18 Sneaker Industry Insiders Share Their Top Moments of 2021
As 2021 draws to an end, it's time to take a look back at everything that went down in the world of sneakers over the last 12 months. Pinpointing top releases, initiatives, stories and other aspects of our culture is definitely one way to do that, but another is asking our peers and friends who were actively involved a simple (yet complex) question: what was your favourite sneaker release, moment, campaign or innovation of this year? We polled everyone from store owners to archive pages and writers for their opinions and compiled their wide-ranging answers into a crowd-sourced retrospective of what moved the needle this year. Check out their picks below!
'On Running's announcement of the Cyclon product line, specifically the Cloudneo. It's a bio-based 100 per cent recyclable shoe, and it can be broken down easily because it's made entirely from the same material family. The possibilities it offers for circularity really got me interested'! – @nicolemclaughlin
'The first sneaker moment that sticks out to me from 2021 is the redesigned upper of the CDG x Nike Foamposite One. I'm a big fan of the Foamposite silhouette, and it was refreshing to see a new take on it that didn't feel like it was trying too hard – and one that also kept some of the original DNA. To me, it's an easy contender for sneaker of the year.'
'The other moment – which is very sad for me to come to grips with – was the tragic passing of one of the most influential people in not only this world but so many others, Virgil Abloh. Though I never had the pleasure of meeting Virgil, he inspired me to strive not for what people know you as, but for who you know you are and can be. I don't know if I'll ever be able to fully accept that he's no longer with us, but his inspiration and reach will live for many generations to come. Thank you for being a beacon and breaking down barriers - rest in power, Virgil.' – @arab_lincoln
'2021 was one helluva year for sneaker enthusiasts. A few notable moments for me were the newfound love for SB Dunks and regular Dunks with the younger generation and the tons of sneaker collaborations coming out left and right – I could barely keep up with all the release dates and colourways. It’s safe to say there’s a sneaker out there that fancied everyone's pallet this year.'
'DIY and sneaker customization really skyrocketed in 2021 as well. One of the most controversial trends that I started is making your new shoes look old and vintage, which really picked up this year. When executed perfectly the distressed look gives the shoe a nostalgic feeling and character that's unmatched. As the trend caught on a handful of talented customizers added the distressing technique to their arsenal. Hate it or love it, it happened and is still happening to this day. I’m glad I kick-started that wave.' – @philllllthy
'It’s hard to choose one moment, as there are a few that stand out. Everything Kiko Kostadinov did both with and outside of ASICS was really great. How a few members of the Reebok team have pushed out some really amazing projects is super impressive as well. It’s also amazing to see how the organiclab.zip collaboration with Salomon has aged, and how people who bought them are actually wearing them.'
'LOWA has been doing some great stuff as well for next year and I'm really excited for things to unfold. The potential comeback of the Nike Air Kukini is also something we are looking forward to!' – @organiclab.zip
'When I think of my favourite footwear moment from 2021, what immediately comes to mind is creating the JSP x Vault by Vans Chukka 'Love Story'. Since I was little, Chukkas have always had a very particular place in my heart, so to be able to tell a story about the influence and impact of Love Park [a famed Philly skate spot] made the whole project really special to me'.
'The project was dedicated to my childhood friend JR Neves, a pro skater for Vans who passed away in 2009, Joe Lees, an artist friend of mine from the area, did all the handstyle tags, and Virgil Abloh actually debuted the project prior to any announcement or leaks of it in January. Heavy. If I never had another chance to do a shoe collab again, I would be totally satisfied with the sentimental boxes the project checked.' – @jimmygorecki
'My favourite moment of 2021 has been getting a glimpse of how Salehe Bembury's mind works. I'm a huge supporter of every project he touches – one of my favourites is the ANTA colab he released at the beginning of the year. What I love the most about his work is how he pushes past boundaries by doing everything from creating entirely original silhouettes to adding personal touches to his projects. He's constantly thinking outside of the box, and I have so much respect for that – along with his attention to detail and ability to make each project or campaign so unique yet so genuine to his personal brand. Apart from the several pairs of ANTAs i purchased, I got the 2002R 'Water Be the Guide', and am really excited about his upcoming Crocs colab too!' – @lizbcroft
Hanni El Khatib
'2021 has definitely been a big year in footwear. One company that’s been really shining in my eyes has been Foxtrot Uniform out of Singapore. I love the vintage archivist approach they take. They make quality accessories and amazingly easy to use tools to customize your shoes as well as their own custom footwear experiments. They’ve been huge in this whole neo-vintage custom community that’s been popping off the past couple of years too'.
