There was a time not so very long ago when attending a special event in a pair of sneakers was a surefire way to flag yourself to your shiny-shoed peers as a sartorial pariah. However, sneakers are now en vogue, with the best sneaker brands constantly innovating new and stylish footwear. Attitudes have shifted in unforeseen ways and what was once the scruffy outlier is now the footwear gold standard.
The transition from running track to the runway has been a slow and gradual one, but in recent years it has reached a crescendo; a crescendo that looks set to blare on indefinitely. This is thanks in no small part to a number of key designers and best shoe brands who have been pushing footwear to its limits in every conceivable direction.
Some have created white leather kicks that look right at home with tailoring. Others are inventing technology that might as well have come straight out of a lab at Area 51 (or just Back to the Future). Meanwhile, there are those who have elevated the sneaker from its utilitarian roots to the absolute pinnacle of high fashion it is today.
Here we take a look at the most influential sneaker brands in the world right now and what they’re doing to help elevate the world’s favorite footwear.
Yeah, in 2016 Nike really did go back to the future and produced Marty McFly’s self-lacing sneakers. But this is just one instance when the brand seemingly reached through a tear in spacetime and brought us something directly from the future, making it the biggest trendsetter in sneakers and a reliable barometer for what’s around the corner.
Founded in 1964 by University of Oregon track-and-field coach Bill Bowerman, the brand has a long track record of world-beating performance footwear as well as technological innovation (Flyknit uppers and NikeID personalization in the last decade). More than that, Nike knows how to create products that live up to their considerable hype. It has more icons in its back catalog than any other sneaker brand. Air Max, Air Force 1, and Air Jordan are all sneaker dynasties in their own right and go back further and you’ll find even more classic retro sneakers like the Cortez and the Blazer.
Still the most recognizable. Still the most wanted. Still, the ones to beat.
Who would have thought that a leather specialist would be one of the best sneaker brands in the world? On top of timeless dress shoes, Morjas crafts slick suede and leather sneakers that you’ll still be wearing ten years down the road.
Since Morjas delivers its shoes directly to the consumer, it cuts out the middleman and reduces costs without skimping on quality. All shoes are made at Morjas’ factory in a small village in Spain with impeccable craftsmanship and fine detailing. It’s the little things that count, and we’re huge fans of sneaker brands that prioritize quality in their products.
Morjas sneakers are ideal for the modern man who’s tired of the same old runners. The brand’s sneakers are suitable for both work and play, complementing anything from smart casual to Sunday sweatsuits. With 3 signature styles, Morjas keeps it simple, complete with stunning neutral colorways and a comfort-driven fit.
Luxury at an accessible price point, Swedish brand Myqvist has cracked the code. They’ve cut down on retail costs by shipping directly to their customers, which results in high quality shoes at a fraction of the price. Though they specialize in dress shoes, Myqvist is also one of the best sneaker brands in the world, thanks to its elegant designs.
This brand should be your first port of call for all things fancy sneakers. If you’re looking for something to wear to the office, the calf leather Oaxen’s are as good as any derbies – especially since the leather comes from the Hermes-owned tannery in France.
But if you’re hunting for more weekend wear, we’re really vibing with Myrqvit’s take on the suede dad sneaker. Wear them with joggers or jeans, you’ll look equally as posh.
Løci is disrupting the fashion industry with its ultra-environmentally friendly shoes. In fact, each sneaker made removes 20 plastic bottles from the ocean. Combining vegan and recycled materials, Løci sneakers have come to life, saving our feet and the planet at the same damn time.
This men’s sneaker brand takes eco-conscious to the next level, with the body of the shoes crafted entirely from recycled ocean plastic that’s sourced from the Mediterranean Sea and the coast of Africa. The rest of the sneaker is outfitted with innovative materials, like a comfy cork insole, breathable bamboo lining, and a natural rubber sole.
But what really stands out is you don’t have to choose between style and sustainability. Løci sneakers come in tons of casual forms, from low to high tops. Choose from dozens of colors and bold patterns, or play it safe with a subtle monochrome and your favorite laid-back ‘fit. Whichever way you lean, Løci’s are a solid bet if you’re looking for a responsibly made sneaker that doesn’t fall flat in the fashion department.
5. CROWN NORTHAMPTON
Originally founded in 1908, UK brand Crown Northampton has had plenty of time to perfect its craft. Made using traditional methods from some of the finest materials in the world, this sneaker brand has a strong heritage with plenty of modern-day updates, best seen in their sneaker line.
An upscale minimalist’s dream, the brand excels in hand-stitched leather designs with sleek neutral colorways and flattering cuts. Been hunting for the perfect leather high tops? Trade out your Chuck Taylors for the Abington shoe, a sophisticated calf leather alternative. Rather stick to low cut designs? The Harleston will replace even your nicest dress shoes.
