foot week

I Buy These Trainers (Worn by Shaolin Monks) in Multiples

Photo-Illustration: Anna Fielding

Four years ago, I spotted a really cool girl on the Victoria line. I’d worked late and I was tired, but she still caught my eye. I had the distance between between Kings Cross and Finsbury Park to realise that it was her shoes that I liked the most. They were slightly vintage-looking plimsolls, white canvas with a blue and a red chevron. I was subconsciously hunting for some non-Stan Smith white trainers, without really knowing what I was hunting for. But here they were: everything went soft-focus and bluebirds with heart-eyes flew around my head. They were the kind of shoes that would skip across a suburban lawn in a Sofia Coppola film, they would be kicked off sur la plage in a French influencer’s post, they would cross the thresholds of art galleries and architecture practices and record shops.

After some experimental Googling (because the brand name isn’t the easiest to read quickly and surreptitiously) I found the correct spelling and started looking for places to buy them. It turns out they’re by a Chinese brand called Feiyue. The trainers originated in 1920s Shanghai, where they were adopted by martial arts practitioners. These days parkour enthusiasts use them too, as do Chinese school children doing PE lessons, and Shaolin monks. They are lightweight plimsolls, with a canvas body and a cushioned sole. They have bounce. They have grip. And unlike other plimsolls, they’re actually supportive.

My first purchase were a pair in white, identical to those I spotted on the tube. I now own three pairs and have worn them with torn jeans, silk dresses and short shorts. I own one pair in black with a red chevron and two in the white colourway, (because then I still have a pair to wear when one is in the wash). At under £30 a pair, they’re affordable enough that I have also been eyeing up the grey and orange. The cushioned soles are squidgy, unlike the flat-footed feeling you can get with other canvas shoes. The seam at the back is also covered with a half-moon of extra canvas, meaning they don’t rub and give you bloody ankles as you break them in (Feiyue don’t need breaking in). You can easily wear them without socks, and – good for the sockless to know – I’ve also found they stand up to repeat washing machine cycles. They stay looking fresh, whites white and colours sharp, longer than any pair of Converse. They don’t fall to pieces, as Keds can, even if you treat them badly and kick them off without bothering to undo the laces.

You can buy Feiyue in various shoe shops (and Amazon), but I prefer to stick to martial arts suppliers: Yellow Mountain are my retailer of choice and import directly from China. Going to a sports specialist is cheaper (especially if, like me, you can purchase children’s sizes) – and as they import directly from China, your purchase comes wrapped in egg yolk-yellow paper with red hanzi characters on.

Some other Strategist-recommended white trainers

Contributor Alice Gregory found these French plimsolls by chance. She likes their “flatteringly low vamp”, and they fact that they are floppy enough that you can just shove your foot into them and flip up the heel.”

Meanwhile, Liha Beauty co-founder Abi Oyepitan likes these all-leather high-tops. “I’m all about the throwbacks; they just remind me of growing up in the ’80s and ’90s,” she says. “Weirdly, I wasn’t really keen on them back then but love them now.” She wears them with “superthick socks over my skinny jeans for true ’80s style” and notes that they look good with shorts too.

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I Buy These Trainers (Worn by Shaolin Monks) in Multiples