Welcome to the fifth installment of Sliding Scale, a series in which we bring you a single product for every budget. This month we’re rounding up responsibly-made Minimalist Sneakers. With more minimalist sneakers on the market these days than even before, we’ve picked our eight favorite pairs, all of which are high on quality, and low on everything else.
The Indigenos Sneakers from Veja are not only the most affordable on the list, they’re also the most socially responsible. The leather uppers are vegetable-tanned, meaning no environmentally damaging metals are used. The soles are made from sustainably harvested Amazonian rubber. And the manufacturing is done in a Fair Trade factory in Brazil. Both low and hi tops are available, and prices start at around $110 (minus the VAT, plus international shipping).
Twins for Peace
A close second in price, and in do-goodery, are the $140 Alex Sneakers from Twins for Peace. The leather uppers and lining are Italian, the shoes are responsibly made in Europe, and a sizable percentage of TWP’s profits go towards providing children in the developing world with medical care, school tuition, and other necessities. Unfortunately, the white colorway is sold out at the moment, but hopefully TWP will be getting a restock in the coming months.
The Bull Terrier Sneakers from Buddy are painstakingly crafted in Japan, and have eco-friendly cow leather uppers and a vulcanized natural rubber outsole, making the shoes extremely durable. However, as you may have noticed from the pic, the outsole is also a bit chunkier than those used by other brands, which can be a turnoff for some. Kith has the low tops for $180, Revolve has the low-tops for $5 more, and the Hi-tops for $200.
Apparently the design of these Leather Sneakers from Erik Schedin dates back to 2004, although they didn’t go into production until 2008. Eleven years later (or seven, depending on how you look at it), the shoes are still made in Italy, and still have a calfskin leather upper, perforated leather lining, and stitched rubber outsole. And while I don’t know what they cost when they first launched, now, minus the VAT / plus international shipping, they’re a very reasonable $188 a pair.
Swedish Brand Axel Arigato offers several minimalist sneaker styles, including lace-ups, slip-ons, and chukkas, and all of them come in an array of both traditional and exotic leathers. The materials are Italian (uppers, lining and outsole), the manufacturing is done in Portugal, and while I’m not a huge fan of the gold logo next to the laces, at $195 a pair these are a decent enough deal that I’d be willing to deal with it.
Clocking in at $225 are the Tennis Trainers from Epaulet. These are also made in Portugal out of Italian materials, however unlike the Arigatos, the design of these is less inspired by modern minimalist sneakers, and more by classic tennis shoes from the 1960s. This means a very low profile and a rounder, slightly more pronounced toe box. I recently got word from Epaulet that a huge drop of new colors / leathers is coming later this month, so keep an eye on the Epaulet site for that.
The Italian-made Victor Sneakers from Kickstarter alums Polyforma are crafted using a single piece of full grain, vegetable-tanned leather, so there’s less stitching (and less potential potential weak spots). Once the shoes are assembled, each pair is individually hand-dyed and polished, making no two exactly alike. Additional details include a vegetable tanned calf leather lining, antibacterial natural latex / polyfoam insole, and a natural rubber outsole (all of which are also made in Italy). Prices start at $235 shipped.
Let’s be honest, this round-up could just as easily be called Sliding Scale: Sneakers that look like Common Projects. The brand’s Achilles Low has become one of the most iconic sneakers of the last ten years, and with good reason. Unfortunately, at upwards of $450 a pop, they’re unobtainable for most. That said, you can usually find them at European retailers for less, thanks to the exclusion of the VAT. The best price I’ve found so far is $296 a pair at Tres Bien (plus $12 shipping). And then End Clothing has a huge assortment of colorways starting at $355 (plus $11.95 shipping).
If, for some strange reason, you want to spend more than $300 on a pair of minimalist sneakers, here are some other options to consider: the #4 Sneakers from Zespa are designed and made in France, and cost $325. The Adrian Sneakers from Acne are designed in Sweden, made in Italy, and cost $370. The UUP115 Sneakers from Hydrogen 1 are designed in San Francisco, made in Italy, and cost $375. The Low Top Sneakers from Wings + Horns are designed in Canada, made in Italy and cost $380. The Classic Low Sneakers from Svensson are designed in Sweden, Made in Italy, and cost $390. And, finally, the Tanino Sneakers from Buttero are designed and made in Italy, and cost $390.