The Best Sneaker Brands to Buy Now-and After the Peak-Sneaker Bubble Bursts
Listen, man, I'm going to level with you: if you're just pulling up to the sneaker party now, you're more than fashionably late. The lights are coming up. The cops are on their way to shut it down. All that's left now is a few stragglers still lurching around on the front lawn and one half-dressed couple aggressively canoodling in the bushes.
As we rapidly throttle towards the precipice of a post-sneaker reality, it seems an apt time to take stock of the current options on the market. Because guess what? It won't really be a post-sneaker society. Sneakers are always going to be around. Like your long-suffering mother assured you as a child when you yet again failed to secure that sweet, sweet invite text to Sara's epic annual summer pool party: There's always the next one. Maybe if you didn't spend so much time dawdling in front of the mirror admiring your outfit before you left, you might've actually made it on time. What's that? That's just me? Fuck it, parties are never that fun anyway. (Not when I'm there, that's for sure.) The only friends I need are the ones I can I conveniently shelve and put away on a rack outside my front door.
As satisfying as it is to imagine a world where every single well-dressed dude is wearing, like, a pair of snuff suede loafers, we're still well away from making that image anything more than a fantasy your curmudgeonly older uncle reassures himself with so he can fall asleep at night. Stick it your uncle and wear a pair of sneakers to the next family reunion, and when he starts going off again about "what that PC culture has turned this country into" simply point to your shoes and smile.
Stay gold, sneakerheads.
The broad strokes of Nike's origin story are, at this point, as familiar as the Portland-based brand's logo. Originally founded as Blue Ribbon Sports in 1964, the company was rebranded as Nike Inc. (named for the Greek goddess of victory) in 1971, and the swoosh was rolled out later that year. The rest, as they say, is history. Nike is the Jay-Z of athletic apparel: The company's got such an extensive backlog of beloved hits it's hard to choose only a few to highlight. That the sportswear giant has maintained its relevancy is a massive credit to its constant ability to innovate and adapt to the times, often shaping the cultural zeitgeist through savvy collaborations with the most notable names in the creative industries. Nike is routinely ranked as one of the most valuable brands in the world, by any metric, but its true strength as a global name might be its street credibility, as reflected in its ability to authentically connect with emerging subcultures, and not just athletes, across the globe. Simply put, The Swoosh rarely misses. Don't expect that to change any time soon.
Though the Jordan Brand is technically a separate subdivision owned by Nike, it's enough of a force in the sneaker game that it warrants its own mention. Nike signed Michael Jordan in 1984 and released his signature sneaker, the Air Jordan 1, in 1985. Led by Nike's design team, including Tinker Hatfield, Jordan Brand debuted an absolutely epic run of sneakers in the years that followed (the 1, designed by Peter Moore, is widely considered one of the best sneaker silhouettes of all time). Through a strictly adhered-to timeline of limited releases in tandem with select retro reissues, Nike has ensured the singular cultural positioning Jordan occupies in the popular imagination hasn't diminished, while simultaneously managing to build the brand into a multibillion-dollar juggernaut. Today, the jumpman logo is nearly as iconic as its parent company's (and in certain circles commands way more clout).
Converse was founded over a century ago as one of the first producers of "athletic shoes" in the country. In 1917, the company introduced the earliest version of a little ol' shoe called the All-Star, and five years later a basketball player named Charles "Chuck" Taylor became its official ambassador. Perhaps the best possible sign that Converse is doing something right when it comes to sneakers is that the company was bought by a certain Portland-based operation back in 2003. (Nike. It was Nike.) Since then, Converse has collaborated with a veritable who's who of creative heavy hitters, resulting in some of the best styles (and bang for your buck) in sneaker history. Trends come and go, but Converse are always a good look.
For years, Adidas played second fiddle to Nike when it came to running (ha!) the global sneaker market, but the brand founded by Adolf Dassler in a small town in Germany has been making serious inroads in chipping away at Nike's dominance. The three stripes enlisted a roster of household names to make its shoes cool again, and its efforts are starting to pay off. The brand's backlog of classic styles is nearly as extensive as its main competitor's, and each time one is resurfaced in some savvy stroke of marketing mastery, it tends to make a splash. Here's hoping the brand can keep it up.
