How are luxury sneakers made?

In a luxury market brimming with sneaker options, it can be difficult to determine which one is the best pick for you. One way to help you narrow down the selection process is by getting a better understanding of how luxury sneaker brands craft their footwear so that you have a clearer insight into assessments of design, materials and craftsmanship—the main factors that insiders consider when classifying fashion products as luxury or high fashion.

To learn how the best luxury sneakers are made, and what to look for when purchasing a pair, read on.


They’re crafted with high-quality leather, fabric and rubber

As with any type of footwear, apparel or accessory, materials used factor into the quality, which ultimately determines whether or not that product can be considered a luxury. Color and feel are great indications of exceptional quality European leather. Questions to ask when assessing the materials includes, is the leather richly pigmented, and does it feel buttery soft? For true luxury sneakers, the answer should be “yes” on both counts; these skins should elevate the look and feel of any pair of low- or high-top sneaker styles.

True luxury brands source these premium materials, like calfskin and alligator skin, which are on par with those used for dress shoes. And when you consider that, it may be easier to see why such sneakers are considered opulent and indulgent.

If you’re a consumer who buys footwear at luxury price points with the expectation that they’ll be comfortable and last long (as you should!) be sure to evaluate the materials used on the exterior and the interior, as this makes a difference in terms of the practicality, comfort and shelf life of your shoes.

Not many companies use a leather insole, which maximizes comfort because leather molds to your foot. Other materials, like sponge and cardboard, are cheaper and more convenient to source, but don’t scream “luxury.” With the sponge material, the rebound slackens after a while, while cardboard is too stiff and will never break in. A real rubber outsole is another feature that indicates longevity, as it’s more durable than outsoles made of any other materials.

They employ classic, sensible and, sometimes, one-of-a-kind details

Rather than following the latest trends, a true luxury brand offers timeless styles that are also functional (that is to say, comfortable and versatile). They may also have one-of-a-kind details, like hand-coloring or distressing, to indicate that it’s not a mass-market shoe. (Golden Goose in its early years of production is one such example of this; today, consumers don’t seem to be buying its shoes for individuality as much as for the wear-with-everything appeal and reputation of the brand.)
Another element of luxury sneaker design is innovation, which sneaker designers like Virgil Abloh and Axel Arigato exemplify season after season. As writer Calum Gordon once put it, Abloh “is incredibly adept at sampling, often drawing together a broad range of ideas, reference points and aesthetics in order to make something new.” Gordon pointed out that some frame such talent as “unoriginal,” though Abloh “has come to wear [it] as a badge of honor.” I understand his perspective more than the former because it’s such nods to the past that define classicism in fashion.

They’re made by hand, to an extent, and with acute attention to detail always

How garments and accessories are made also plays a role in true luxury status. That said, leather goods that take time are generally considered luxuries. Those that are thoughtfully designed and constructed are luxury, and in the case of sneakers, they also should be comfortable.

Many luxury brands handcraft their sneakers, at least to a degree. When any product is made by experienced craftsmen, rather than automated machinery, there is added value. In these cases, there are countless steps the cobblers must follow to complete a pair of luxury sneakers, and the process ensures that no pair of shoes will be exactly the same as any other crafted by the same designer.


Here’s what to look for in a pair of luxury sneakers

Contrary to popular belief, sneakers aren’t meant to last 20 years if you plan to wear them regularly, regardless of how much you paid for them. Many designers, namely heritage brands (think Alexander McQueen, Maison Margiela and Saint Laurent) make stiffer sneakers to last longer and thus justify the price. (Luxury sneakers range in price from approximately $350 to $4000.) But it’s my humble opinion that if designers made sneakers softer to begin with and lowered the price, it would be a lot better for the wearers.

For example, crafting sneakers with leather insoles, rather than cardboard ones, allows the sneakers to break in; even if you were to remove the leather insole from such a pair of sneakers, a leather footbed and rubber sole could suffice for support and comfort.

Ready to order your 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.