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The Under-The-Radar Sneaker Brands To Get Your Next Kicks

Step aside, Adidas and Nike. These shoes will have you flexing the sneakerhead you truly are.

There are the OGs – Adidas and Nike – and in recent years we have also seen the meteoric rise of sneaker labels such as Common Projects and Axel Arigato that are devoted to putting out quality yet stylish kicks. Despite the countless brands that are crowding the sneaker market right now, our desire for the newest and sleekest sneakers seem unquenchable. 

If you are thinking about where to get your next pair of kicks from, consider these lesser known (but totally worth it) sneaker brands.

Founded in Brooklyn in 2014, this luxury sneaker label continues to operate out of its headquarters located in Williamsburg, arguably Brooklyn’s coolest and most stylish neighbourhood. Certainly, the indie-chic street cred of its surroundings is not lost on the label’s offerings. GREATS prides itself on offering timeless and modern kicks at an affordable price point, without compromising on quality. All of the brand’s sneakers are made in Italy by experienced craftsmen using premium materials. If you are unsure of what to get, go for the label’s most popular model – The Royale. Made with premium leather, each pair comes in at only USD179 (S$245), which is comparatively less than what you would pay for a similar quality product from other labels. If being eco-friendly is important to you, then consider The Royale Knit. This model, available in shades such as blush pink, cream, and grey, is made entirely out of yarn spun from recycled plastic. Allbirds
If comfort rules above all else for you, then look no further than Allbirds. Founded by New Zealand native Tim Brown and currently based in San Francisco, this wildly successful label first emerged in 2014 via a Kickstarter campaign and became a start-up valued at a staggering $1.4 billion by end 2018. The brand claims that it has “the world’s most comfortable shoes.” How does it do that? By manufacturing their products using natural and organic materials such as merino wool, eucalyptus tree fiber, and bioplastic foam, which is derived from sugar cane. By far, the brand’s bestseller would be its Wool Runners. Made using superfine New Zealand Merino wool, recycled polyester, and castor bean oil, the shoes are moisture-wicking, machine washable, flexible, light, and soft enough that you can wear them without socks. Obviously, being environmentally-conscious is one of the brand’s core values, with even their shoe packaging made from 90% recycled cardboard. Also, fun fact: Leonardo DiCaprio, arguably Hollywood’s most active and vocal eco-conscious warrior, is one of the brand’s investors. Shoes Like Pottery
This Japanese sneaker brand might have a long history stretching back to 1873, but it is still largely under-the-radar, though it has gradually expanded its sales beyond its native border to the US, Europe, and Australia over the years. What makes the sneakers from Shoes Like Pottery so special is ka-ryu, a Japanese vulcanizing process that is performed by only a very small handful of shoe manufacturers worldwide. The label derives its name from this process, as each shoe is fired in a kiln – just like pottery – to vulcanize the rubber sole. The result: a soft, flexible, and durable sole. While the sneakers feature a classic canvas design, the shoes can be easily recognised by the Japanese label’s signature blue under-soles and its trademark blue logo on the side. Given the notorious attention to detail the Japanese are famous for, you will be happy to note that the sneakers from Shoes Like Pottery are hand-sewn by skilled craftsmen in Kurume, Fukuoka. So, quality is ensured, and you will also have a unique pair of kicks, since no two pairs of shoes are the same. Nothing New
Well, it seems like the sustainability trend in fashion is here to stay (and we are very happy for that), since here is another eco-friendly shoe brand that debuted just last June. Founded by Nolan Walsh, the man behind the NYC-based boot brand Thursday Boot Company, Nothing New’s USP is shoes that are made only with recycled materials. While the designs are casual, classic, and simple – think Converse – the production is decidedly not: the research process of the shoes prior to its launch took 15 months. Nothing New’s sneakers are manufactured with uppers and laces made entirely out of 100% recycled post-consumer plastic, while all its other components are made from some combination of recycled cotton, fishing nets, rubber, and cork. The best part? The shoes are also pretty affordable, with a pair of low-tops priced at USD95 (S$130), and a pair of high-tops priced at USD110 (S$150). There are also plenty of colourways to choose from, including black, white, navy, dark green, and pink. Koio
If you are frequently on Instagram, you might have already peeked the sneakers from this brand, as they are currently all over the feeds – and feet – of the most fashionable set on IG. Founded by Johannes Quodt and Chris Wichert in 2014, two self-proclaimed sneakerheads who met at Wharton Business School, the duo set out to create high-end, well-crafted kicks that would be versatile enough for all occasions. The sneakers from Koio look expensive, which is the intention – they are manufactured in the same factories as luxury brands like Chanel, Saint Laurent, and Hermes. Yet, they thankfully don’t come with the astronomical price tags – prices start from USD178 (S$243) for The Capri, a timeless pair of canvas sneakers. You can be assured of the quality of the sneakers too: all of Koio’s sneakers are made in Italy from start to finish, even down to the boxing of the shoe. Soles, leather, and the label’s shoe boxes are sourced in the immediate region surrounding its manufacturer in Marche. ARKK Copenhagen
Looking for some of that Scandinavian minimalist sensibility for your sneakers? Then look no further – ARKK Copenhagen is your answer. The Danish label debuted in 2014, and has since become well-known for its fusion of clean, Nordic aesthetics with a more modernised, streetwear element. ARKK Copenhagen’s primary focus is design; every pair of its sneakers is designed in-house in Copenhagen. While the brand’s Danish roots come through in the sneakers’ simplicity and functionality, the design is decidedly more forward-thinking – the futuristic-looking silhouette is definitely a step-up from your more conventional kicks. Not sure which model to choose? Go for The Raven, the label’s original sneaker that started it all. The prices are agreeable too: for instance, a pair of the Raven Mesh S-E15, with a neoprene and mesh combo upper, will set you back just €99 (S$150).  Hender Scheme
If you are a fan of Japanese quality and the country’s unique fashion sense, then you are in luck – here is another Japanese label that we just couldn’t resist adding to this list.  Tokyo-based Hender Scheme proclaims on its website that the brand “proposes a concept which surpasses the ‘gender’ schema based on society, but returns to the idea of ‘sex’ based on one’s appearance.” While we are not exactly sure what this means, we do think that the label’s offerings – which go beyond sneakers to include sandals, loafers, boots, and others – would look nice on both guys and gals. Though shoes might be its main focus, Hender Scheme also sells a host of other accessories, such as bags, wallets, belts, hats, and jewelry. Throughout its various offerings, the brand’s commitment to Japanese craftsmanship and innovation remains obvious. Perhaps it’s time to build a whole new wardrobe? OBRA
Taking its name from a Portuguese word meaning both ‘a worker’s labour’ and ‘the work of an artist’, OBRA is a premium footwear label that is passionate about pursuing ethical manufacturing and business practices while supporting the arts. OBRA sneakers are made in Brazil in a family-held factory founded in 1948, where efforts are continuously made to reinvest in the factory’s on-site recycling and solid waste treatment plant. The shoe designs are utilitarian and functional, but do not compromise on style and comfort.  In addition, the NYC-based label also collaborates with the New York Art Department to support artists and is committed to redistributing a share of its revenue to non-profit youth organisations that support arts, education, and civil liberties. Doing good while looking – and feeling – good? We say yes.