9 of the best minimalist sneaker brands for men

It’s a big claim, but we’ll call it: the minimalist sneaker is the ultimate shoe choice of the 21st century. Dating back to the launch of Common Projects in 2004, the style is now the foundation of the male wardrobe: an elegant, democratic shoe that works with tailoring, denim, sweats and everything else. Nothing else comes close in terms of overall influence. A true everyday, go-anywhere sneaker, it brought casual comfort to haute couture and proved that dressed-up staples can be beautifully designed and brilliantly crafted.

The design DNA may be simple and stripped, but the offer is huge. The popularity of minimalist sneakers sparked a new wave of independent sneaker brands that put premium construction, clean silhouettes and eco-conscious design at the heart of everything they do. Refine your wardrobe with our pick of the best.

Clae

Keyboard Style: Bradley

Born in 2001 in Los Angeles, Clae distills that laid-back West Coast vibe into his extensive range of minimalist sneakers. Inspired by the architecture, design, colors and elegance of its birthplace, the brand’s shoes are meticulously handcrafted in the same workshop in Vietnam with which they have collaborated for the past 20 years.

Expect clean lines, premium materials and versatile colorways that will never go out of style. These are sneakers designed to be worn every day, for any occasion.

Clae’s best-selling silhouette is the Bradley: a sleek, minimalist silhouette that comes in a wealth of premium materials – including aniline, oiled, full-grain or milled leather, nubuck or waxed suede, and textured canvas – and versatile colours, as well as a choice of rubber or rubber soles. It will quickly become your favorite shoe, whichever one you choose.

Shop now at Clae

Craft laboratory

Key Style: High Essential Sneaker

Artisan Lab’s mission is simple: to make the very best products, use only the best materials and collaborate with the best Italian artisans. This is the antithesis of mass-produced footwear – the brand only produces a limited batch of shoes each month, giving the community the chance to pre-order at a 20% discount. Anything left over is sold as stock, making it a sustainable way to approach fashion and business.

This direct-to-consumer, cut-out-the-middleman approach also means you get a higher quality product for less, making Artisan Lab sneakers excellent value for money.

Our choice from the current range is High-Top Essential. One of the cleanest, thinnest high top sneakers we’ve ever seen, it’s handcrafted from premium full-grain calf leather, complete with margom soles and an antibacterial removable insole. There is currently limited availability in black, white and off-white.

Shop now at Artisan Lab

Crown Northampton

Keyboard Style: Upton Wholecut

Crown Northampton is a fifth generation family run business with a genuine shoemaking business. Using only the finest locally sourced materials, all footwear is made to order at the Northamptonshire factory, ensuring that all processes from design to production remain in-house and fully under its control.

The brand’s new sneaker collection is handcrafted using premium suede and leather uppers sourced from the best tanneries in the world, including the Horween Company and CF Stead. Fully leather lined with an exclusive rubber sole, stitching on the sidewalls secures the sole and allows the sneakers to be re-soled at a later date to extend their life.

If you’re looking for a smart sneaker that can dress up like a derby shoe, the Upton Wholecut is for you. Manufactured from a single piece of leather, the overall design and construction is a feature of genuine quality that not many manufacturers can match. An easy way to stand out from the white sneaker crowd.

Buy now at Crown Northampton

Axel Arigato

Key Style: Clean 90

Launched in 2014, the Swedish brand Axel Arigato is one of the best established labels producing high quality minimalist sneakers. ‘arigat‘ is Japanese for ‘Thank you’ and was originally used to describe something valuable and hard to find. That roughly summarizes the brand’s proposition.

Axel Arigato works with a small number of European tanneries and suppliers and most of the production takes place in Porto. The extensive range includes designs inspired by vintage trainers and coarser styles, but the Clean 90 is our go-to. Something akin to a typical minimalist white sneaker, it will work with tailoring, joggers and everything in between.

Shop now at Axel Arigato

Uniform standard

Key Style: Series 1

The story of Uniform Standard is well known in sneaker and fashion circles: with 18 years of experience designing products for other brands, the founders decided in 2018 to start their own business. Social and environmental responsibility is at the forefront of everything they do, with the East London-based brand using the finest Italian leather and premium recycled components to create their lines.

The Series 1 is the flagship model. A clean, timeless style that can be worn up or down, it’s available with smooth calf leather or textured suede uppers in a wealth of colours.

Shop now at Uniform Standard

zespa

Key Style: ZSP4

Founded in 2009, in Aix-en-Provence in southern France, Zespa combines high-quality craftsmanship with a typical Mediterranean flair. Started by reimagining the design of the traditional espadrille and making it something smarter, the brand has since set its sights on the humble sneaker, taking it to the next level through luxurious materials and details.

The ZSP4 is our choice from the range. A minimal, refined silhouette handcrafted in Portugal with full-grain calf nappa and nubuck from Italy, they feature anatomical insoles for all-day comfort. These are the kind of sneakers that you could easily wear with a suit.

Shop now at Zespa

ETQ.

Key Style: LT 01

Founded in Amsterdam in 2010, ETQ was founded in response to the luxury trend of loud, flashy branding and outrageous pricing. The Dutch brand eschews fleeting fashion trends and simply produces high-quality, well-designed sneakers for a fair price. The entire range adheres to the company’s minimalist principles, using form and proportion to make the offering stand out.

The LT 01 is ETQ’s flagship model. It has a sleek upper with a chunky sole and comes in a number of timeless colorways that will never go out of style. We especially love the VEGEA® options – you’d swear these sneakers had a premium leather upper, but it’s actually a material made with wine waste and vegetable oil. We drink to that.

Shop now at ETQ.

HOW

Key Style: Royal S01

Founded in 2014 by Isabel and José Maria, JAK is an independent shoemaker based in Lisbon, Portugal. All of its products are built in the northern region of Portugal, famous for its multi-generational family-owned shoe factories, and sold directly to consumers, enabling it to provide better quality at a lower price.

When it comes to design, JAK champions slow fashion, producing timeless, versatile sneakers designed to be worn over and over again. The materials used are all sourced locally and responsibly – mainly full-grain leather that ages beautifully over time and develops its own unique character.

The Royal S01 is JAK’s best-selling silhouette, and it’s easy to see why. A sleek, pristine upper is complemented by an ultra-soft calf leather lining and impact-resistant insoles that create the perfect marriage of design and comfort. Available in a variety of materials and colours, the suede versions are our favourites. An easy way to add texture and a touch of luxury to your everyday looks.

Shop now at JAK

SAYE

Key Style: Modelo ’89 Vegan

SAYE started with the mission to make really sustainable and eco-friendly shoes cool. We would say they achieved that. Initially it used leather to make its line of sneakers, but over the years it has worked with specialist suppliers to create new, groundbreaking vegan materials – to the point where they now no longer have to produce leather versions altogether. From 2022, the brand plans to sell only 100% vegan sneakers, making them one of the few companies with true eco credentials.

The Modelo ’89 Vegan is Ape’s choice. With a throwback aesthetic akin to a Reebok Classic, an iconic sneaker model in its own right, it’s available in low and high silhouettes and a variety of vintage colors. A retro runner for the modern world.

Shop now at SAYE

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