Changing the game one stylish step at a time
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, 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 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 sneaker brands who have been pushing the 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 make the world’s favourite footwear.
Nike: Just do it
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.
The brand has a long track record of world-beating performance footwear as well as technological innovation (Flyknit uppers and NikeID personalisation 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 recognisable. Still the most wanted. Still the ones to beat.
Adidas: Impossible is nothing
The ongoing technological arms race between the world’s sportswear 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.
Yes, there are 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.
Converse: Wear sneakers not shoes
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 revolutionised 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, the brand has other excellent shoes, but this is arguably the most iconic sneaker ever made. And what’s more, it’s for everyone.
Puma: Forever faster
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 is quietly working away in the background, perfecting the classics. 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 pair of Balenciagas 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 striped-back melding of mesh and neoprene atop a thick cushioned midsole.
Air Jordan: Take flight
Can you confidently call yourself a sneakerhead if your wardrobe isn’t filled with Jordans? Perhaps not.
Technically, a Nike creation but also 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. People went crazy for it, leading to a wave of crime in the US whereby people were being robbed of their sneakers.
One of the main draws to the shoes for some is the collectable 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.
Reebok: I am what i am
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. 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.