Stadium Goods released its list of the year’s 10 best sneaker releases of 2021 this week, naming the most dominant styles for men and women of the past 12 months. The list, arranged in no particular order, features heritage sneakers like the Air Jordan 1 High as well as statement makers, like the Yeezy Foam Runner.
The omnichannel streetwear platform tapped its team of experts to compile the list. Stadium Goods’ editors, social media mavens, and content manager Zack Schlemmer, all of whom “have a pulse on the daily, weekly, and monthly popularity and trends in sneakers throughout the year,” evaluated each contender’s aesthetic attributes, popularity on social platforms, cultural impact and sales on the marketplace.
The A Ma Maniére x Women’s Air Jordan 3 “Raised by Women” sneaker was heralded as the unequivocal “best women’s shoe of the year, the most creative Air Jordan 3 of the year, and Jordan’s top collaboration of the year.” The shoe was also named Best Collaboration of the Year at the Footwear News Achievement Awards. Released in April, the shoe brings together the vintage-inspired styling of A Ma Maniére, an Atlanta-based streetwear label, and classic Air Jordan motifs. The silhouette features supple grey suede details, a white tumbled leather upper, cream accents on the lace holes and a painted violet midsole.
New York menswear brand Aimé Leon Dore released its second collaboration with New Balance on the 550 “Natural Green” silhouette in 2021, following the appointment of brand-owner Teddy Santis to creative director of New Balance’s Made in the USA sub-line. The shoe features a deep forest green across its outsole and collar, along with a pre-yellowed midsole to evoke a worn-in feel. The men’s style retails for $510 and up and is sold out in most sizes on the retailer’s website.
Continuing in the vein of vintage styling, the Air Jordan 1 High ‘85 “Neutral Grey” resonated with consumers in 2021, Stadium Goods wrote. With vintage apparel growing from “a fringe trend to a bona fide movement this year,” shoppers have been on the hunt for secondhand finds to pair with old school kicks. A style resurrected from Air Jordan’s 1985 collection, the shoe is “beloved for its wearability and prized for its rarity,” the retailer said. February’s subtle grey reissue has become a must-have for collectors, it added.
Released in October, the Nike Air Max 1 “Monarch” designed in collaboration with Amsterdam sneaker boutique Patta fine-tunes a classic style, Stadium Goods wrote. Patta’s designers re-released a series of Nike Air Max 1s with a new, wavy mudguard that subtly modernizes the style. Aside from adding its own branding to the tongue and inner lining, Patta retained most of the shoe’s original details.
While some collectors initially balked at the Yeezy Foam Runner that Kanye West and Adidas first produced in 2020, the sneaker community has now largely embraced the style, Stadium Goods wrote. Newer versions of the EVA-based slip-on contain algae biomass, and color ways like “MXT Moon Grey,” released in March, feature grey and tan, replacing the original design’s monochrome look.
Stadium Goods named Bad Bunny and Adidas’ Forum Buckle Low “Easter Egg” as one of 2021’s best collabs. The Puerto Rican rapper, who won a Grammy Award for Best Latin Pop or Urban Album in January, designed three color ways of the sneaker this year, with April’s light pink and orange version a standout. The shoe features an exaggerated collar and buckle across the vamp, retailing for $570 and up on the site.
The late Virgil Abloh’s last major project with Nike, dubbed “Lot 50,” brought 50 new color ways to the Nike Dunk Low—starting with “Lot 01,” a white and yellow silhouette with a silver foil swoop. Released in August, the collection succeeded Abloh’s “The 10” collection from 2017. Each release featured unique materials and embellishments, like a secondary lacing system with bungee-like cords, seen on “Lot 01.” The style sells for up to $5,140 on StadiumGoods.com, reflecting renewed interest in Abloh’s work since his death last month.
Salehe Bembury stepped down as Versace’s director of men’s footwear in 2020, going on to collaborate with brands like Crocs, Anta and New Balance. Sneaker lovers have cottoned onto Bembury’s work with the Boston-based footwear brand, with the New Balance 2002R “Let Water Be the Guide” style capturing their attention in 2021. According to Stadium Goods, the shoe’s vibrant blues and sandy tans were inspired by the designer’s morning routine of hiking Los Angeles trails.
Released in December, the Air Jordan 11 “Cool Grey 2021” is the third re-release of the Michael Jordan retro basketball shoe that originally hit shelves in 2001. The color way—which features a patent mudguard, synthetic nubuck upper and an icy translucent outsole—is a fan favorite, the retailer said, as the shoe was worn by Jordan on the court during his short time with the Washington Wizards.
A shoe developed in concert with avant-garde Japanese streetwear brand Readymade, the Nike Blazer Mid “White” was lauded by Stadium Goods for its “incredibly forward-thinking” design. The collaboration serves up a shoe that is “so far removed from the sneaker’s original design” that it looks like a creation all its own, the retailer wrote. Designer Yuta Hosokawa described the shoe as a “deconstructed look that doesn’t lose sight of the model’s DNA,” with exposed foam at the collar and tongue, three different types of shoelaces and bungee cord lacing systems, and a Nike Grind outsole made from up to 15 percent recycled materials.
Additional reporting by Jessica Binns.