The Best Sneakers of 2021 (So Far)

The Best Sneakers of 2021 (So Far)

As we head towards the end of the calendar year, the conversation always turns towards the best sneakers of the year. Faced with uncertainty at the beginning of 2021, sneaker brands and fans alike we’re not quite sure how the year would unfold. But despite the concerns, it’s turned about to be an absolute banger. So what are the Best Sneakers of 2021 (So Far)? It’s a tough task to sit and rank thousands of releases, but through much debate, in-fighting, and countless curse words, we got there.

Historically we’d drop this list around July 1st — the middle of the year — and to be honest, we thought we actually did one. The reality is we never got around to it. Be it redesigning our website (and new app!) or caught up in the hype of a Summer free of lockdown, we just never got it done. But it’s never too late to start a list — after all, this Top Ten Sneakers of 2021 list is a fluid thing and will change with additions and omissions as the year rolls on.

10. Carpet Company x Nike SB Dunk High

Release Date: March 12th, 2021

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In a year full of SB collaborations that we invertedly inspired, the Carpet Company x Nike SB Dunk High was surely a standout. The debut Nike SB collab from two brothers that make up the small-but-buzzed brand delivered Dunk that’s devoted to their love of creation. From textile,e to illustration and graphic art, the tear-away sneaker is full of wonderful and whimsical elements. A deserving inclusion in the year’s best.


9. Bodega x New Balance 990v3

Release Date: June 16th, 2021

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There are few names that rival Bodega when it comes to retailer sneaker collaborations. Though they’re often overshadowed by the likes of atmos and UNDEFEATED, Boston-based Bodega has been bumping out bangers for over a decade, the culmination of which came atop their New Balance 990v3 “15h Anniversary”.  Dominant in deep tans and browns, the pair works through a plethora of earthy shades and materials to offer up a classic Bodega aesthetic. What’s more? They were much easier to cop than most on this list, putting it up a few pegs on our list of worthy entrants.

 

8. Bad Bunny x adidas Forum “The Last Cafe”

Release Date: March 17th, 2021

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Image: @arab_lincoln

Though adidas and Beyonce tried their best to boost the adidas Forum’s appeal, it was in fact their mainstay Blue Thread releases followed by this absolute banger from Bad Bunny that escalated the design’s popularity. The pair’s unlikely release in Spring (it’s really a Fall sneaker) was likely due to COVID delays, but it was worth the wait.

 

7. UNDEFEATED x Nike Kobe 5 “Hall of Fame”

Release Date: May 12th/15th, 2021

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The tearjerker of the year award goes to Kobe Bryant’s posthumous induction to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. Though he was a certainty to get in first ballot regardless of his passing, the event held all the more significance. Prior to the tragic events of January 26th, 2020, long-time collaborators and LA locals UNDEFEATED had plans to honor the Mamba with a special-edition sneaker: the Nike Kobe 5 “Hall of Fame”. Bryant’s death made the tribute sneaker all the more special, but despite the extra weighting, the pair would have made this list regardless.


6. adidas YEEZY 450

Release Date: March 6th, 2021
Restock Date: September 2021

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Kanye’s approach to designing sneakers is abstract, to say the least. Some hit, while others miss, but all of them are always subject to some heated debates. The YEEZY 450 is not exempt from both sides of the argument, but the fact that people are still talking about it is reason enough to include it in this list of Top Ten Sneakers of 2021. Aside from that, the design is something that will push the entire industry forward, though whether you agree with its direction is another thing.

 

5. UNDEFEATED x Nike Air Force 1 Low “5 on it”

Release Date: August 6th, 2021

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O.K., so these technically haven’t dropped yet, but given we’re just two days away from its release it’s fair to have these gems included. The second entry from the LA retailers in this list of Top Ten Sneakers of 2021, the simple and understated UNDEFEATED x Nike Air Force 1 “5 on it” celebrates the silhouette’s turn-of-the-Century obsession with premium materials. It also highlights just how good they are at delivering a collaboration, despite the fact that some say that they’ve run out of steam.

 

4. Travis Scott x Fragment Air Jordan 1 Low OG

Release Date: August 13th, 2021

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Another pair that’s yet to release at the time of publication (but soon will) is the second of Travis Scott and Fragment’s Air Jordan 1 offerings. It’s rare for any Air Jordan 1 Low to be preferred over a High, but for some reason, it’s almost unanimous amongst sneakerheads. Perhaps it’s the subtle inclusion of aged-look elements or maybe people are just shitty that they missed on the Highs and are just saying it. Either way, it appears to get more love on our site from visits, and also from the dude writing this article.

 

3. Air Jordan 1 High OG “University Blue”

Release Date: March 6th, 2021

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Though there was no March Madness tournament this year, the month itself was, with almost every sneakerhead in both hemispheres scrambling to secure a pair of these beauties. The supple suede uppers against a tumbled leather base in that beautiful shade of blue? Boy, what a shoe. And it looks good in every pastel hue, too, as we’ve trialed in our Sneaker Concept Lab (here’s hoping we get more colorways in this construct soon!)


2. Nike SB Dunk Low “What The P-Rod”

Release Date: May 24th, 2021

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A lot of stars have aligned for Nike SB and their Dunk variants over the past 18 months, and that phrase can be taken quite literally for their best effort of the year: the Nike SB Dunk Low “What The P-Rod”. Honoring the 17-year link between Nike SB and Paul Rodriguez, their first signature skater, the two delivered something homage-packed on more than one level.  As one of the most decorated pro skaters in history, P-Rod has been privy to some pretty impressive Dunk colorways. This pair honors several of these, and does so in a way that honors the brand’s most celebrated design: the “What The”. The result is a mismatched mash-up that tells the story of Rodriguez’s Nike history from 2005’s “J-Rod” all the way up to 2020’s boxing-inspired SB Dunk High. Though it won’t stand up anywhere near the original’s lofty mantle, it’s definitely up there in the best-of conversation of Nike SB Dunks of the past five-or-so years.

 

1. A Ma Maniere x Air Jordan 3 “Raised By Women”

Release Date: April 28th, 2021

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A Ma Maniere has retailer has found itself at the end of some of the most desirable footwear collaborations of the past few years. It’s not surprising, given James Whitner’s impeccable eye for details and a desire to tell crucial and timely stories. Their “Raised By Women” Air Jordan 3 from April this year has already been hailed sneaker of the year by a fair margin, with the pair’s story beaming and an execution that’s beyond belief. It once again highlights the desire for premium, high-end collaborations, as well as meaningful stories and most importantly, inclusivity.

 

Honorable mentions:
Air Jordan 1 High OG “Neutral Grey”
Trophy Room x Air Jordan 1 High
South Park x adidas Campus 80s “Towelie”
Travis Scott x Air Jordan 6 “British Khaki”
Piet Parra x Nike SB Dunk Low “Abstract Art”
Yeezy 380 “Alien Blue”
Nike Air Max 90 “Bacon”


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