Which companies make the top sneakers? The solution is somewhat intricate. The sneaker market is huge and diverse, so calling something the “best” is perhaps a little too categorical. We could list the biggest shoe companies based on sales per square foot or some other arbitrary indicator of financial success, but size isn’t always a good thing.
(Though it is true that some of the best and most well-known sneaker brands exist.) The fierce fight for sneakerhead attention between billion-dollar sportswear behemoths and cult-favorite boutique companies is what makes following the sneaker scene so much fun.
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What, then, really distinguishes the companies in the sneaker industry from others who could release a new silhouette over night without anyone on the internet noticing? A long track record of invention is usually beneficial.
It never hurts to have a wide selection of well-liked throwback styles to choose from. Even if you’re selling high-end, limited-edition sneakers that sell for four times what you paid for them, or running shoes that are available at every Foot Locker in the world, having a reputation for consistently producing high-quality goods usually works.
So take this as a complete dissection of who is who and what is what in the modern sneaker market, if not a definitive list. Below are 20 of the top sneaker companies you should be familiar with, along with a ton of the iconic styles they’re known for, including the obligatory shoutouts to Nike, Adidas, and New Balance. One of these companies is sure to provide everything you need, from durable canvas high-tops to Italian-made suede low-tops.
It should go without saying that Nike didn’t become the largest, baddest brand in the sneaker industry by producing a subpar item. The Swoosh achieved its position at the top of this list via pure perseverance, amassing a substantial collection of legendary sneakers that no other brand can hope to match. Nike is still the industry leader in sneakers after more than 50 years.
Adidas has persistently tried to position itself as a significant participant in the shoe market, not content to be second best to Nike’s intimidating presence, with retro-inspired styles like the Samba and futuristic models like the Ultraboost.
The Three Stripes has become the go-to partner for some of the wildest and most creative dressers in fashion over the past several years, collaborating and creating relationships with people like Blondey McCoy and Kerwin Frost.
3. New Balance
The iconic dad shoe brand has spawned innumerable copycats since the turn of the 20th century, almost single-handedly igniting a trend for blatantly oversized shoes that hasn’t quite subsided.
With a Made in the USA line led by Teddy Santis of Aimé Leon Dore and partnerships with some of the hottest streetwear brands, New Balance continues to be the standard-bearer for senile good aesthetics. The best way to imitate a semi-retired Upper East Sider with a taste for supremely comfy, high-end footwear is to wear the company’s sneakers.
In all honesty, Converse’s presence on this list would be justified by the continued popularity of the Chuck Taylor alone, but the company has more to offer than just its all-star (heh) shoe. Visit Converse for vintage-inspired basketball shoes or timeless canvas sneakers that, sure, only get better with wear.
In a manner that most sneakers can only try to be, Vans are truly authentic. (The Authentic, appropriately, is the brand’s defining style.) The brand was established in the late 1960s to serve the West Coast skate scene, but their inexpensive, unsophisticated sneakers quickly gained popularity among locals and eventually the entire country while still managing to retain some of their counter-culture associations.
Make like Harry Styles, who sports them with flared pants and attention-grabbing outerwear, or follow the example of the millions of skaters who adopted the sneakers before you by donning a pair of Dickies and a huge, boxy t-shirt. Their bizarre nice looks can easily anchor all of your large fits.
Reebok is an international brand through and through, with designs that represent its global heritage. It was established in Britain, has its headquarters in Boston, and was acquired by Germany’s Adidas in the mid-2000s.
Megawatt A-list celebrities and in-the-know tastemakers alike favor the brand’s Club C style, which endures as a defining characteristic of modern sneaker history. Reebok won’t let you down if you’re seeking for a pair of affordable sneakers with a lot of fashion cred.
Rudolf Dassler established the foundation for the most illustrious sportswear competition when he created Puma in 1948. Up until that time, Rudolf and his brother Adi had been collaborating on a German-based shoe company, but their working relationship had soured, so they had made the decision to part ways.
(Adi later gave his name to Adidas, the world’s second-largest sportswear manufacturer. Don’t cry for Adi, please.) Puma is a shoe giant today with a big assortment of retro-inspired lace-ups, and it has mostly resisted the sneaker trends that have forced other companies to abruptly alter their entire visual identities.
Saucony has been producing sneakers for well over a century, so it isn’t really a startup. Despite having a discography full of low-key bangers, the brand tends to receive slightly less attention than some of its glossier, household name competitors. You benefit from the loss of the sneaker-loving masses.
The reason why Asics is so adored by the best runners in the world is because its shoes offer unmatched performance without sacrificing the support and vital cushioning that have made them so popular with customers.
Their appeal has more recently been recognized by the fashion community, leading to deliciously bizarre collaborations with industry trailblazers like Vivienne Westwood and Kiko Kostadinov.
Salomon only recently became a darling among the fashion set (we picked the brand’s XT-6 design our sneaker of the year back in 2019), but since its establishment in 1947, the French sports brand has been producing tactical, trail-ready footwear.
It turns out that the hackneyed clichés about clothing looking “as good on the slopes as it does on the streets” are totally accurate: If you need a pair of sneakers that are prepared to handle any terrain, chances are Salomon makes them.