American vs. Italian sneaker brands: What’s the difference?

The sneaker industry has come a long way in recent years, with major American players like Nike and New Balance reaching into the luxury market, and smaller, more nascent Italian brands, like Golden Goose and KOIO making a name for themselves by creating distinct, handmade luxury footwear.

If you’re in the market for a new pair of sneakers and aren’t sure where to begin, this is a guide to some of the top sneaker purveyors in the industry right now, spanning two continents. For more on the differences between American and Italian sneaker brands, read on.


American sneakers generally have a bigger supply chain

Nike and New Balance are big brands, to be sure. This means that their shoes are mainly sold off-the-rack and on an assembly line (in the case of Nike, outside of the United States). They’re well-made, but not as well as a handmade sneaker.

While handmade sneakers are not necessarily Italian sneakers, this category of footwear is difficult to make locally. Small American brands like Common Projects and FEIT, for example, design their shoes in New York and scatter production across the United States, Italy, China, and Japan, according to their website. This allows them to secure high-quality European materials and produce the footwear for a reasonable price, which brings me to my next point.

Italian sneaker brands tend to be smaller, which, by nature, yield benefits like better quality control

Small brands have a smaller output, so naturally, quality control comes easier. This is especially true when sneakers are at least partly handmade, which is very common for Italian brands as small as KOIO and as large as Berluti. Skilled artisans pay acute attention to detail.

Of course, it’s worth noting that in these times makers use the term “handmade” pretty liberally, and some use machinery to avoid such costs. (It’s far more expensive to employ a craftsman than it is to buy and utilize a machine for production.) But when products are made by skilled shoemakers from start to finish there is an assurance of exceptional quality and that no detail will be overlooked.

Moreover, experienced artisans rely on traditional shoe-making techniques, because they’re known to ensure longevity. Such an approach generally includes cutting the leather or fabric; sewing together the necessary pieces; mounting the materials onto the shoe mold; attaching soles to the shoes; and adding details like a shoe tattoo.

In terms of material, Italian brands seem to prioritize quality more than American ones; though, smaller brands, which includes brands like Common Projects, also boast great materials. Generally, color and feel are great indications of exceptional quality European leather, and these are very much present in the products of big and small Italian brands.


Italian sneaker brands also tend to be more expensive

Given the production process, Italian sneaker brands tend to be more expensive.  Golden Goose will cost you a pretty penny (roughly $550 to $800), which some can justify based on their unique craftsmanship and versatility, and others on the brand’s approach to design because the sneakers barely change with wear given their pre-scuffed design. Though, the American Common Projects, which bills production in Italy, will run you only slightly less, roughly $400 to $600.

The takeaway

The best pair of sneakers for you depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for athletic sneakers that strike the right balance between timeless and trendy, then you can’t go wrong with Nike or New Balance. For a sleek white sneaker, on the other hand, you have plenty of options from the United States and abroad. American brands Common Projects and KOIO make great minimalist versions, while a version by Golden Goose will offer more edginess. Dress sneakers can also go both ways, though the most refined styles can be found in the sneaker lines of Berluti, Brunello Cucinelli and Gucci.

Ready to order a pair of luxury sneakers?

As always, these are just guidelines for purchasing luxury sneakers. With over 20 years in the fashion industry, Esquivel Shoes takes pride in being a valuable resource for shoppers. To learn more about our sneaker collection or any other products we offer, send us a message through this link. We’re here to give you peace of mind and help you find the best sneakers for you.

George Esquivel

George Esquivel

George is a Southern California-based designer and craftsman who designed his first pair of shoes in 1994 and began honing his craft thereafter. For over 20 years, he’s operated his namesake brand, Esquivel, which specializes in handmade shoes and accessories. In the last decade, George served as Creative Director of renowned luxury bag and luggage brand Tumi Inc. and as Creative Consultant for Italian heritage brand Fratelli Rossetti, and has collaborated with many others for his own brand. George was a 2009 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist, and has been a CFDA member since 2010. When he’s not working alongside his team of artisans at his atelier, Esquivel House, in Downtown Los Angeles, George is enjoying time with his wife and high school sweetheart, Shelley, and their three grown children. He also loves mountain biking and hosting good friends for dinners and fêtes.