We exist during an age in which trainers rule supreme. No longer are these sporty shoes reserved solely for track and field. Today you can even wear them to the office, or dress them up with tailoring.
It’s a glorious time to be alive – if you ask us – and there are a number of labels responsible for making it such a pleasure. Below, we showcase the greatest sneaker brands on the face of the earth right now, along with the reasons why they’re the best at doing what they do.
When you’ve got world-class athletes, drooling sneakerheads and the general public alike all strutting around town wearing your sneakers, you must be doing something right.
Oregonian sportswear don Nike certainly is. The brand is responsible for some of the most iconic sneaker silhouettes in history and a lot of the industry’s most trailblazing new technology. If there’s one sports footwear brand to rule them all, Nike is it.
It’s the biggest question in sneaker culture: Nike or Adidas? For those in the latter camp, throwback styles, high-profile celebrity collaborations and boundary-pushing production techniques all play a part in the Three Stripes’ appeal.
The German brand is the go-to for retro classics, terrace favourites and hip-hop icons. But its forward-thinking approach to design keeps the output fresh and interesting as opposed to just relying on the archives.
For classic sports silhouettes with a dose of British charm, no brand is doing it better than Reebok.
The Bolton-born label has been doing its thing since 1958 and many of its most popular models have remained unchanged in decades. But why would you want to change them? These simple sports kicks are as timeless as they come and should be on every self-respecting stylish man’s shoe rack.
Hoka One One
Up until fairly recently, the only people raving about French brand Hoka One One were hardened endurance athletes and habitual marathon runners. Today, things are different.
The chunky sneakers championed by the label have found favour with a more fashion-savvy crowd, thanks to a string of hookups with the likes of Engineered Garments and Opening Ceremony. It’s all part of a wider trend for functional clothing and performance gear, but even if you can’t see yourself rocking a pair around town, you may have just found your new gym shoes.
French alpine-sports brand Salomon is hardly a newcomer to the running shoe market, but over the past few years it’s been making inroads into fashion, too.
The label is widely praised for its trail-running shoes, such as the Speedcross 4 and the S/Lab series, but these days you’re just as likely to see them peppering the front row of Fashion Week as running the Moab 240. With their techy styling and aggressive appearance, Salomon’s sneakers are about as far as it gets from classic and minimalist, but with a cult following that’s been growing steadily year on year, it looks like the label’s footing in the sneaker market is only going to get stronger.
“Nike or adidas” might be the biggest question in the sneaker world, but that’s got to be pretty frustrating for Puma. The German brand was actually set up by Rudi Dassler (brother of Adi, the man behind the Three Stripes) and despite having produced some truly iconic shoes, the brand never quite managed to topple its estranged sibling from the sportswear throne.
That could change in the future, though, because in addition to timeless essentials like the Puma Suede, this heritage brand has been instrumental in bringing the maximalist sneaker trend to a mainstream audience through modern classics like the Thunder Spectra and the RS-X.
No brand has done more for sneakers than Nike’s Air Jordan. The basketball-shoe brand single-handedly gave rise to sneaker culture as we know it today and many of the world’s most coveted kicks are adorned with the iconic Jumpman logo.
The Air Jordan 1 established the idea of a “pro model”, not just in basketball but across sports in general, something which is now widespread in everything from athletics to extreme sports. The label’s impact on footwear and the wider sporting world is impossible to overstate and it’s well worth picking a pair up yourself to see why.
Helmed by design maverick Demna Gvasalia, Balenciaga has been the label behind some of the most coveted shoes in fashion over the past few years. The sleek, knitted stylings of the Balenciaga sock trainer spurred countless imitations, while the triple S paved the way for the chunky sneaker trend that is still rippling through menswear to this day.
A true trendsetter in the world of fashion footwear, the Spanish house even managed to make trail running shoes cool – and when you can do something like that, the possibilities are endless.
The iconic fashion house has had many faces over the years, but one thing has remained the same: Gucci’s footwear offering has always been top of the food chain, which makes sense when you consider that at its core the Italian brand remains a leather goods label.
Sneakers are no exception, whether it’s the embroidered goodness of the now-iconic Ace model or something with more of a retro spin, Gucci has it covered.
Mysterious Belgian tastemaker Martin Margiela was renowned for keeping a low profile and letting his work do the talking. And even though the designer has long left his eponymous brand, his values and aesthetic live on.
Best known for its luxury take on the classic German army trainer, the Replica model is, well, a replica of a military issue sneaker given to German soldiers. However, reimagined in premium materials and featuring quirky design motifs, this is not your average pair of pumps.
If you were forced to pick one brand to deck your entire wardrobe out in, there would be worse choices than Brunello Cucinelli. The Italian label is the king of luxury casualwear and the fun doesn’t have to stop at your ankles.
Simple, stylish and crafted from the finest materials to be found, Brunello Cucinelli’s sneaker offering is every bit as wardrobe friendly as its clothing. Think clean, white minimalist tennis shoes and brown leather trainers so smart they could put your Derbies out of work.
Those Italians really know their way around a good piece of leather, and nowhere is this more evident than in the luxury sneakers offered by century-old footwear brand Tod’s.
A traditional shoemaker at heart, Tod’s has applied the same artisan techniques used in its trademark casual shoes and applied them to its trainers. The result is a range of sporty kicks with the DNA of a traditional Italian-made shoe. Yes, they’re at the upper end of the pricing spectrum, but as is often the case, you get what you pay for.
Plain white trainers are all well and good. In fact, they’re one of the cornerstones of any stylish wardrobe. But if you want something extra from your pared-back kicks, look no further than Axel Arigato.
