The concept of ballet flats is pretty simple – it’s the execution that’s tricky. Want a pair that’s super cute? You’re going to pay. Want a pair that’s comfortable? You’re going to pay. Want a pair that lasts when you travel the world? You’re going to pay.
Into this space, Tieks by Gavrieli has risen as the winner, propelled by influencer marketing and a lot of ad spend on Pinterest. But while Tieks are cute, comfortable on my feed, and lasted when I traveled the world, a lot of people aren’t happy with them. (Heck, I’m not happy with them as a business, and won’t be buying from them in the future!)
If you’re looking for a Tieks alternative, I’ve got one for you. In search of the perfect ballet flats for travel, I’ve tried a lot: from cheap $8 H&M flats that break in a month and almost broke my feet to $80 Toms that look great and last okay but don’t pack well… The search continues!
I recently had the chance to try the Ballerine flat from Softstar Shoes. Read on to learn more about these flats and determine if they might be the perfect alternative to Tieks for you, your style, your feet, and your carryon.
A Recap: My Tieks Review
If you remember, I have a long, pretty much glowing review of Tieks. I wrote it for the first time in January 2017 and have updated it a few times since.
In my review, I talk about how well Tieks hold up, my comfort in them, and how to travel with them. I road-tested Tieks while traveling through Europe for five months, and when I got home I bought a second pair.
Unfortunately, the second pair has not been as good as my first pair. The quality and craftsmanship have changed subtly, and though my first pair is now old enough that my toes are starting to wear through, my second pair looks just as old. That’s a big bummer when you’re dropping $175 per pair.
I’m always on the lookout for flats that travel well and go with everything — because I travel all the time and always pack an assortment of outfits. Like you, I was on the hunt for a flat comparable for Tieks.
Introducing the Softstar Ballerine Flat
Early this summer, I heard about the Softstar Ballerine Flat. Presented as a possible alternative to Tieks, I decided to learn more. Could I really find a comfortable, travel-friendly pair of flats that didn’t seem to fall apart after a few trips? Was there a good company looking to help us lady travelers find comfy flats?
The answer is yes! Softstar is an Oregon-based company that produces what they call “Minimal shoes,” read: shoes that aren’t bulky, clunky, or garish. They use eco-friendly materials, hand-make their shoes in the U.S. (in Oregon), and have styles for men, women, and kids.
While they have a variety of shoes, their Ballerine flat is among their most popular women’s style. It toes the line between the more funky/casual/comfy designs (like the Roo moccasin and Phoenix boot) and common designs at other shoe companies.
I decided to give Ballerines a try. Knowing I won’t buy another pair of Tieks, I only have a few months before I need a good alternative! Here’s my review of the Softstar Ballerines.
Quality & Comfort: Reviewing Ballerine Flats
Is it possible for flats to be too comfortable?! ?
I know that’s the literal opposite of what most women say about their shoes. My Ballerines are so comfortable, I almost feel like I’m wearing slippers. Like I shouldn’t go out of the house because no outdoors shoe could possibly be this comfy!
From the first time I slipped on a pair (not the pair I ended up keeping), I was shocked how buttery soft the leather was. It hugs your foot, almost like a low sock, and there’s little structure in the shoe to keep its shape – your foot does that.
The Vibram sole also makes them super comfortable to stand in, despite seeming like a quite thin sole when you look at them. I don’t have flat feet or other issues that make most shoes uncomfortable, but I’m guessing you’ll need extra support in these flats; probably the same insoles you wear in other shoes.
The only comment I have on comfort is that the thinness of the sole makes me feel like I can feel everything beneath my feet. For example, crossing the textured yellow ramp at intersections, I can feel that. I step on a gap between pieces of sidewalk, I can feel it. I can imagine cobblestones would be unpleasant – but I’ll be testing this in London later this month, and will report back!
In terms of quality, I have no complaints. Ballerines are beautifully made (in Oregon) and have held up through the few months I’ve been wearing them. All this is good, because, like Tieks, when you invest in a pair of flats you want them to feel good and last!
Style: Wearing Ballerines with Everything in my Suitcase
On the spectrum of the flats I own, my Ballerines are somewhere on the more casual end. (The fanciest looking flats are my Toms Juttis; the most casual are my beat-to-heck Tieks that first inspired my review.)
At the core, Ballerines are a casual flat that can be dressed up or down – and their versatility directly depends on having ways to match them to your outfit. As usual, if you go for the black Ballerines, you’re going to be able to wear them with almost anything in your wardrobe that doesn’t require heels. If you go for a less conventional color like Oxblood or Pacific, it might be harder to dress them up.
Since I don’t travel with my whole wardrobe, and I dress pretty casually to begin with, I’ve had no problem creating lots of outfits where my Oxblood Ballerines complement one of the colors I’m wearing or serve as the colorful element in a neutral outfit.
Travel-ability: Are Ballerines Good for Travel?
This is the one area where I give a resounding ‘yes:’ Softstar Ballerines are a great flat for traveling.
First of all, Ballerines are very lightweight. One of the worst parts of being a lady traveler is needing shoes for every occasion and every pair weighing a million pounds. If you are a carry-on-only traveler like me, you actually feel the weight from schlepping all of those shoes around!
The thin sole and supple leather allow you to press them basically flat in the tiniest part of your bag. Additionally, the flexible Vibrams sole means you can fold them in half, just like Tieks. Heck, you can even roll them up, if that’s your packing style.
As a simple flat, they’re perfect for traveling. They may not hold up for the variety of occasions you could potentially encounter while traveling (if say, you’re a fashion Instagram ‘influencer’ and go from exploring the city streets to the penthouse suite of some comped hotel…), but they’re comfortable as day shoes and can get you in anywhere flats are acceptable footwear.
Cost: A Cheaper Alternative to Tieks?
As I’ve hinted, Softstar Ballerines are not a golden ticket of super-comfy, durable, stylish, travel-friendly and affordable shoes.
But let me hop on a quick soapbox here: women are on the hunt for that golden ticket shoe, when it’s totally not fair to the shoe companies. It’s hard work to make attractive, high-quality shoes that fit well and cost $20. If you find those shoes, lemme know.
For the rest of us, if you want shoes that look good and last – flats or not –, you need to be willing to invest.
Ballerines start from $150 per pair. There are four main colors at that price, plus a pair that has a ‘sport closure’ (a strap to help keep them on if you’re super adventurous in them). You can also customize your Ballerines and choose from 40 different colors and materials – and various materials and add-ons can take up the price as high as $195.
Actually, a pair of bespoke leather ballerina flats in your favorite color for under $200 is actually a good deal.
Is Softstar a Good Company to Buy Shoes From?
One of my biggest gripes about Tieks (aside from their declining quality over the past few years) is their company. In my interactions, their customer service and marketing teams were tolerant of me (as a paying customer!) at best – rude at worst.
My experiences with the team at Softstar have been 180-degrees different. Their customer service is great, and I was able to easily swap pairs when I got the wrong size. I’m not sure about exchanges on custom Ballerine designs, but I am confident they’ll try to make it work if you end up with the wrong shoe or size.
With that, I’ll leave my final, positive endorsement: Softstar Ballerines are a good, comparable, slightly-cheaper alternative to Tieks. In their own right, they’re the most comfortable flats I’ve ever owned, are fantastic for traveling, and look good with my wardrobe (at home or on the road).
Questions? Comments? Contact me and I’ll try to answer!
[info]This post was produced in partnership with Softstar Shoes. I was provided with a complimentary pair of Ballerines in exchange for this post. The team at Softstar had no input into the final content I’ve included – the opinions here (the goods and the bads) are based on my experience.[/info]