The 15 Best Sneaker Brands to Turn to When in Doubt — a Complete List
We all love a solid pair of sneakers — from sports to runway to streetwear, some sneaker brands have become a cultural phenomenon, synonymous with culture. More than just a pair of shoes, sneakers are a go-to item for any occasion. But which brands are the best and what sneakers are in style in 2022?
Moving between innovation and nostalgia, Nike Air Force, Air Jordan, Air Max, and adidas Superstar, and Stan Smith’s — iconic silhouettes from the 70s and 80s — are probably deeply ingrained in our consciousness. After all, it was Nike and adidas that took sneakers from sports to fashion. Collectively making a casual $41 billion in 2021 from footwear sales alone globally, the two sports behemoths are still in the lead.
But it isn’t merely about revenues. Amid Kanye-adidas’ beef and adidas’ controversial decision to keep selling YE-less YEEZYs over billions of dollars in lost sales, fans haven’t exactly approved. Don’t get me wrong, the likes of Nike and adidas won’t go anywhere anytime soon — they’re still at the top of the list. But while it is relatively easy to pinpoint the two best sneaker brands, how do they stack up against others, performance, style, hype, and popularity-wise?
Despite the two archrivals ruling the sneaker game for decades, there’s certainly space for a new row of sneaker brands. We have Salomon and On pioneering the gorp-core trend, New Balance entering the sneakerhead territory, and cult brands Karhu and Saucony still innovating. The sneaker game has never been so versatile.
So, without further ado, here’s a complete Highsnobiety-approved list of the world’s best sneaker brands of 2022-2023 — these brands will serve your wardrobe well for years.
Founded: Oregon, US, 1964
Iconics: Nike Cortez, Nike Air Max, Nike Air Force
Nike is the epitome of all sneakers — coinciding with the American running craze in the 70s, the iconic American brand was founded by Phil Knight in 1964 in Oregon, US. As one of the pioneering sneaker brands, Nike shaped the sports shoe industry and brought sneakers from basketball courts to everyday fashion.
After one of the earliest models, Nike Cortez was endorsed by Sir Elton John in 1980 and worn by Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump, sales took off. Coinciding with Cortez’s success, Nike signed 22-year-old new NBA recruit Michael Jordan in 1984. After launching Nike Air Jordan 1’s, Nike secured its cult status, giving rise to the sneakerheads’ subculture. The most iconic models, Nike Air Force, Nike Dunks, and Air Max, are still at the heart of hyped collabs. Suffice it to say, nearly 60 years later, Nike’s sneaker roster is still hard to beat.
Founded: Herzogenaurach, Germany, 1949
Iconics: adidas Superstar, adidas Stan Smith
One of the sneaker brands that needs no introduction — German staple adidas. The sports giant adidas isn’t only one the biggest sneaker brands in the world but a label that revolutionized athletic shoes as fashion essentials. Dating back to 1949, adidas was founded by Adolf Dassler in Germany.
The adidas Originals Superstar and Stan Smith transformed its status from an athlete’s go-to to a multi-billion dollar casualwear label. As the preferred collaborator for many, adidas’ historic Run-D.M.C. and Missy Elliott endorsements, and in more recent past, Pusha-T, Pharell Williams, Kanye YEEZY, A Bathing Ape, Raf Simons, and Rick Owens collabs keep the three-stripe kicks firmly on the world map.
Founded: Zürich, Switzerland, 2010
Iconics: On Cloud
On a seemingly impossible mission, On, founded in Zürich, Switzerland in 2010, is going against Nike and adidas, racing to become one of the leading sneaker brands. After endorsements from top athletes Nicole Spirig and Javier Gomez Noya and a partnership with Roger Federer, On established itself as a runner’s favorite. On top of this, On Cloud runners have been shifting from mainstream to cool, making their way into streetwear’s sneaker repertoire.
Perhaps it’s the rise of gorp-core and athleisure or the Swiss quality paired with celebrity endorsements — but the brand must be doing something right. Marrying running with fashion, On has dropped much-hyped collabs like Loewe X On. After Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, officially Under Armour rep, wore On Cloud X’s to the Super Bowl ceremony, and style queen Zendaya was spotted rocking her On Cloudultra’s, the company seems to be on track to evolving as a world-leading sneaker brand.
Founded: Oregon, US, 1984
Iconics: Air Jordan 1 High
Officially under Nike, the cult brand became popular in the 1980s. When Nike partnered with a rookie NBA player Michael Jordan in 1984, it started something unseen in the sneaker industry. Introducing the Nike Air Jordan 1 began the sneakerhead subculture and basketball shoe hype. This phenomenon hasn’t slowed down since.
