The 21st century has seen a vast expansion in the popularity of sneakers for all occasions. They are no longer simply a style of shoe but instead represent an expression of individualism and originality. Amongst debate about the unsustainable nature of the sneaker industry and the casualisation of clothing, we felt it crucial to shine light on emerging brands offering powerful contemporary design but without straying far from eco-friendly production. Moving away from the traditional brands, these up and coming luxury sneaker designers are highlighting how shoes can be produced sustainably but with a retention of sleek and innovative design.
If you haven't already seen it, check out our feature length IGWE article here. Before founding Igwe in 2018, Samuel Baruch worked for Veja, signifying the similarities in ethos and societal impact between the two. Just two years on, Igwe have established their name in the designer sneaker industry with a unique and powerful product. Designed in Paris and handstitched in Portugal, rich quality is found in every pair of Igwe trainers. There is a great beauty in the intricacies of their shoe, with contrast stitching and complex design Baruch never strays from his desire to produce sustainably. Alongside such striking design, all Igwe sneakers are unisex, making them accessible to all. With a supply chain that is almost entirely CO2 neutral, rubber sourced from South America and chromium-free leather, these sneakers are unparalleled to anything we have seen before. Operating on strong morals and values, Baruch has created a product that we can only hope every sneaker brand desires to follow.
"In the fashion industry, everything seems fact, but in reality, everything is slow. Very slow. If you turn down the noise it is almost silent and you can create your project step by step" (Sebastian Kopp, Co-Founder of Veja)
Parisian co-founders François-Ghislain Morillion and Sébastien Kopp are the creatives behind the ever-growing sneaker brand Veja. The birth of Veja came about after a recognition of the lack of human rights practised across many production factories. Morillion and Kopp took it upon themselves to break down the process and reconfigure it from the inside out. With its iconic ‘V’ stitching and sleek design, the shoe has become a favourite amongst many. Offering their V-10 collection in a variety of different colours allows for a splash of individualism to be added to the shoe. Due to their minimalist nature there is a beauty to Veja’s sneakers that allows them to work with every outfit – and this is exactly why they are so deserving of their popularity. Today, Veja sneakers are produced with a combination of wild rubber and organic cotton. The acclaimed ‘Rio Branco’ collection is created entirely through recycled bottles collected on the streets of Rio, Brazil. Offering an unmatched passion for sustainability and social wellbeing, Veja runs on a model of complete transparency, something that remains exceptionally unique within the industry.
With a shift to genderless clothing in recent years, Yatay have been no exception. Offering sustainable unisex sneakers - handmade in Marche, Italy - the company is a representation of the rising modernity of the sneaker industry. Founded by Umberto de Marco the shoe is characterised by its sustainable ethos and stunning simplicity. At first glance a standard white trainer, Yatay has a much more subtle and intricate design.Engraved onto the heel of each shoe is a code, used as a gentle nod to their environmental causes. Offering a range of different colours, each shoe is characterised by their signature hessian laces that accompany every pair. Crafted with biopolymers extracted from cereals, sustainably sourced tree pulp and recycled water bottles, these sneakers are created based upon the highest of moral standards. Alongside ethical production, Yatay operate a ‘Trees for Shoes’ campaign in which they plant a tree in Bora, Kenya for every pair of shoes sold. Within a world riddled by a climate crisis, it is brands such as Yatay that offer a creative solution whilst never straying from rich quality and design.
Hand designed and made in the Spanish town of Elche, Flamingos’ Life was founded in 2015 by now CEO Carlos García Sánchez and two of his close friends. All four of their collections are made with 47% corn waste material, a durable and environmentally friendly alternative to leather. Using bamboo and organic cotton to create the lining of their shoes, Flamingos’ Life sneakers are amongst those leading the way in sustainable production. Always searching for ways to reduce waste, the brand has started incorporating hemp into their production as a biodegradable natural fibre. Through a clear return to 90s fashion, the nostalgic design of this shoe has allowed for a revival of past trends with a modern flair. A splash of colour combined with a signature minimalist retro design; this shoe is no doubt a timeless staple for everyone’s wardrobes. Alongside purchasing a pair of Flamingos’ Life sneakers, a donation is made by the company to one of four environmental causes. With sleek design, stunning stitching and eco-friendly production this shoe lacks fault.
Founded in 2004 by Prathan Poopat and Flavio Girolami, Common Projects have come to be renowned in the designer sneaker industry for their rich quality and simple design. Produced and sourced in Italy, these shoes have retained a timeless quality due to their authenticity and monochromatic design. Their first ‘Achilles’ collection has been repeatedly referenced as drawing a bridge between casual and dress wear, creating a concept with great versatility that was perhaps previously lacking. The intricate gold numbering on the heel has created a distinct and recognisable image. With the increasing popularity of sneakers, it is likely Common Projects will deservedly retain their place in the market for years to come.
Founded by Rendi Aditia in 2012, Mason Garments are a luxury footwear brand designed in Amsterdam and handcrafted in Italy. With an emphasis on high quality design and production, these shoes are emerging into the luxury footwear industry on a strong note. Their most recent collection, ‘Genova’, is characterised by a bulky and bold structure. The platformed soles and the intricate stitching adds an expression of individuality to any outfit. Accompanied by loud splashes of colour on the heel, these are certainly a statement shoe. Mason Garments classic ‘Tia’ collection takes you slightly more back to basics. It features the iconic spiked sole that has come to dominate the designer sneaker industry. With the subtle addition of gold detailing there is a clear sense of authenticity and elegance about this collection.
"Aesthetics, function, and simplification of forms are keywords that come first in our dictionary” (Gus Agra, Co-Founder of Von-Röutte)
Created by Gus and Marina Agra, the Australian originated luxury sneaker brand is making waves in the industry. When designing their signature sneakers there is a focus on both functionality and simplicity, which can be seen clearly in the beauty of Von-Röutte shoes. With a large variety of styles for both men and women, from lace-up to slip on trainers, this brand is covering it all. Their signature ‘Austin Chunky’ sneaker is identified by its bold mix of materials and textures that result in a unique and elegant shoe perfect for all occasions. A leather base, combined with suede and holographic detailing, this shoe stands far from traditional sneaker designs. Their ‘Lyon’ sneaker offers a simpler design but retains the attention to detail that is consistent throughout all of Von-Röutte’s collections. Sticking to their commitment for functionality, all shoes come with removable insoles for support. Alongside such timeless design, all shoes are ethically produced in Europe.
Founded by friends Mackinlay Smith and Tim Cole, Okuh Studios was created in London in order to challenge the notion that fashion could not be both sustainable and unique in design. Exceeding this expectation, Okuh Studios’ release of their sneaker line has combined simplicity with detail to produce a designer trainer perfect for everyone and everywhere. Inspired by contemporary Japanese and Scandinavian design, their ‘Ena’ shoe offers contrasting materials with detailed perforation whilst retaining their simple design. Expanding collections, the ‘Helios’ shoe is an ode to the vintage basketball style with stark splashes of colour across the heel and tongue. This collection takes the foundations of Okuh Studios’ design one step further. Not only is the design of these shoes unfaultable but their production is based on ethical standards and sustainably sourced materials.
Written by Ellie Nelson