There is no shortage of new sneakers coming out these days, with folks lining up for new drops just about every Saturday. But the overwhelming majority of those shoes come from two companies: Nike and Adidas. The two brands and their subsidiaries (Jordan and Converse for Nike, Reebok for Adidas) dominate the sneaker market at near-monopoly levels. It also happens that they make some really awesome shoes.
But they aren’t your only options. A handful of independent sneaker brands are making it easier than ever to stand out from the pack of Swooshes and Three Stripes. From performance running and basketball kicks, to luxury lifestyle shoes, these are seven underground sneaker brands that need to be on your radar.
Even though the brand is 10 years old, Common Projects still remains something of an insider secret among stylish guys who are fiercely devoted to the minimal aesthetic and premium fabrication. One reason is that the Italian-made shoes, such as the signature Achilles are tough to identify. Aside from 10 digits stamped in gold along the heel, there is no branding on a pair of Common Projects shoes, which is a big part of the appeal.
By cutting out middle men, Greats produces incredibly cool sneakers at prices that won’t make you feel too bad if you buy them in every color. Greats will even cut you a break if you do so. The runner-inspired Rosen costs $49 for a single pair, already a good deal, and you can pick up three pairs for $119, which is still cheaper than a pair of Nike Flyknits.
In opposition to the minimal running shoe movement that’s been so popular in recent years, Hoka went the other way and created maximal shoes with unprecedented amounts of cushioning. Despite the extra padding, the sneakers are still very stable (you won’t feel like you’re running in mush) and allow for a natural stride. Whether you’re training for an ultramarathon or just going out for a short jog, your joints will thank you for running in these.
The design and colorways of certain Gourmet sneakers may hint at iconic models from other brands, but Gourmet spins them in a way that is uniquely its own. The brand was founded as an homage of sorts to Italian-American culture, and one part of that is bringing old world craftsmanship to its new school sneakers.
Some may associate NBA Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing with Adidas, but the legendary New York Knicks center became the first pro basketball player to have his own sneaker company when he launched Ewing Athletics in 1989. The brand went dormant starting in the mid-90s, but Ewing relaunched it in 2012 with retro styles that feel new again. The company isn’t afraid to have some fun with its founder’s legacy either. A new version of the 33 Hi marks the 30th anniversary of the draft lottery in which the Knicks received the first pick, which they used to select Ewing. The sneakers have an ice-colored sole, a nod to the “frozen envelope” conspiracy that some feel helped the Knicks secure the top spot.
Brandblack may be a little less underground since our interview with the founder came out, but they are still far from the mainstream. Rather than focusing on lifestyle sneakers, Brandblack makes high-performance basketball shoes that just happen to look really good off the court. If you’ve got any question about what it’s like to ball in the sneakers, just check out some of Jamal Crawford’s highlights. The Los Angeles Clippers star sixth man plays in his signature Brandblack sneaker on a nightly basis.
Japanese brand Hender Scheme goes with an “all leather everything” approach to remixing some of the greatest sneakers of all-time. Icons like the Air Jordan IV and Adidas Superstar get reworked with natural leather uppers, buckles, straps, and laces. The result is something transformative. The sneakers aren’t cheap, starting around $1,100. But compared to the price that some retro Jordans go for these days, that actually might be a bargain.