Some of the best Jordan models are still among the most popular sneakers worldwide. Even though the Nike Jordan brand has included newer designs like Air Jordan 1 Mid since, the Air Jordan 1 High remains at the heart of ultra-hyped collabs, the most famous and iconic sneaker silhouette there is.
Founded: Massachusetts, US, 1917
Iconics: Chuck Taylor All Star
If you happened to be sporting emo bangs and skin-tight jeans while listening to Fall Out Boy on your MP3 player of the late 90s early noughties grunge scene, it’s likely you also owned a pair of Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars. Founded in 1917, it all started when Converse became synonymous with youth and pop culture thanks to Chuck Taylor’s in the 1970s. At its peak, Converse was the cool of cool, worn by subcultures from skaters to punks as well as sports lovers, cult idols like Kurt Cobain, and everyone in between. But, the brand hasn’t lost its relevance as a timeless classic since.
Acquired by Nike in 2003, the iconic Converse canvas shoe is the OG of basketball sneakers. After the modernized Chuck II wasn’t much of a hit, Converse has maintained its relevance via collaborations with streetwear pioneers Stüssy and Off-White, but also Rick Owens, GOLF le FLEUR*, JW Anderson, or A$AP Nast, holding its status as one of the top sneaker brands in the world.
Founded: California, US, 1966
Iconics: Vans Old Skool, Vans Sk8, Vans Slip-on
Vans is a legendary skate shoe company founded in the 1960’s California, US, known for its quality and affordability. The brand became synonymous with counter-culture in the mid-70s — worn by skateboarders all over. Legendary Stacy Peralta and Tony Alva put Vans sneakers on the world map then and have maintained its association with the skate scene since.
The iconic Vans Sk8, Vans Old Skool, Vans Era, and Vans Slip-on have remained at the core of Vans collabs, including previous Metallica and Disney, and more recently, A$AP Rocky, or more unexpected partnerships with manga series One Piece and delivery service USPS. The unmistakable Old SKOOL Vans Sidestripe and “Off the Wall” trademarks make Vans sneakers instantly recognizable. Spotted on a row of style icons Harry Styles, Rihanna, Kim Kardashian, and Pete Davidson, Vans remain a cool classic that doesn’t break the bank.
Founded: Boston, US, 1906
Iconics: New Balance 550, New Balance 574
Ten years ago, New Balance wasn’t the coolest of cool; in fact, it was the exact opposite, labeled as the ultimate dad shoe. The brand dates back to 1906 in Boston, US, when the company started as an arch support seller, later shifting focus to athletic sneakers in the 1960s. After the release of the New Balance Trackster, it evolved to become THE running shoe of the 70s.
PUMA is a safe bet — designed to last, it offers a classic, timeless look. The brand was founded by Rudolf Dassler in 1948 in the shoe production capital Herzogenaurach, Germany, a year before his brother Adolf Dassler set up the competing adidas after an alleged feud.
The Puma Suede, which hit the market in 1968, has been endorsed by top athletes and celebrities. From Pele’s historical shoe-lace-tying moment during the 1970 FIFA World Cup to Puma Rihanna-approved Fenty creepers, PUMA has duly obtained its position in streetwear
and as the third-largest sneaker brand globally.
Founded: Annecy, France, 2009
Iconics: HOKA Bondi, HOKA Clifton
Plush-soled lightweight HOKAs are the go-to for ultramarathon runners and those looking for extreme comfort on a city stroll. Originating from the French alps Annecy in 2009, now headquartered in California, US, HOKA has quickly become the world’s most beloved sneaker brands.
HOKA produces shoes for all occasions, offering max-cushioning performance runners and all-terrain trail shoes with foam-like soles, delivering stability and bounce. Until recently, HOKA was worn exclusively by endurance athletes; however, things changed drastically in the past few years with the fashion-savvy folk raving about the brand. As a result, HOKA’s championing collaborations with Engineered Garments and Moncler bring comfort to fashion.
ASICS is a beloved sneaker brand from Japan, initially set up as Onitsuka Co in 1949 by Kihachiro Onitsuka. The shoe brand that inspired Phil Knight to create rival Nike set off to become the world’s most beloved shoe for elite runners. As of 1977, the company changed to ASICS, now appealing to both casual street fashioners as well as athletes.