The Swedish label is relatively young, having only come into existence in 2013. However, in that time it has cemented its reputation as the go-to brand for low-key, quirky footwear, separating themselves from the crowd through details such as laceless construction, platform soles and cap toes.
The brainchild of the supremely talented Adam Lewenhaupt, Swedish label C.QP’s sneakers redefine stealth street luxury. Completely unbranded, designed in Stockholm and made using the finest Italian leathers and suedes, they have quickly become a favourite of menswear insiders.
C.QP (featured image, top) launched their Tarmac model just 5 years ago but it rapidly garnered acclaim from those in the know. The label has since added new models like the Atlon, a 1970s-inspired running shoe, and Jetty, a premium slip-on silhouette. Each is the epitome of understated cool.
Although they may have started with minimalist sneakers and perfecting the basics, online-only footwear brand Oliver Cabell have cemented themselves among the sneaker giants with an array of hypebeast-enticing designs and colourways.
With limited-edition drops selling out as quickly as they come and a stable of solid, highly diverse basics, the brand is the perfect browsing option for both sneakerheads and minimalism-minded style hounds alike.
There’s a lot of competition in the minimalist sneaker world. Uniform Standard know this well because for fifteen years the heads behind the British brand were designing them (be it for household names). 2018 saw them go it alone and as a result the brand entered the market as serious contenders.
With Uniform Standard it’s all about minimal design, responsible engineering and enough variation for a truly unique style. They do timeless classic silhouettes in a variety of materials and colour ways with the results always proving to be effortlessly cool.
If the Balenciaga Triple S is the king of bulky kicks, then the Common Projects Achilles Low is the same for luxurious, high-end minimalist trainers.
Buttery-soft Italian leather, hand-stitched construction and subtle gold branding are par for the course. But more importantly, the sleek, stripped-back design can be worn with anything from selvedge jeans and a hoodie to tailored separates. There are few brands that can offer that level of versatility.
Swedish footwear brand Spalwart was the result of two friends stumbling upon some old trainer moulds in a factory in Slovakia. After deciding to put them to use and see what the resulting shoes would turn out like, Spalwart was born.
The label’s range has a distinctly retro feel to it, with styles that run the gamut from 1970s runners to canvas basketball shoes. All have two things in common though: uncluttered styling and a wabi-sabi aesthetic that has made them a go-to for fashion industry insiders.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – that pretty much sums up Converse’s philosophy when it comes to footwear. The brand’s most popular model, the Chuck Taylor All Star, has remained unchanged for over a century and is still flying off shelves across the globe today.
Granted, you’re not going to get forward-thinking technology or innovative materials. What you will get, though, is a timeless pair of trainers you can keep trotting our year after year as part of almost any outfit you can think of.
Whether you’re an endurance runner or a devout sneakerhead, chances are New Balance is a label you think of highly. With production of the brand’s premium trainers split between the UK and USA, these are some of the finest day-to-day shoes you will find.
Next-level comfort and handsome looks are the name of the game here, but keep your eyes peeled for frequent limited releases and even the odd collaboration, too.
Vans has been producing durable, stylish and – most importantly – affordable sneakers for skaters across the globe since the sixties. These are kicks designed to be worn everyday and able to withstand a battering – looking all the better for it.
The California-based label’s signature Old Skool, Classic and Authentic models are considered icons within the industry and it’s testament to the simplicity of these designs that they are now spotted on the feet of everyone from fashion editors and stylists to hip-hop stars and streetwear aficionados.
Slovakian footwear brand Novesta has achieved cult status in the contemporary menswear world thanks to its heavy-duty canvas plimsolls and retro runners. If you’re looking for a left-field alternative to your Chuck Taylors or Old Skools, this is exactly what you need.
Chunky rubber soles, oversized eyelets and understated styling have made the brand’s Star Master something of an icon, and they even have a little picture of a hiker on the bottom. Although we wouldn’t advise scaling any mountains in them.
Granted, Asics is a sportswear company first and foremost. However, where sneakers are concerned it’s the Japanese brand’s everyday classics that steal the show for us.
Specialising in retro runners, classically styled but with offbeat design motifs like split tongues and gel technology in the soles, Asics is making some of the best lifestyle sneakers around. Check out throwback styles such as the Gel-Lyte III, as well as high-tech kicks like the Gel Kayano, to get a taste of what we’re talking about.
It’s probably fair to say that Finland isn’t exactly the most dominant force in the sneaker industry. But Karhu is on a mission to put its Northern European motherland on the sports-footwear map.
Known for its retro running silhouettes and off-beat lacing systems, Karhu is one of the most visually distinctive sneaker brands we’ve come across. And while you may not be familiar with the name, you more than likely own something with it’s old logo on, as Karhu actually sold the Three Stripes trademark to Adidas back in 1952.
NYC label Aprix (pronounced “ah-pree”) is what happens when you take one former Supreme creative director, a dose of minimalism, some beachy styling and filter it all through a skate-culture lens.
Brendon Babenzien, who is also responsible for preppy streetwear label Noah, is the creative force behind the brand. Designs are simple yet instantly recognisable and often realised in eye-catching block colours. If you’re looking to add a dash of personality to an outfit, this would be a good place to start.
Stepney Workers Club
What can you do with a simple canvas sneaker that hasn’t already been done a thousand times? You’d be forgiven for thinking not much. Yet east London brand Stepney Workers Club has somehow managed to breathe new life into the rudimentary canvas kick.
With thick chunky soles, stitched detailing to the uppers and timeless styling, the label’s Dellow model has gained a cult following and makes the perfect alternative to a pair of Vans or Converse.