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If 2023 has taught me anything, it’s that sneakers are having a moment. The Sambas? The Gazelles? Literally anything from New Balance? These are just a few of the shoes that got the most love this year, but maybe you prefer brands with lower profiles to ones that are going mainstream. If you do find yourself in that boat, there’s an abundance of options on the market that you’ve probably never even heard of. To shed some much-deserved light on these names, I’ve put together a list of the best underrated sneaker brands that you can shop right this second.
Now there’s absolutely nothing wrong with three stripes and swooshes, but it might be worthwhile to check out low-key brands that bring something fresh and unique to the table. Not to mention, you’ll probably get lots of compliments and questions (rising trendsetter alert!). I know I’ve gotten those whenever I wear my celeb-loved Cariuma sneakers. This brand, in particular, is doing incredibly innovative things with its materials, design and sustainability efforts. In fact, time and time again I reach for my Catiba Pros over the other sneakers on my shoe rack. They’re just that comfortable!
Thousand Fell is another underrated sneaker brand that’s StyleCaster-approved. It offers a shoe recycling program, utilizes eco-friendly materials and creates timeless styles. Doesn’t a sneaker purchase feel so much more rewarding when it’s from a lesser-known name that’s making an impact in more ways than one? I sure think so.
Cariuma and Thousand Fell are just two smaller names that deserve the spotlight. Keep reading to learn about additional underrated sneaker brands. You might not initially recognize these names, but trust me, you’re going to want to bookmark all of these websites and start shopping from them ASAP.
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I am a personal fan of Cariuma’s sustainable and celeb-loved sneakers (specifically the Catiba Pro). They are the most comfortable sneakers I own and I regularly choose them over my other pairs (thank you, mamona oil, bio-based cork insert). You can read my full thoughts on the Catiba Pro, here. Even more: Cariuma has its own reforestation program in its founders’ homeland, Brazil. With every pair of sneakers you buy, the brand will plant two trees. I can’t forget to shout out Cariuma’s eco-friendly packaging and carbon-neutral shipping, too. It’s easy to see why stars like Pete Davidson, Helen Mirren, Jon Hamm, Robert Downey Jr. and Whitney Port rock these shoes.
If you’re on the hunt for stainproof, vegan, versatile sneakers, look no further than Thousand Fell. StyleCaster commerce editor, Maya Gandara, reviewed the brand and says the Court Sneakers required no break-in time. “The Thousand Fell Court Sneakers are hands-down some of the highest quality shoes I’ve tested in quite some time,” she wrote in her review.
Perhaps the most unique part about Thousand Fell is its recycling program, which allows you to send your well-worn sneakers back to the brand for recycling. You even get rewards for participating when you pledge to recycle your shoes upon purchase with a $20 deposit and join the SuperCircle initiative. After you’ve sent your beat-up kicks to Thousand Fell, you’ll gain back that $20 credit to put towards a fresh pair. There’s even a feature that lets you track your pair’s progress in the recycling journey.
Unsurprisingly, Løci is yet another low-key brand that puts sustainability first (I’m seeing a pattern here). It has created a high-quality, durable material that’s made from recycled ocean plastic instead of leather that’s made from animal hides. You’ll also spot bamboo, natural rubber, recycled foam and natural cork in the product breakdowns for these completely vegan shoes. Also, Løci sticks to making shoes in limited quantities to avoid overproduction and therefore, waste. To top it all off, the brand puts 10 percent of the profits of each pair of sneakers sold towards sustainability-forward causes. Get yourself a sneaker brand that truly does the most! A-listers like Olivia Wilde, Ben Affleck, Mila Kunis and Kristen Bell have already done so, and they typically go for the Løci Nine.
This is your chance to get luxury footwear without the luxury price tag. Oliver Cabell mixes modern materials with old-school techniques—all without the traditional retail markups that tend to make high-quality shoes inaccessible. The pair that caught my eye immediately is the Low 1. It reminds me of the laidback, worn-in-looking sneakers from Golden Goose (which, by the way, cost more than $500). No two pairs of the Low 1s look the same, per the brand, so you’ll be sporting a one-of-a-kind sneaker made from buttery smooth Italian calfskin leather and Margom outsoles.
Axel Arigato has been on my radar for a while now. I remember having heart eyes for its chunkier silhouettes, and now that I’m putting this story together, I’m glad to see these options still remain. StyleCaster fashion writer, Olivia Marcus, compares them to the New Balance 550s, Asics and Nike Air Force 1s, since they’re both sporty and sleek—and of course, versatile. You could easily style them with trousers, jeans, skirts or workout clothing.
What Axel Arigato does differently is the frequency at which it releases new shoes. The brand’s weekly drops schedule keeps its shoppers coming back for all of its eye-catching shapes and colorways. Take, for example, the Genesis Vintage Runner.