If you’re ready to retire your scruffy kicks, Crown Northampton offers unique upgrades to step up your sneaker game.
The twenty first century brought with it a whole lot of new sneaker brands. Old timers like Nike, Adidas, and even Converse have been around for ages, so it was about time the world saw some newcomers break into the market.
CLAE hopped on the sneaker train in 2001 and has become well loved and respected in the footwear world. Based in Los Angeles, CLAE was developed out of pure passion, along with a love for elegant materials and timeless silhouettes. They utilize premium vegan materials in their sneaker construction, alongside leather and suede. The styles span from trendy to timeless, with something for every kind of man.
CLAE sneakers are best for the guy who’s looking for something different. Whether you choose lace ups, slip ons, high tops, or basketball shoes, there are enough styles to provide variety without being overwhelming. The brand is constantly at the forefront of new designs, so if you’re looking to shake things up without getting too fancy with it, CLAE is the brand for you.
The casual running shoe world has felt stagnant for quite some time, with the same brands cropping up all over and over. If the big names aren’t doing it for you, try Aurélien who lives by their coined phrase ‘Smart Luxury.’ What is that? To the brand, it means unmatched quality for the price point – no reason you need to remortgage your home to look good.
One of their signature shoes, the sustainable Playtime sneaker, was designed with foot anatomy in mind for next-level comfort. Great for long outings or bar hops, these lightweight and eco-friendly sneakers are ready to meet the challenge of looking good and feeling good head-on.
8. AXEL ARIGATO
A Swedish sneaker brand that’s made a splash in the luxury market, Axel Arigato does not disappoint when it comes to footwear. Their timeless style hits a sweet spot between Swedish and Japanese design that’s strikingly minimalist, but never boring.
Anyone fashion-forward gentleman looking to update his sneaker game will greatly benefit from a pair of these kicks. A smattering of simple designs, a handful of neutral colors, and thoughtful details are what you can expect in the footwear department, ideal for the modern man looking for a new go-to sneaker brand.
Take these shoes from the office to happy hour to an evening out on the town and rack up compliments along the way.
9. OLIVER CABELL
Changing the sneaker game since 2015, Oliver Cabell has revolutionized the way we look at and think about designer kicks. With a plethora of high-end styles to choose from, sans the luxury good price markup, Oliver Cabell is one of the best sneaker brands in the world today as they’ve made designer shoes accessible to the masses.
But not only are Oliver Cabell‘s sneakers impossibly stylish, but they make the perfect building blocks for a put-together outfit, whether you’ll be spending the day out on the town or cooped up in the boardroom.
Crafted with only the finest Italian leather using old-school techniques, it’s safe to say that you’ll never be disappointed with a pair of kicks from this life-changing sneaker brand.
10. UNIFORM STANDARD
The Brits do minimalism well, which is why they have some of the best sneaker brands in the world. Uniform Standard checks all the boxes when it comes to the perfect sneakers for men: smart enough to dress up, plenty casual for laid back days, and high quality construction that won’t fall apart, even after dozens of wears.
Using traditional shoe making methods with modern design principles, Uniform Standard specializes in premium full grain leather sneakers. There are eight “series” (shoe models) to choose from, with frequent colorway updates, multiple material options, and thoughtful detailing. We dig the Series 2 slip ons as an alternative to Vans and the Series 5 for more of a retro form with a contemporary twist.
Though they’re still relative newcomers to the game – the brand was founded in 2018 – we love what we’re seeing so far and are hopeful for the future of this fledgling sneaker brand. Choose Uniform Standard if you’re looking for shoes to complete any smart casual outfit or need a change of pace from the same old players.
The ongoing technological arms race between the world’s sneaker brands the big hitters has produced some of the boldest innovations in footwear. Luckily for us, it doesn’t show any sign of letting up.
Ask any sneakerhead on the street who’s in pole position, and they’ll tell you it’s Nike. However, with featherlight materials and mind-bending sole technology, it could be easily argued that good old three-stripes is maneuvering for an overtake. Established in 1949, Adidas has become a global phenomenon led by science.
There are the beloved classics — the Superstar, Stan Smith, and Gazelle all come to mind — and they’re not going away, but in recent years the brand’s R&D lab has become the sneaker world’s Q branch. Forget the Yeezy collab, it was the Ultra Boost that changed the game, and most recently, the German sports giant has been experimenting with 3D printing as a production method for groundbreaking webbed sole units. Don’t take your eyes off them for a second.
It’s incredible (and slightly terrifying) to think about how much the world has evolved in the last 100 years. Commercial flight, television, mobile phones, and the internet are just a few of the inventions that have revolutionized the way we live.
With that in mind, it’s a real triumph of design when something introduced a century ago is still being used globally today.
