A podiatrist even says they're "a great inexpensive alternative."

By Susan Brickell
July 11, 2020
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Every summer, there are a few things I especially look forward to: beach days with friends, (more) frequent trips to my local ice cream shop, watching fireflies at night, and busting out my Birkenstocks. Lately, I've been seeing more city-dwellers hitting the streets in Birks, which proves old-school cork sandals are not only a fashion statement but that the classic leathery, strappy look has never really gone out of style.

I caved and bought my first pair of Birkenstocks (as an adult) a few years ago, and have found them to be one of the most comfortable and convenient sandals I own. They slip on with such ease—whether I'm throwing them on with shorts to walk my dog or with a sundress for dinner—go with everything in my wardrobe, and are even comfortable enough to double as slippers. The problem? I want them in every color, but my bank account isn't having it.

Naturally, I went on a hunt for the best knock-off Birkenstocks (I have no shame) and happened upon a pair on Amazon that look ~practically~ identical to the ones I have in my closet: the Cushionaire Lane Cork Footbed Sandal with +Comfort (Buy It, $25, amazon.com).

And get this: they are only 25-freaking-dollars—a far cry from the $130 I paid for my legit Birkenstock sandals. But I'm no sucker—even when it comes to a deal—so, of course, I checked out the reviews. But these shoes have a 4.6-star rating on Amazon with over 1,000 shoppers giving them five stars. Dang. Cushionaire also makes a knock-off version of Birkenstock's Mayari Sandals for $25. Decisions, decisions.

If you're like me and have also considered buying knock-off Birkenstocks, you might be wondering if the slides masquerading as Birks are actually the ~real deal~ and healthy for your feet. Velimir Petkov, D.P.M., founder of Premier Podiatry in Clifton, New Jersey, gives the lowdown on whether the Cushionaire cork sandal is as good for your feet as the OG Birks.

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First things first, the Cushionaire sandals have deep, cushy heel cups that help stabilize your foot by aligning it to your ankle and the rest of your body, says Petkov. "While it is not nearly as effective as custom-molded orthotics, it can help lightly correct both overpronation (where your foot rolls inward excessively) and supination (where it doesn't roll inward enough)," he adds. Petkov points out that their orthotic-like footbeds and heel cups add comfort and support, while the structure of the sandal encourages equal weight distribution to help relieve pressure on the heel. Also nice: The thick cork footbed helps absorb shock to reduce pain or tightness in your feet and joints, offering relief for those with foot issues and painful conditions such as plantar fasciitis.

One way Cushionaire sandals are similar to Birkenstocks (besides the fact they look nearly the same) is that both brands use ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) for their soles, which Petkov likes for its lightness, durability, and rubber-like properties. "It provides cushioning without compromising in the stability department," he explains. They also both have adjustable buckles and are available in wide sizes, helping to accommodate wider feet and adding extra comfort for all-day wear. Since your feet swell during the day—especially when it's hot—having the ability to loosen your straps is a great option when you're walking for extended periods of time, notes Petkov.

The differences between these knock-off Birkenstocks and the real deal? Birkenstock sandals are made in Germany using the brand's high-quality contoured cork and rubber footbeds, which cradle your feet, says Petkov. Many Birkenstocks are also made with real leather, making them sturdy and breathable. Meanwhile, Cushionaire's model is crafted with authentic leather (suede) insoles, but vegan leather/suede straps, which is slightly less durable, but typically softer, he adds. The downside to choosing a suede finish: It can stain more easily.

Since the price point is so low, you're simply not getting the same quality with the Cushionaire sandals as you would be with Birks—the soles may eventually fall apart and the color could fade over time. Keep in mind that worn-out shoes elevate the risk for heel pain, stress fractures, Achilles tendonitis, and even ankle sprains, warns Petkov. So, if you plan to wear the heck out of your Cushionaire sandals, you might need to replace them every season (or every other summer). But if you purchase them to wear after workouts, to the beach, or on occasional outings, chances are, they'll hold up and you won't need to buy a replacement pair anytime soon. (All that said, one Amazon reviewer said she's had her pair of Cushionaire knock-off Birkenstocks for two years and that they're holding up well.)

If you feel like splurging, Petkov swears by his own Birkenstock sandals, which have stood the test of time. "I've had a pair of Birkenstock sandals for eight years and I wear them regularly," he says. He notes that they've held up over the years, which speaks to their durability, quality, and reputation for being a very well-made shoe. You can snap up the OG Birkenstock Arizona Leather Sandal (Buy It, from $90, amazon.com), or opt for the strappier Birkenstock Mayari Sandals (Buy It, from $90, amazon.com) if you prefer a secure loop around your big toe.

Overall, Petkov says that a pair of Cushionaire sandals is a great inexpensive alternative to Birks as long as you have realistic expectations in terms of quality and durability. While I love my Birkenstocks, I also love a good deal. Doing the math, I could even score two pairs of Cushionaire sandals (in matte for everyday wear and metallic for when I'm feeling fancy), and spend a fraction of the cost of a new pair of Birks. These sandals deliver comfort and style, are vetted by a podiatrist, and have the approval of Amazon shoppers, which makes this a no-brainer in my eyes. I think I just found my new summer sandals, y'all.

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