'As far as big sneaker releases this year go, I’m gonna have to go with the Off-White x Air Jordan 2 Low. I know the 2’s have always been a little controversial, but the amount of detail and storytelling that Virgil put into the shoe and packaging (which is probably my favourite shoe packaging ever) has even converted the biggest Air Jordan 2 haters. They did an amazing job with this one'. – @hannielkhatib
'A lot of smaller brands gained momentum in 2021, and gave the big players some competition! Nike really cranked out retros of their past models, which were new to a younger generation of consumers. New Balance, on the other hand, had a great year without bringing back any past projects – the colabs with Salehe Bembury and Aimé Leon Dore really stuck out to me. On a high-end front, I enjoyed the experimental and innovative designs from Safa Sahin at Balmain as well as the old-style knit trainers from Valentino like the Crochet sneaker (which I loved, except for the price tag!) Let us see if we'll wear physical trainers in 2022 or go all-in on digital footwear!' – @hikmetsugoer
'2021 has been a year full of amazing releases. My favourite, however, has to be the Off-White x Nike Dunk Low 'The 50' collection. As a sneaker collector, I love how each lot number features unique aspects and colour combinations not found on any other style in the collection, making them absolute grails. I've been able to collect all 50, but the lots that stand out the most to me are 01, 15, 17 and 50.' – @yankeekicks
'The Nike Dunk High 'By You'. While the Dunk Low 'By You' program was quite disappointing, the Dunk Highs have been so much fun to fiddle around with! I particularly enjoy recreating old Dunks like the 'Shimizu', UNDEFEATED's 'NL', the 'MF Doom' and the 'Orchard Street', the last of which I made myself a pair of and cut out the flaps just like the real deal – of which there are only 40 pairs in the world!
'I also really liked the Dunk Low 'Flip the Old School', as it was an amazing idea to combine the mythical CO.JP 'City Attack Purple' and 'Reverse Purple' Dunks into one. They even came with the period-correct Nike box, which is a great touch. Unfortunately, I couldn't cop though: they're a women's release and I'm a size 13! Lastly, RIP Virgil.' – @sneakerdenn
'The New Balance 2002R 'Refined Future/Protection Pack' is my favourite release from this year by far. The combo of hairy suede, chalky midsoles and jagged upper panels works so well together to emulate wear and tear. The "Rain Cloud" and "Phantom" colourways have been constants in my rotation since they released.' – @kevinconcepts
Up There Store
'Our favourite sneaker from 2021 has to be the Patta x Nike Air Max 1. It was a super refreshing take on a classic, but what was almost better than the shoe itself was being able to partner with Patta and Movember to raffle a pair off and raise over $20,000 for men's health. Memorable shoe, memorable release.' – @uptherestore
'My favourite shoe of 2021 is the A Ma Maniére x Air Jordan 3. I don’t need to revisit the fine details, but EVERYTHING was perfect in my opinion: the overall message, the packaging, the material execution, the launch strategy, etc.'
'Some of my other 2021 picks reflect some form of personal nostalgia: Fragment Dunk Hi, Air Structure OG, Undefeated Ballistic AF1, Supreme SB Dunk Lows, Chicago AJKO, etc, while others include the Jackie Robinson Air Griffey Max 1, ZoomX Invincible Run, and the current Nike ByYou AF1 Unlocked option.' – @phase2
'This year, I’ve been inspired by the work and storytelling of James Whitner, founder of Whitaker Group. As a tribute to the first pair of sneakers his mother ever bought for him and his brother, the A Ma Maniére Air Jordan 3 “Raised by Women,” pays homage to the influential role of Black women and features hidden messages written in his mother’s handwriting. I was also moved by the upcoming A Ma Maniére x Air Jordan 1 that celebrates the greatness of Black culture and our influence on the world. Each release, coupled with thoughtfully curated short films succeeds in telling the stories that matter and highlighting the power that lies in our own personal narratives.' – @bychristyna
'I've waited since the summer of 1996 to get my hands on the Black/Red Air Jordan XI Low (IE as Nike says). The 2003 and 2011 were never quite right, but I think this year's drop is as good as we could’ve hoped for! I have to also mention the Jordan MA2! It’s not the first shoe I’d pick off the wall based on looks, but in terms of comfort, they are a 10. I wore them more than any other sneaker this year.' – @goodbirger
'The sneaker highlight of the year for me is the Nike Air Zoom Alphafly Next Nature. In recent years, Nike have elevated the profile and awareness around environmental responsibility in footwear. With releases like the Space Hippies, which featured an upper made from waste, and the 'Plant Pack' which featured recycled materials and plant-based dyes, Nike put continued energy into finding fresh ways to seamlessly integrate responsibility into their designs'.
'The Alpafly Next Nature (and the Cosmic Unity basketball sneaker with Space Hippie tooling) brought new awareness and innovation into performance footwear. This was my top moment because it's indicative of the fact that we don't need to compromise what a sneaker is capable of to decrease our overall impact on the planet'. – @theairvegan
Hanni El Khatib
Old Man Alan
Up There Store