Converse’s famous high-top, the Chuck Taylor All Star, is one such item. Born in 1917, the iconic basketball shoe has remained 99.9 percent unchanged and is now the best-selling shoe in the US, UK, and far beyond. Yes, this sneaker brand has other excellent shoes, like the Run Star Motion and the Chuck 70s, but this is arguably the most iconic sneaker ever made. And what’s more, it’s for everyone.
13. COMMON PROJECTS
When luxury New York sneaker brand Common Projects first introduced its Achilles Low model in 2004, the menswear world went mad for it. But why? Was it innovative? No. Was it next-level comfortable? Hardly. Did it come in at bargain prices? Quite the opposite.
This shoe was nothing more than a plain, leather sneaker. However, the thing that had the fash pack fawning over this minimalist trainer was that every little detail was meticulously executed to the nth degree. This was a sneaker created like an Oxford shoe handcrafted in Northamptonshire.
Buttery Italian leather, exquisite streamlined shapeliness, and timeless wearability made each pair the perfect accompaniment to anything from a suit to shorts. It arguably started today’s thriving luxury sneaker market, and all of this, in a world now dominated by Balenciaga beetle-crushers, is not to be taken for granted.
14. NEW BALANCE
As time marches on, there are fewer and fewer brands willing to take a financial bullet in the name of quality craftsmanship and have products manufactured on home turf. When talking about sneaker companies, the numbers are lower still.
That’s what makes New Balance one of the best in the game. Not only is the Bostonian firm responsible for some of the comfiest and most iconic running shoes ever made since 1906, but it also produces its premium range half in the US and half in the UK’s Lake District in factories staffed with highly trained craftspeople.
It’s because of this approach to manufacturing that New Balance has a glowing reputation among athletes, sneakerheads, and just everyday folks. From their Fresh Foam Beacons to their 608s, the blend of dad style and modern hipster elite is here to stay, thus earning itself a spot in the FashionBeans hall of fame.
It may not make as much noise as some of its contemporaries, but while they’re all battling it out trying to come up with the next big thing, Puma has been quietly working away in the background, perfecting the classics, since 1948. And inventing a few new ones, too.
A prime example of this is the brand’s take on the chunky sneaker trend. Puma has taken the look, put its own stamp on it, and made it accessible to those whose wallets might not be able to stand up to the strain posed by a luxury pair that cost as much as a month’s rent.
Turn to the Thunder Electric model for a bulky-but-athletic shape and bold nineties-esque color pops, or the covetable Tsugi line for a more stripped-back melding of mesh and neoprene atop a thick cushioned midsole.
From riding empty pools in suburban LA to jumping around on stage at the Warped Tour, Vans has earned itself a deserved reputation as the shoe brand of choice for alternative lifestyles.
Its appeal is due in no small part to the simple styling, timeless appearance, modest pricing, and, of course, plentiful color options offered by its designs. The Old Skool, Classic and Authentic is all instantly recognizable designs that haven’t changed in decades, mainly because they don’t need to.
What has changed is how people wear them. Once a shoe for kids and skaters only, it’s now equally comfortable on rock stars and hip-hop icons, with jeans or casual suiting. From the mid-1960s right up to now, Vans has always offered people a way to add a dash of color and charisma to an outfit without breaking the bank. Something, which has seen its products remain relevant throughout the years, regardless of passing sneaker trends.
Okay, so it’s not exactly shaping the future with its footwear offerings, but when you do the classics (and the Classics) this well, why would you need to?
The British-born company, now a subsidiary of Adidas, is one of the oldest UK sneaker brands, having been established in 1958 as a partner company to an English sporting goods company — something which is evident when you look at its retro silhouettes.
Its best sneakers, like the Club, the Classic, and the Workout are nothing short of iconic and all ooze plenty of that throwback charm we all love so much. They may not be made of knitted mesh and be 3D printed, but they look great, are undeniably comfortable, and are never going to go out of style.
18. HOKA ONE ONE
This niche running shoe brand released its first ‘maximal’ cushioned shoe in 2009, making their running sneakers some of the most comfortable on the market. The brand, founded by two former Salomon employees, not only appeals to athletes — it appeals to all people who crave both comfort and style.
With a range of designs, including the sleek and minimalist Gaviota 3 or something a bit more nostalgic and fun like the Bondi L Suede, Hoka isn’t just for those who run miles each day. Instead, these are the type of comfy sneakers that can get you to the office, the club, the supermarket, and more without the aches and pains.
Lanvin may not have always been the calling card for modern-day CEOs, but they sure know how to set the bourgeoisie from the proletariats. From their chunky Curb Sneakers to their leather and cotton DBB1 sneakers, this luxury fashion was founded by Parisienne Jeanne Lanvin in 1889 (originally as a hat shop!).