Whereas the ASICS label is focused on modern designs, the Onitsuka Tiger represents retro styles like Onitsuka Tiger Tai Chi and Onitsuka Tiger Mexico66, seen on Uma Thurman in Kill Bill and Bruce Lee in Game of Death in the most iconic movie sneaker moments. By mixing decades-old shoemaking principles with timeless silhouettes and collabs like Kiko Kostadinov and BEAMS, Asics maintains its position as one of the leading sneaker brands worldwide.
Founded: Bolton, England, 1958
Iconics: Reebok Club C, Reebok Classics
Often overshadowed by the likes of adidas and Nike, Reebok sneakers are still a timeless classic with a well-deserved reputation. Established in Bolton, England, in 1958, now headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts, US, the brand first focused on tennis and aerobics shoes, with Reebok Freestyle gaining popularity during the 80s aerobics-craze.
Reebok has plenty of great sneakers. The brand has previously joined forces with Maison Margiela and continues to release refreshers of the iconic Reebok Club C and Reebok Classics — silhouettes that forever changed the 80s footwear scene. As a sure streetwear staple even today — you can style the slightly bulky-soled Reebok Classics with a pair of blue jeans, or opt for a more sleek Reebok Club C 85. Case in point: Reebok is the ultimate frill-free sneaker.
Founded: Annecy, France, 1947
Iconics: Salomon Speedcross, Salomon XT
Salomon’s meteoric shift from performance shoes to street-style favorites is quite noteworthy. There was a point when I was somewhat surprised to see my 20-something friend sporting black Salomon trail runners next to my 60-something dad. More recently, less so — the fashion’s latest obsession is now equally favored by sports-loving dads as style icons like Bella Hadid.
Initially set up as a ski equipment business in Annecy, a town in the French alps, in 1947, the brand only started producing sneakers in the early 1990s. With robust cushioning, market-leading textile technology, and ultra-durable qualities, Salomon’s gorp-core-ish performance shoes are undoubtedly the current winner of the functionality-style mix. From Paris runway shows to snowy mountains, Salomon delivers for all. However, for that, be prepared to pay a premium.
Founded: Pennsylvania, US, 1898
Iconics: Saucony Jazz, Saucony Shadow
Saucony running shoes were founded in 1898 in Pennsylvania, US, on the banks of Saucony Creek. Runners have sworn by Saucony sneakers since its reputation gained notoriety after its signature runners were worn by marathon champions in the 1970s. Over the years, however, they’ve gone from trail running to a casualwear staple.
Saucony’s most iconic retro sneakers: Saucony Jazz and Saucony Shadow, both from the 1980s, are still among the most favored, frequently featured among its early and current collabs. Earlier endorsements include Rod Dixon’s marathon and Bodega; more recently, Saucony has teamed up with END. Clothing on an eye-turning fast food-themed Shadow 5000 sneaker drop. If you are looking for comfort mixed with a retro vibe, Saucony is a decent brand to try.
Founded: Onè di Fonte, Italy, 1992
Iconics: Diemme Marostica, Diemme Roccia Vet
Considering Diemme has teamed up with the likes of Stone Island, GANT, or KITH, it can be surprising how the iconic shoe brand has somehow managed to lay low under the sneaker radar. Founded in the Italian Dolomites in Onè di Fonte in 1992, a town known for its handmade footwear, the brand has even produced shoes for big names like Margiela, Chanel, and Bottega Veneta.
Diemme’s performance features make it easy to see why the brand is still so beloved. Sleek Diemme Marostica sneakers with suede and leather upper are a go-to for a casual-formal cool look. Likewise, the ever-popular Diemme Roccia Vet boots make a grand sneaker alternative. Adapted for urban-mountain purposes, they’ve been spotted complementing Drake’s outdoorsy gorp-core look. An excellent choice for an undeniably simple performance-ish style.
Founded: Helsinki, Finland, in 1916
Iconics: Karhu Synchron, Karhu Aria
Karhu running shoes date back to 1910s Finland, where the brand was founded as a sporting goods company. Karhu later pioneered tech innovations in running footwear, after which the brand became known worldwide. Karhu in English means bear, hence the brand’s unique bear logo. The ‘M’ logo on the iconic sneakers comes from the Finnish word Mestari, for “champion” in English.
Initially focusing on performance shoes, Karhu sneakers have garnered a loyal following since developing into the lifestyle sector, and rightly so. The endless colorways of the iconic silhouettes from the 1980s and 90s — Karhu Synchron, Karhu Aria, Karhu Fusion 2.0, and Legacy 96 — are still frequent in its collections and hype drops. Karhu sneakers offer timeless retro vibes with high quality, ultra comfort, and durability.