As far as modern-day footwear essentials go, minimal sneakers are right up there at the top of the list. With their clean, pared-back designs and luxurious calf leather or suede uppers, these are shoes you can wear with virtually anything, from chinos to jeans to tailoring.
It’s a style that Common Projects practically invented with the release of its now-iconic Achilles model back in 2004, so you’d be forgiven for seeking out the American brand first and foremost when looking to invest in a pair.
However, with success comes imitation, and in the near 20 years since their launch a number of new up-and-comers have been creating their own distinct take on the style, meaning there are now a plethora of Common Projects alternatives on the market (whisper it: many of them a lot more affordable). Here are some of our favourites, at every price point.
Another brand making use of Italy’s dedication to quality is Oliver Cabell. the American brand uses leather tanned in Vicenza, a region renowned for its textiles, and produces its shoes out of two workshops in Le Marche on the eastern coast of Italy.
Cabell is well known for its transparency, even going as far as to call out other brands (including Common Projects) in its price breakdown, which it features on every shoe. It offers sneakers at roughly half the price of CP and with apparently no less quality, albeit with a few minor differences.
Many brands claim to produce their sneakers in the best factories while using the finest quality leathers. But with Crown Northampton this claim rings true. Made in the same factory as its exemplary leather shoes, Crown’s sneakers are hand-finished with first-grade leather and suede sourced from the likes of Horween and CF Stead.
Fully lined in leather with a cork-filled footbed and constructed using traditional shoemaking techniques, these are minimal kicks of the highest order.
CLAE has been operating out of Los Angeles since 2001, a whole three years prior to Common Projects. An early proponent of the minimal white sneaker then, and a brand with over two decades experience in producing them, it’s fair to say CLAE knows a thing or two about simple, considered design.
With a range that runs the gamut from minimal white tennis shoes to chunkier, basketball-inspired high-tops, CLAE’s shoes are made using smooth Italian leather, water-repellent nubuck and suede, but also come available in organic vegan materials.
Founded in Lisbon in 2014, JAK was slightly late to the party. But the brand’s commitment to fair pricing and focus on outstanding materials has enabled it to cut through the noise and garner market share in a relatively short period of time.
JAK sells directly to consumers, cutting out the middle man and enabling it to offer lower price points than many of its competitors. Not only that, its standout designs come available in all manner of finishes and colourways, from sand suede through to all-black leather, making it the go-to if you’re after something else other than plain white.
Axel Arigato is one of the best-known Common Projects alternatives. The brand made its name off refined, minimal sneakers which often feature signature branding on the vamp and slightly pumped-up details, from chunkier soles through to contrast panelling.
Incredibly easy to wear, especially as part of a pared-back look, Axel Arigato is a go-to brand for those after minimal sneakers with a more fashion-forward feel.
While many brands on this list favour Italy as their production hub, ETQ has turned to the very best artisans in Portugal for its beautifully-made designs.
In the quest for the perfect white sneaker, ETQ has left no stone unturned, using only the finest, metal-free tanned leather and natural rubber outsoles. Other indicators of quality include tonal metal eyelets, memory foam insoles and nylon laces for longevity.
Zespa started in 2009 in the south of France, with the simple idea of trying to translate the relaxed elegance of the Mediterranean into its shoes. It started with espadrilles but quickly moved onto sneakers in 2014, channelling high-end luxury and making use of the finest materials around, from Italian nappa leather to 100% combed cotton laces.
The brand is renowned for its classic ZSP4 design, which is accented using vibrant shades of blue, orange, red or yellow, injecting a splash of colour into even the most minimal of wardrobes.
Based in Stockholm, C.QP channels classic Scandinavian design in its expertly crafted trainers. Revered for its minimal styles and use of buttery-soft calf leather, the Swedish brand has introduced a number of subtle variations on the classic minimal sneaker over the years.
Standouts include its Racquet SR shoe, which features an ever-so-slightly taller rubber sole as well as a supple leather or suede upper that will conform to the foot through repeated wear for incredible comfort.
With a focus on responsible production and craftsmanship, Uniform Standard is a fine alternative to Common Projects. Designed in east London and made using quality Italian leather, the brand’s commitment to minimalism ensures its designs are suitably simple and easy to wear, while subtle detailing includes contrasting gum soles and the occasional flash of colour on the heel.
Artisan Lab shuns mass production in favour of small batch, made-to-order runs that ensure only those who purchase its sneakers ahead of time get a pair. That means far less waste than other brands who manufacture first and sell later.
What’s more, Artisan Lab’s shoes are truly minimal, with no extraneous detailing or superfluous branding. As such, expect a carefully curated offering consisting of timeless tennis styles as well as retro basketball-inspired mid-tops, all produced by the finest craftspeople Italy has to offer.