Sliding Scale: Minimalist Sneakers

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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.

Veja

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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

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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.

Buddy

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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.

Erik Schedin

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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.

Axel Arigato

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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.

Epaulet

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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.

Polyforma

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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.

Common Projects

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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).

Other Options

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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.

  • DayRep

    No Shoes Like Pottery? Fail.

    • Elliott

      Probably not an exhaustive list.

    • Shoes Like Pottery makes canvas Converse knock-offs. This is a round-up of leather Common Projects knock-offs.

  • Elliott

    Got some PF Flyer’s for $16 on 6pm.com

    • Watcho

      I ain’t gonna lie, I LOVE PF Flyers. I think they look cool, I’m into the slightly exaggerated features and all the colorways/style options. The only thing that keeps me from them is my belief in ethical footwear. The day New Balance moves the PFF line to Massachusetts, I’ll buy 40 pair.

      • marc

        PF Flyers just released a nice Made in USA line. White leather and black leather high-tops. Big day for American sneaker manufacturing.

        • It’s true. Although they’re not actually going live on the PF site until July. That said, Ball and Buck has 25 pairs in their store right now, if you want to email them for images / pricing.

    • Moldy

      Pf are dope great quality sneaks.

  • Bryan Tarlowski

    Or you know, a pair of $75 stan smiths because all these are sourcing from that.

    • Watcho

      No Stan Smiths here because WS doesn’t rep Chinese slave threads. SS’s look cool, for sure, but this isn’t the site for mass-produced sweatshop gear.

    • Peter Smith

      Stan Smith may have been the original design but Common Projects are what made them popular again.

    • Austin

      Noone needs another pair of Meme Smiths.

  • Watcho

    the Veja Indigenos are pretty cool, and they definitely fit the minimalist bill. But c’mon, a little flair is ok for Epaulet, so I think the Veja Esplar Extra Whites are worth mentioning (I also own a pair and they’re dope). They have a slight color distinction between the leather and the sole which adds a little dynamic as well. I found mine on eBay (from a French Veja dealer) for $80, so look around.

    http://www.veja-store.com/en/men/690-esplar-low-leatherextra-white-white-puxador.html#

  • nxnw

    paging Girolami & Poopat, will work for sneakers

  • Watcho

    As with other High/Low features, I’d like to know what really sets the bar for something like this. The overall look is the same, so what am I going to notice when I slip on a Common Projects that will be lacking in the Arigatos?

    • Paul J

      The gold numbers on the side. CP’s are beautiful, but completely overpriced. ~$250 would be reasonable, but not $400.

      • Watcho

        What do the gold numbers get me?

        • A. Mir

          A feeling that you get a pair of ‘unique’ sneakers. Or that’s what they will tell you. I can’t lie, I own two pairs of CPs and if I didn’t have a conscience I would own many more pairs. I just can’t justify their prices anymore. Especially not when they’re increasing annually…

    • Vejas are nice, but the leathers are thin and they don’t last very long.

      Epaulets are extremely comfortable and very well made. If only they didn’t have that suede strip on the back.

      CPs feel much more substantial than the Vejas, and are sleeker than the Epaulets, but their price makes them feel precious – like you don’t want anything to happen to them.

      • Watcho

        I really like the Epaulet strip; in grey, and occasionally when I see it in natural/leather. I feel like those little details help keep them from looking too much like leather Keds. It’s such a fine line between stylish and childish.

  • Dara

    Yo check these out, made in Italy! http://www.greats.com/products/the-royale-blanco-white

  • Jorge Rodriguez
    • Wangs are made in China.

      We’ve posted those Greats before. But, to me, they’ve got too much going on. They’re not minimal enough.

      • Bo

        Now those might not be minimal enough but what about the Wilson model from Greats? For under $50, too. They have that pull tab on the back but other than that, pretty smooth.

  • PMn

    So which one provides the best value in terms of quality for the price?

  • okaysee

    Thoughts on the frank & oak joints? https://www.frankandoak.com/product/23869

    Can’t see where they’re made, thought I read they were from portugal at some point…

  • frank grimes

    Or like some $159 handmade in Italy Greats. $390 is stupid. Personally I picked up some nice adidas match play at ross for $34 exactly what am I getting for the extra $356?

  • bearballz

    No Jack Purcells?

    • Watcho

      no.

  • mike

    Great post. I’m wondering if you could do something similar for slip-on style shoes. Are there any high-quality, responsibly made alternatives to Vans slip-ons out there?

  • T.B.

    Hello WELL SPENT!

    What is your opinion about trainers by Ted Baker?
    Sweat shop stuff?

  • veloTom

    Polyforma is beautifully clean, and the brand looks promising

  • Angie

    I love your blog. I think it’s wonderful. The information and resources you provide are so helpful for finding sustainable and ethical fashion. Will you be expanding with womensware, also?

  • Ursula Fuhrmann

    IF YOU WANT AN ADVISE, DON’T BUY VEJA SNEAKERS

    I’m completely disappointed by the brand’s quality and by the low interest and care that shows the brand for their consumers. It’s offensive.

    I bought a pair of VEJA Sneakers and after 6 months of very occasional use, the sneakers starts to tear apart.

    As you can see in the image, the leather was short and not properly stitched or stuck to the rubber sole. There’s no way to repair them. The tear is not caused by misuse. It just unglued due to lack of proper contact space. It is a clean tear.

    The unbelievable thing is that although it is clearly a quality issue, the brand shows no interest at all in its costumers. Their answer was that the responsible is the shop were I bought the sneakers….

    I think it is the first time that a manufacturer is not responsible of the quality of its own products, and charges its duty to the one who only acts as an intermediary. Unbelievable.

    Thanks Emily Tran and Justine. You convinced me to never buy a Veja product again.