a desk job so I’ve only put a couple miles per day on the shoes so far and haven’t given these a marathon’s abuse session yet. I want these shoes to handle 14-18 hours of nonstop driving and walking, so they’ve got some lofty expectations to meet.

Driving so far has been great. They feel very natural and I don’t have to think about my feet whatsoever while driving my grey V8 Vantage. Both stop-and-go commuting traffic and high-speed expressway cruising felt normal - which is a good thing. I’ve had shoes that reminded me they were on my feet while driving and not having these cross my mind at all let me focus on my car and the road.

The rounded heels let my feet pivot freely and smoothly while I worked the pedals and the soles gave me a nice balance of firmness and feedback. Balance here is hard to manage between driving and walking, so I’m looking forward to seeing if it’s maintained during the long days of walking I have ahead of me during my travels.

Pricing and Value

As of this writing (31 January 2019), the SHIFT driving sneakers are listed at $85 per pair with a flat-rate shipping of $5 to anywhere in the US. At $90 shipped, they’re a fantastic deal.

As I said earlier, I think some extra investment to refine the diamond-stitched leather collar would go a long way in improving the overall quality of the shoes, even though it’s just cosmetic. With a more refined collar, I’d happily pay $95-100 for a pair and still feel like the shoes were an amazing value.

Overall Impression

I really like these shoes. They aren’t perfect, but for $85 they’re great shoes for guys like me. There’s room for improvement but none of what could be improved upon is a deal-breaker for me as-is. It’s obvious that a lot of thought was put into these shoes. The material choices, design cues, and functionality are all well-done.

Our ultimate dream would be to become the shoe brand car enthusiasts wear - like Nike was for runners and Vans were for skaters.
— Nicolas Echeverri

These shoes are made with drivers and automotive enthusiasts in mind, in function as much as in style. From what I’ve seen so far, they’re on the right track.

The devil is in the details - the good ones and the bad. My main feedback after my initial impression would be to improve the quality of the diamond-stitched leather collar, even if it means raising the price a little.

Sizing will be a concern for some potential customers, especially since there’s also a day of break-in needed to get settled into the shoes. Saying, “Get a half-size smaller and then break them in for a day,” can make a buyer hesitant. But I’m glad I went with it because these are shoes I’ll be using for all my rallies from now on.

And if they can hold up to stomping around Japan and England for a dozen-plus hours a day, they might just be the perfect shoes. I’m not sure that’s even possible to accomplish, honestly, since driving and walking have such different requirements for footwear. But the AKIN Gear SHIFT driving sneakers might be the closest I’ve found yet.

Follow-up!

I’ll be adding mid-term and long-term updates to this review as I continue using and abusing these shoes over the next couple (few? several?) years.