There is more to the sneaker scene than just Nike and adidas. Look beyond the shelves of your local Foot Locker, and you’ll discover a bevy of independent sneaker brands that can easily go toe-to-toe with the sportswear giants in the realm of quality footwear. To help provide some clarity, we’ve rustled up a list of our current underground favourites. Their sneakers might lack Swooshes and Stripes, but here are seven fledgling sneaker brands that you need to know about.
Arc Originals was established in 2016 by Austin Yule, a young Scotsman with one hell of a passion for sneakers. With youth on his side, and an appreciation for the memorable runner designs of the 90s burning deep in his heart, Yule decided to take a chance and launch Arc — Scotland’s first ever sneaker brand. They launched their first sneaker, The Outset, in late 2017, debuting it in a grey and green ‘Vol. 1’ make-up that paid tribute to the brand’s Highland roots. This strong debut was followed up with a vibrant ‘Tea Rooms’ release that made the sneaker world stand up and take notice – the shoe entirely sold out on launch. Arc took The Outset into safer terrain for its third outing with the ‘000C’, but 2019 promises to be a massive year for the young upstart.
Find out more about Arc Originals here.
‘We are very much a small independent brand so we like to give people the kind of experience we would want to get as a consumer. That is why we like to put that little bit of extra effort into each release with the added extras we like to include — e.g. hang tag, dust bag, custom box sleeves, etc. Not many brands treat each release like it’s more than just another colour, so I think that is where we set ourselves apart’ – Austin Yule, Arc Originals.
Have you ever found yourself messing around with one of the big brands’ customistation services, like NIKEiD or miadidas, and wished the process wasn’t so restrictive? Then you need to check out SWEAR! With two decades of experience in sneaker design and craftsmanship behind them, SWEAR claim to be responsible for bringing the world’s first ‘truly customisable luxury sneakers’ to market – and when they say ‘truly customisable’ they mean it!
Using SWEAR’s CUSTOMISE 360 program, you can design your own unique sneaker from the sole up, with an extensive inventory of materials at your disposable in every colour under the sun. SWEAR will even help guide you through the process, presenting you with inspiration from a carefully curated pool of collaborators. What’s even more impressive is that SWEAR will have your fully-customised sneaker on its way to you within just two weeks of placing your order. However, if you really can’t wait and are looking for the perfect personalised pair, SWEAR allow you to customise one of their existing designs with your initials and promise to have them shipped within only 48 hours!
SWEAR is still very much an underground brand, but is quickly gaining attention, especially from Vetements – with whom they recently dropped a collaborative Suede Platform Trainer.
Find out more about SWEAR here.
The idea of a sneaker brand started by a skateboarder is hardly a new concept – however, Rone is a little different. Pro skater Tony Ferguson, one of the original members of the Girl Skateboard Team, had already accumulated a decade of experience overseeing Alife Footwear by the time he decided to launch Rone in 2015. His reasoning was simple: until that point skate shoes had continued to evolve to meet performance needs, but had never matured to meet the tastes and needs of ageing skaters who have dedicated their lives to the daily grind.
Every pair of Rone sneakers is beautifully constructed entirely by hand using only responsibly considered material, including naturally tanned Italian leathers and cork/rubber sole units fused with water-based glue. The level of craftsmanship that goes into each and every pair Rone manufactures is truly of the highest tier, requiring as long as four hours to produce just one pair, with a further 10 days spent on a last to ensure the perfect fit. Visually, Rone’s footwear design draws heavily on the skate shoes of the 90s, but the end result is worlds beyond what every other skate-based brand is putting out.
Find out more about Rone here.
‘The idea behind Rone was simple: take shoes that were important to me growing up and make them better by taking elements from my favourite silhouettes and infusing them with the best materials and craftsmanship to bring them up-to-date. I think the point of difference with the brand is the authenticity and the way we pay homage to skateboarding in a real way, it’s the emotional connection people have had to the styles I’ve produced that has been the most rewarding part.’ – Tony Ferguson, Rone.
These days, consumers are more conscious than ever about vegan and eco-friendly footwear, and European shoe label Rombaut is right at the forefront of this growing market. The brainchild of Paris-based Belgian designer Mats Rombaut, this self-described ‘natural’ footwear brand produces outlandish avant-garde sneakers made from plant-based materials with an aim at protecting bio-diversity. Rombaut have used everything from natural rubber, cotton cellulose, and coconut fibre to stone, tree bark, and pineapple leaves in their designs, all of which are made in Italy. They even incorporated flexible solar panels into their futuristic Odyssey III runner.
Mats Rombaut had spent five years at Lanvin, along with Damir Doma, before establishing his namesake brand, and that experience shows. Rombaut have crafted a reputation for their cowboy boot-inspired sneakers, but more often can be seen making headlines for their literal takes on vegan footwear, including their recent lettuce slide. Bella Hadid cites the brand as one of her favourites, and numerous other industry heavyweights have thrown their support behind the forward-thinking brand.
Find out more about Rombaut here.
Footwear veteran Manuele Bianchi established CASBIA with nonconformism in mind. Identifying the sneaker industry’s tendency to rehash the same classic designs in virtually unchanged form, year after year, Bianchi decided to put his own spin on the classics, by fusing tradition with modern technology. CASBIA's designs are familiar, yet fresh, and have been designed with functionality in mind. Their latest collection of footwear embraces utilitarian design, incorporating easy-access zips that are designed for those that live life on the go. Every pair is manufactured in Italy from top-shelf materials to guarantee quality and longevity. While still underground at their core, CASBIA’s attention to detail has attracted interest from sportswear brand Champion, with whom they have established a regular colab relationship.
Find out more about CASBIA here.
Making its debut in August this year, OBRA is by far the newest brand on this list, but it is far from the least experienced. OBRA was founded by two legends of the scene – Alife founder Arnaud Delecolle and Dave Cory, the former director of product at Converse – and is the culmination of more than two decades of footwear experience.
OBRA takes its name from a Portuguese word meaning both ‘a worker’s labour’ and ‘the work of an artist’, and it encompasses these values through a commitment to ethical manufacturing, by partnering with family-held factories in Brazil. OBRA’s debut silhouettes are as fashionable as they are functional, but if you needed any more reason to cop a pair to your already over-stocked collection, OBRA’s founders have pledged to share profits from every pair sold with local non-profit youth organisations that support arts, education, and civil liberties.
Find out more about OBRA here.
The team behind Canadian sneaker outfit Six Hundred Four view sneakers a little differently when compared to most brands. While they believe a shoe can be just a shoe, they prefer to view them as ‘a storytelling piece of art’. To fully embrace this concept of sneakers as art, Six Hundred Four commission talented artists to create new original artworks, which they then digitally print on to sneakers. To further connect the brand’s footwear with its artistic origins, every pair is laser-engraved with a unique ID, making them true one-of-a-kind works of art.
In line with the brand’s name, 604 pairs are handmade for each artist, spread across four different designs, resulting in a limited run of just 151 pairs of each. In a further connection to the brand’s name, 6.04 per cent of all sales are donated to a charity of the respective artist’s choosing, resulting in a donation of about $10k from each collaborative project.
Six Hundred Four’s designs are best appreciated by visiting the brand’s flagship store (The Sneaker Gallery) in Vancouver, Canada, where the shoes are presented alongside their original artistic inspiration.
Find out more about Six Hundred Four here.
Special thanks: Seb Drinkell