Sneakers are, without doubt, the most popular footwear style worldwide. Resisting the influx of boots and dress shoes, sneakers come in a huge number of styles, colours and materials that all allow us to show off our individual personality. And, because of their ubiquitous nature, pretty much every fashion brand under the sun has their own pairs for you to buy.
This means that all budgets are catered for. Whether you want something cheap and cheerful that you don’t mind giving a beating, or something on the more luxurious end of the scale – including the likes of rare and collectable models that hypebeasts go gaga for – that only make an appearance for special occasions, there is a sneaker brand out there for everyone.
But what sneaker brands exactly should you be looking out for? While it may be true that no matter what physical shop or online store you turn to will have various options demanding your attention, there are some names you absolutely cannot look past, and we’ve rounded them up into this guide. The majority of brands and pairs featured fall well into the affordable category, but we’ve also included a few luxury options for those who want to splash a little more cash.
Always wondered what makes luxury sneakers so expensive? Especially when you consider they look the same as a bargain pair of high-street kicks? Allow us to explain all.
What Makes Sneakers Expensive?
- Use of expensive high-grade leathers e.g. pebble leather, which doesn’t crack as much over time
- Thicker leather – this ensures the shoe retains its shape and looks newer for longer
- Tumbled leather – some mid-range shoe brands use this to achieve a balance between quality and affordability
How To Pick High-Quality Sneakers
- Leathers are the easiest to determine in terms of shoe quality but for performance shoes like Nike Flyknits it’s a bit harder
- For materials like suede and leather, test how flexible it is by bending the shoe
- Smell is also a sign – you can smell the inside of a shoe and if it smells like glue you know it’s been made on the cheap
- A good quality shoe needs to smell like good quality leather – as long as they are new, sniff away
- If they are lightweight they will be using more expensive soles which are generally better quality
- If it doesn’t look like it has a lot of manufacturing hours put in then the manufacturing costs shouldn’t be that high – think Converse
Where Are Luxury Sneakers Are Made?
Plenty of luxury sneakers still pride themselves on being made in Italy but this is not the only country of origin for good quality kicks. These days China has matched the Italians when it comes to sneaker construction technology – according to Sneakerboy founder Chris Kyvetos, it’s a defining reason why Balenciaga moved their operations from Italy to China for their popular Triple S line.
“Even with this move to China, Balenciagas aren’t being made in a sneaker factory – they’re still making them in a women’s shoemaking factory in China which has the tools to create a stitched and turned upper that is applied to a sneaker midsole – a process which can’t be achieved in Italy,” he told us.
Beyond Italy, brands like New Balance continue to manufacture sneakers like their flagship 990 ‘dad shoe’ in the USA, using proven methods that date back decades. So the question really shouldn’t be which country luxury sneakers are made in, but what kind of factory or workshop they come from.
A prime example of this is Adidas’ 4D technology sneakers which require special 3D printing machines to construct the intricate sole. As a result, all Adidas FutureCraft 4D sneakers are made in Germany with materials primarily sourced in Germany.
The Cost Of Sneaker Design
Look at any sneaker blog and you’ll be dazzled by the array of premium designs on offer implementing some of the most innovative materials. Gore-Tex, Flyknit, React, Boost, Primeknit…the list goes on.
You would think that design plays a huge role in driving up costs of any sneaker, but you’d be wrong, Chris Kyvetos told us.
“A lot of these technologies aren’t developed by the sneaker brands for your running pleasure,” he says. Instead, the cost is usually factored into manufacturing, marketing, branding and profits.
Now that you know what you’re after in a decent sneaker, take a look at our pick of the best grey sneakers, blue sneakers, white sneakers and black sneakers.
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Hailing from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Cariuma is a brand that knows all about sustainable fashion. With the Amazon rainforest practically on its doorstep, the company understands the necessity to look after our planet. It's with that in mind that all pairs of sneakers are made in sustainable ways and from sustainable materials such as bamboo or recycled plastics. They look great too, and they're incredibly comfortable. With a huge range of styles and colours on the books, you're guaranteed to find a pair to suit your style.
Oliver Cabell is a newcomer to the sneaker game and offers sneakers built to the highest of standards in Europe without breaking the bank. They offer a range of styles; the minimalistic ‘Low 1’ is our favourite.
Canadian footwear brand Casca is relatively new on the DMARGE radar, and boy do we feel bad for not picking it up sooner. Founded by a duo with expertise in both design and business, the brand offers every single customer customised footwear by way of 3D-modelled insoles. This means you will get the absolute perfect fit, and it will prevent any friends from borrowing them. The company only has one model, the Avro, but it's available in knit and leather options and a variety of colours.
If sustainability and being environmentally conscious are issues you resonate with, then Allbirds is the sneaker brand for you. Every single pair of sneakers is made from renewable materials, such as wool. That doesn't mean design has been sacrificed, as Albirds sneakers are rather handsome, and fully functional. The brand offers waterproof pairs and those designed specifically for running.
