We demand a lot from our sneakers: We want them to be comfortable for our feet during marathons, cushion them as we run errands, and match any of our outfits. We want them to last forever, and we want them to communicate our values and identity.
But no matter what, they seem to only exist in three price categories: Below $50, around $100, and way above $100. As it turns out, there’s a reason for this (and, contrary to what you might think, the more you pay doesn’t necessarily mean the more you get).
Here’s a few things to note: This is not prescriptive, it is more of a general guideline. Each shoe company will mix and match options to yield an ideal cost and price. It’s a cliché, but true: You get what you pay for — and sometimes, all you’re paying for is brand recognition.
Consider companies that specialise in sneakers, rather than fashion labels that also happen to market sneakers. Many times, brands chase other brands or license out their designs, giving away the strength of the brand just to keep up with trends and designer price tags.
With those guidelines out of the way, here’s usually what you’ll get for each price range:
Photo credit: Refinery29
– For everyday wear, not performance
– Polyester/synthetic textile upper
– Synthetic rubber sole
– Manufactured in China, Vietnam, or Indonesia; countries with less expertise in sneakers
– Factory has no environmental protections, doesn’t pay living wage, and exposes workers to toxic fumes
– Insole is a thin sheet of rubber that is glued down
– Several seams on inside decrease comfort
– Sloppy construction and paint lines
– Exposed petrochemical glues emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
– No structure, collapses when your foot isn’t inside
– Uneven sole
– Designed to last for one season before breaking down
– Built for fashion or sustained athletic performance.
– Name-brand athletic label
– Synthetic or cotton uppers
– Synthetic or real rubber soles
– No-sew construction eliminates most or all interior seams for better comfort.
– Manufactured in Korea or Taiwan, two countries with the best expertise in sneaker manufacturing.
– Padded insole
– Depending on brand, glues may or may not emit VOCs.
– Designed to last for a few seasons before breaking down
Way above $100
– Luxury label
– Built for fashion (not athletic performance)
– Flawless, high-quality Italian leather or exotic skin uppers that age well
– Real rubber soles
– Manufactured in Italy in factory with safe working conditions and environmental protections.
– Open-cell polyurethane insole, which helps with odor
– More quality stitching than gluing
– Holds shape when off foot
– Will last many seasons before breaking down