From there, the brand exploded into a lifestyle, with the rich and famous making sure everyone knows just who and what they can afford — and this is still true today. With each pair of sneakers averaging about $500 a pair, you want to make sure these shoes last forever. Luckily, their designs are both unique and dazzling, meaning it would be a worthy investment to have your feet looking this good.
Made recognizable by the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, Veja was originally founded in 2003 by two Frenchmen. Supported by a green supply-and-demand chain, these shoes can help you look fresh and keep the planet from its impending climate change doom.
Outside of being an eco-friendly product, Veja also practices pretty radical transparency. Not only did the brand calculate its CO2 emissions, starting with the raw materials, accounting for transportation, the sneaker factories, and transportation for shipping, for the first time in 2019, but they have also released their carbon footprint for 2020.
Sustainability should never go out of style, just like how these vintage, yet practical designs haven’t. From keeping with their classic design in models like the Esplar Leather White Marsala to honing in on high-tops, like V15-CWL, there is a sneaker for every occasion.
With over 120 years of experience under its belt, Saucony knows better than most about what goes into crafting the perfect pair of kicks
The American brand’s casual footwear really taps into the nostalgia, with bold colors acting as a nod to the ‘80s and ‘90, along with busy detailing and plenty of bright white hits to make any outfit pop. This is especially true for their Shadow 6000 model.
Not really in the mood to go back to your childhood? Saucony has plenty of modern sneaker designs to keep your sneaker game on point, including their Excursion TR15 GTX, Omni Walker 3, and more.
Gucci’s sneaker game has come on leaps and bounds in the past few years, thanks in no small part to a bit of TLC from creative director Alessandro Michele.
In fact, it could be argued that the Italian house’s offerings have set a new standard for luxury sneakers, with the clean lines and eye-catching embroidery of the Ace making it the new favorite white sneaker of the fashion elite.
And it’s not just classic styles that Gucci has been turning its hand to. The brand has also combined two of the moment’s most significant trends with its chunky Rhyton trainer, featuring oversized Gucci branding to the side.
Playing the French alps since 1947, this family-founded business didn’t get into the sneaker game until much later. Originally a ski and boot company — and becoming a favorite for the Winter Olympics — Salomon has ventured out beyond the ski slopes to bring hiking boots, sneakers, and more to the population.
Salomon is meant for the man who likes to be one with nature; a man who needs a sneaker brand that doesn’t actually look like an athletic sneaker but can also handle the great outdoors. From their Cross Hike Gore-tex hiking sneaker to S/Lab Cross 2 trail running sneaker and even Sonic 4 Confidence road running sneaker, there is something for every athletic man out there.
The Japanese brand of sneakers, Asics, has a massive and fiercely loyal following among runners and boasts a serious running pedigree — but just because you’re not a runner, doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from these kicks. Established as Onisuka in 1949 (before becoming Asics, this company became the birthplace of, surprisingly, Nike. Founder Phil Knight sold Onitsuka running shoes out of a van before the swoosh was just a twinkle in a marketing man’s eye — which then turned to lawsuits down the line.
However, Asics still proves it has what it takes to provide both a functional and fashionable sneaker with their innovative and dependable daily trainer, Asics Gel-Kayano, and other models such as Gel-Odyssey, Gel-Pulse, and the GT-2000s.
While you may want to save these shoes for the running trails (because hey, you can make an impression anywhere), these will still complete a casual look.
Balenciaga’s output under the guidance of Georgian fashion maverick Demna Gvasalia may be the sartorial equivalent of Marmite or Björk, but whatever you think of his work, there’s no denying he’s changing the face of fashion, one broken ankle at a time.
The sleek, minimalist speed sock was the label’s first standout sneaker with Gvasalia at the helm, which led the way to a few running sneakers from this luxury fashion house. But it was the now-inescapable Triple S that really took things in a new direction.
This beast of a shoe single-handedly remodeled the fashion footwear landscape and made big, chunky silhouettes the new gold standard. Minimalism is giving way to maximalism, and this Spanish fashion house is at the center of it all.
26. AIR JORDAN
Can you confidently call yourself a sneakerhead if your wardrobe isn’t filled with Jordans? Perhaps not.
Technically a Nike creation, but still a brand in its own right, the story is one of the most successful examples of sports marketing in history. After designing the first Air Jordans exclusively for the basketball legend himself, it wasn’t long before Nike opened up production and brought its new creation to the masses in 1984 — before Jordan himself took over the brand. People went crazy for it, leading to a wave of crime in the US that led to people being robbed of their sneakers.
One of the main draws to the shoes for some is the collectible element, with many special releases and collabs being issued in seriously limited runs. Some recent partnerships have included Supreme, Off-White, Levi’s, and Kaws to name only a handful, making this one instance in which you definitely should believe the hype.