There must be something in the water in that small German town, because after a falling out with his brother Adolf, Rudolf Dassler took it upon himself to start his own sneaker brand and in 1948 founded Puma (and you think your relationship with your siblings is tense?). The company introduced its signature Formstrip branding a decade later and hit the ground running right after. Puma might not make as much noise in the sneaker scene as some of its larger counterparts, but the brand's been in the game for a minute now and it deserves some respect (*extremely Birdman voice*). Today, the company is still run out of its headquarters in Herzogenaurach, in the same town as the main Adidas office.
It's tempting to equate Yeezy, the Kanye West-helmed division of Adidas, with Jordan Brand (a comparison Kanye has invited himself, many times over, in ways only he can). Both are billion-dollar enterprises led by singular personalities that release limited amounts of product to a frenzy of hype that then go on to sell for astronomically high prices on the secondary market. Like Jordan Brand, Yeezy now represents a relatively sizable chunk of revenue for its larger parent company, and plays an outsized role in dictating the topic of conversation when it comes to the type of sneakers customers are talking about. There's no denying Kanye's influence on the market, or his ability to make outlandish sneaker silhouettes look mainstream seemingly overnight. The man moves merchandise, and he's showing no signs of slowing down any time soon. (Insert obligatory "Facts" lyric here.)
Reebok has been enjoying a bit of a resurgence lately, largely due to the popularity of its Club C style, but the brand's been responsible for some of the most important moments in sneaker history. Before Adidas scooped up the company in 2005, Reebok was originally founded in England in 1958 (select styles still include a small Union Jack detail on the side of the shoe). The brand was one of the first to give personalities from the world of entertainment, and hip-hop in particular, their own signature shoes, partnering with Jay-Z in 2003 and then later 50 Cent for a line of G-Unit sneakers. More recently, the brand's Instapump Fury has been remixed by once white-hot label Vetements (at the peak of its influence), and the standard version of the style still holds its own today amid a sea of increasingly gargantuan options.
New Balance's extensive selection of dad-shoes would be enough to land it on this list, but the Boston athletic brand is more than just its pioneering take on the silhouette. The brand's original mission as an arch support company still informs the comfort that remains a defining characteristic of the shoes it sells today. And as the pendulum of taste has swung back towards the chunkier, more substantial styles New Balance in no small way helped popularize, the company has shrewdly partnered with some of the best and brightest emerging labels around on pair after pair of covetable kicks. Rest assured, no matter which direction that pendulum swings next, New Balance will still be here (and still be making dope shoes).
The Van Doren brothers' instantly iconic take on the simple sneaker, first introduced in the late '60s, quickly earned the appreciation of a notoriously difficult segment of the market: skaters. The style that would later become the Authentic caught on with West Coast skate rats who dug its overall durability and sticky sole and a whole slew of signature styles shortly followed, eventually making Vans one of the most popular sneaker companies in the world. The company's Vault collection is an opportunity for it to collaborate with personalities that grew up admiring the brand, and consistently includes a roster of old-school styles updated for today's skaters and non-skaters alike.
In terms of sheer sales volume, Common Projects is nowhere near as big as any of the other companies on this list, but it's long since earned a place in the pantheon of important sneaker brands. When the company introduced its low-top Achilles silhouette in the early aughts, it kicked off a craze for luxury sneakers that has yet to truly abate. The original style, rendered in premium leather and made in Italy, came stamped with a subtle gold serial number on the outer heel of each shoe, the only visible sign of branding on an otherwise pristine silhouette. Before they really hit the mainstream, owning a pair was an absolute must, a deeply-felt carnal need if you were a well-dressed dude in any city. You had to have them. The brand still inspires that same sense of lust in its thousands of customers around the world.
EVERY DESIGNER BRAND EVER
Common Projects might've been one of the first to do it, but it certainly wasn't the last. Soon enough, seemingly every high-end brand imaginable had its own take on a sleek silhouette to shill, ushering in the era of the designer sneaker we're still living in. Some attempts at replicating CP's success were better than others, but it was a while before brands cottoned on to the power of collaboration as a conduit to reach the younger customers they were inevitably trying to please. Still, the period wasn't without its moments, and the designer sneaker remains a mainstay of most ready-to-wear collections today.
The DTC revolution has come to disrupt the retail industry, and the sneaker market is no exception. Over the last few years, brands like the ones here have begun to make sneakers steeped in the same design principles as their predecessors, but updated to take into account the contemporary consumer's desire for a price that more accurately reflects the true cost per good. TL;DR: these brands may or may not be for you, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a better value than what they offer.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.