It's always good when you can find a product that is versatile, being suitable for a variety of uses. If you wanted a pair of all-day shoes that were incredibly comfortable, yet could also be used as runners, then you have to check out On Running. The Swiss shoemaker products some of the most technically advanced running shoes out there, which make use of their bespoke CloudFoam technology. While most pairs do look and act as runners, the brand has some models that are incredibly good-looking and can be worn throughout the day with casual outfits.
Cole Haan's sneakers are certainly distinctive, and can be spotted a mile away with their rather chunky soles on select pairs. Every pair of sneakers the American brand makes uses high-quality materials and with all the usual silhouettes being taken care of. The brand has even created a dress shoe sneaker hybrid, combining the smart-casual looks of an Oxford with the comfort and practicality of a sneaker. There's plenty more to rave about, such as the brand's commitment to comfort, with lightweight builds and plenty of foam cushioning featuring throughout the collections.
For a slice of affordable luxury, you can count on Hugo Boss. The German brand caters to guys who prefer a slightly more reserved style, as well as though who are happy to let their personality shine through with some eclectic designs. What you can be sure of in any respect is a penchant for quality, with only high quality materials being used throughout. Think 100% genuine leathers and even materials such as bamboo, which the brand uses for insoles to aid with airflow and moisture wicking.
It's a well-known fact that if you want a pair of luxury sneakers, the first place you have to look to is Italy. The region of Marche, in particular, is famed for its quality of leathers and craftsmanship, two qualities that makes Scarosso a brand you need to know. Not only do they source their leather from and handcraft their shoes in Italy, but they sell them on without the middle man, making them incredibly affordable. It's a double win.
Duke & Dexter
While it's true that Italy is home to some exquisite craftsmanship and luxurious leathers, the English follow close behind when it comes to outright quality and heritage. These qualities shine through in the Duke & Dexter brand. A label still in its infancy, D&D designs and makes all its shoes in England and has earned itself a global reputation, and can even be found on the feet of several high-profile celebrities.
Since 1866 this British cobbler has been producing beautiful, high quality dress shoes. In recent times they have evolved into making some of the best looking sneakers available whilst maintaining traditional manufacturing processes and quality.
Veja is a French sneaker label that produces ethically conscious shoes from organic materials and recycled plastic bottles. Their designs are equally as modern as their approach to sustainability. The perfect casual sneaker doesn’t need to hurt the planet.
Luxury fashion house Coach may be best known for its range of leather handbags and accessories, but it also has clothing and footwear collections for you to peruse. As you'd expect, quality is of the highest degree, both in terms of materials used and overall design. With proprietary features and technologies such as CitySole to provide the ultimate in comfort, you can not only look good when walking around, rocking one of the biggest names in global fashion, but you'll feel good too.
Axel Arigato is a Swedish footwear label that is at the forefront the of the international sneaker movement. Their designs are minimalistic and clean with some featuring their signature bird embroidery. Their shoes are high quality and reasonably priced in comparison to other competitors.
This Italian footwear label has been producing sneakers with an edge since 2000. Their most famous design cues are ‘scuffs’, bold colours and interesting materials that are displayed across their range of low and high top sneakers.
Gucci sneakers cover all ends of the sneaker spectrum. On one hand they offer on trend chunky sneakers in an array of bright and bold colours whilst simultaneously offering their paired back, traditional leather sneaker. No matter your taste in sneakers, Gucci will have a pair for you.
Arguably one of the most simple lines of luxury sneakers, and a bonafide streetwear phenomenon – Common Projects are your go-to for sneakers that work with everything, from smart casual to even suits.
French made, this mega brand is your goto for classic white sneakers. Each shoe is made from the finest materials and feature typical, sleek, French design. Be warned, they’re not cheap.
Not traditionally famous for their sneakers, Church’s has been famed for making dress shoes since 1873. They have even been worn by Daniel Craig in the most recent Bond movies. Their sneakers are clean-cut and high quality. What more can you ask for?
Unlike Ferragamo’s dress shoes, their sneakers are modern and contemporary. Their designs combine modern silhouettes and styles with the brands traditional logos and patterns.
Lanvin is the oldest French fashion house in operation today and makes their sneakers to the highest of qualities in Italy. Their ‘Toe-capped’ sneakers are our pick of the bunch.
Balenciaga has been at the forefront of sneaker design in recent times and has fuelled style movements – most notably the chunky sneakers trend with their ‘Triple S’ model. Their approach to design is strictly modern and is at the forefront of the industry.
That oh-so-famous red sole of Christian Louboutin is also available on men's sneakers. Their models feature this iconic design feature as well as other iconic design features of Louboutin’s such as their ‘spikes’. If you’re looking to stand out from the crowd, look no further.
Guiseppe Zanotti has been producing sneakers since 1981 and has become famous for including zippers on the sides of all of his sneakers. This design has since become synonymous with the brand and is an icon among luxury sneakers.
Valentino’s deigns are polished yet exuberant, featuring a combination of bold and refined designs. Their most famous models feature their iconic ‘Rockstuds’ which made their way into men's sneakers from their offering of women's heels.
Tom Ford has quickly become one of the brands in men's fashion today. His designs focus on details that in combination produce a great final product and his sneakers are no excuse.