In more than one way, the year 2021 looked a lot like a 2020 expansion. A good chunk of the year’s most interesting builds were simple variations of last year’s best (the Dunk, Air Jordan 1, 350 v2, 550), but there were lots of redemption drops interspersed with provocative changes that firmly laid the groundwork for a very different year 2022.
Among the unexpected developments was the end of Nike’s contract with the Kobe Bryant estate. The late athlete’s name is synonymous with the brand’s identity and drive for innovation, but the Black Mamba’s union with the Swoosh, which began in 2003, officially ended after negotiations for a renewal ended without a signature on a dotted line. Kobe’s widow Vanessa cited a number of valid reasons for giving up on extending the partnership, leaving the future prospects for Kobe shoes blurry.
While the year of tangible shoes seemed relatively dull compared to the past few years, industry giants – namely Nike and adidas – have boldly entered the Metaverse. The Swoosh’s acquisition of RTFKT was just one of its notable strategic moves in terms of positioning in the virtual world, while adidas Originals’ launch of its own NFT collection promised bigger plans for 2022.
2021 ended with two tragedies that will profoundly shape the future of shoe releases. While needle-moving Travis Scott has enjoyed another healthy year in shoe collaborations, the fatal events of Astroworld in November have indefinitely postponed any future projects he had in place, without any proper timeline in place. view. But that is nothing compared to the loss of Virgil Abloh, the founder of Off-White and creative director of Louis Vuitton who succumbed to a secret battle with cancer. Yet the Renaissance man worked mightily to leave behind a robust catalog of designs, potentially leaving his fans with a bevy of posthumous drops and extending the already massive legacy he left in such a short time.
Now, without further ado, here are our 10 best sneakers of 2021.
10. Air Jordan 11 “Cool Gray” Continuing the brand’s annual tradition, the return of “Cool Gray”; still considered to be part of the upper echelon of Retro colourways, this Air Jordan 11 has surfaced for the first time in a decade in the famous Remastered form. To date, no tradition can beat the release of AJXI in December.
9. Nike Go FlyEase A true marvel of functional and focused design, the Nike Go Flyease was arguably one of Nike’s most impactful sneakers of the modern era, garnering an unprecedented level of mainstream media attention. Still, hands-free trainers designed for people with limited mobility sparked controversy, as the shoes were almost inaccessible to the people they were designed for, let alone the general public.
8. Air Jordan 1 “University Blue” Although the Air Jordan 1s in its various types are hitting the market at an exhausting rate, great colourways will never be turned down. Barely an OG in terms of colors and materials, the “University Blue” struck a chord and became one of the most sought-after sneakers of the year.
7. CdG x Nike Air Foamposite One When COMME des GARÇONS lifted the curtains of its Fall / Winter ’21 show, the label previewed much more than the usual avant-garde fare. Their Nike Air Foamposite One collaboration also worked in black and white, wowing audiences for its Zen garden-like upper. And this touch marked a big moment for the silhouette, because it was the first time that the mold had been changed since its inception.
6. Salehe Bembury x Crocs Pollex clogs An indescribable and inimitable talent, Salehe Bembury has quickly made a name for himself since his departure from Versace, turning into gold all the collaborations in which he has participated. And while not exactly a sneaker, the designer’s Crocs Pollex clog is easily one of the best releases of the year, as the shoe brand allowed Bembury to reinvent his most appreciated without any constraint.
5. Off White x Air Jordan 2 Virgil Abloh, despite battling cancer for most of the past few years, has gone above and beyond with the Off-White x Air Jordan 2. Along with Jordan Brand, the beloved designer paid homage to the roots of the silhouette, offering a shape inspired by the OG with every detail modeled after an actual pair worn by the archival game.
4. Bad Bunny x adidas Forum Buckle Low It’s hard to imagine the high visibility of the adidas Forum throughout 2021 without mentioning one person: Bad Bunny. While the Three Stripes may be working on a signature model for the Puerto Rican superstar, they capitalized on his global stardom with a powerful “The First Café” launch inspired by his morning routine. The sturdy and functional joint effort buckle and removable tongue guards have also demonstrated that the German sportswear giant is not afraid to modify its classic designs for a new generation.
3.adidas Yeezy 450 Ye – the being formerly known as “Kanye West” – and the Three Stripes re-released more adidas Yeezy than ever throughout the year, but that didn’t stop them from continuing to think about it. ‘to come up. A number of knit slip-ons and winter-ready boots expanded the Yeezy Empire’s design catalog, but none were as controversial as the Yeezy 450. The prehistoric shaped sole unit claw brought something completely new to sneakers, and handles from the leaked designs suggest Ye’s tooling is here to stay.
2. Off-White x Nike Dunk Low “The 50” Originally intended to deliver a single sneaker at a higher volume than previous collaborations, “The 50” demonstrated the late Abloh’s ability to push boundaries with insolence, as the project was “one” sneaker after all. Additionally, the capsule launch was a proof of concept for the Swoosh, validating the Nike SNKRS app’s “Exclusive Access” program as a viable way to mass launch a product without making it less special.
1. Une Ma Maniere x Air Jordan 3 Completely subjective and highly questionable recognition, the almost unanimous “Shoe of the Year” was the Air Jordan 3 from A My Way. James Whitner and The Whitaker Group left no shoebox: who struck the perfect balance between heritage and modern design; fair deployment processes both in store and through the Nike SNKRS app made the version accessible to a much wider audience than most trendy drops; a compelling story showcasing women – especially black women – established A Ma Maniére as an institution with the goal of making an impact on the world in a way that goes beyond simply creating cool products. Other collaborators: take note.
HONORABLE MENTIONS / PERSONAL FAVORITES
Patta x Nike Air Max 1 “Noise Aqua”
BAPE STA “Green Camo Sta”
New Balance 550 “Multicolor”
Salomon XT-6 “Kangaroo”
Undefeated x Nike Dunk Low “Canteen”
Nike ZoomX VaporFly NEXT% 2
Kiko Kostadinov x ASICS GEL-Levitrack
AURALEE x New Balance 550
Stray Rats x New Balance 991
Nike Air Tuned Max ‘Celery’
Run the rounds x New Balance 991
Andersson Bell x ASICS GEL-1090
CdG x Nike Air Carnivore
GYAKUSOU x Nike ZoomX Vaporfly Next%
Nike Dunk Low “Seoul”