The big boys aren’t always the ones coming up with great sneaker designs and we highlight the single best from 25 different individuals or independent sneaker shops. Having the opportunity to work with a major brand on your own sneaker design as an individual or retailer has to be a dream come true. For those of us into sneakers, we’ve all dreamed of creating our own design with our color choices. While these selections are certainly subjective, and we’re sure there will be plenty of disagreements, one thing is for sure with these designs, they are all super well executed and are beloved by many all over the world.
Best: 24 Kilates x Asics Gel-Lyte Speed
Runner-Up: 24 Kilates x Asics Gel Saga
Barcelona-based sneaker purveyor 24 Kilates has had their fair share of excellent collabs. From the Euro-shop-must-have NB collabs to some more obscure heat, like their recent throw down with Le Coq Sportif. But our personal favorites came back in 2010, with their Asics Gel-Lyte Speed “San Fermin” pack. Not only were they fantastic kicks, but their package included a dope wooden box with a caraf and a bottle of primo wine. Extra credit points, for sure.
Best: Nike Air Max 1 “Elephant”
Runner-Up: Nike Air Max 1 “Safari”
If you’re a serious fan of trainers, and particularly the Nike Air Max 1, you no doubt know about atmos. But unfortunately for most of us, if you happen to live outside of NY or Japan, their collabs have been little more than a pipe dream for you. Unless of course you’ve got some serious stacks to throw around. And for good reason; atmos is, simply put, one of the best sneaker collaborators of all time. Picking a favorite from atmos’s crazy design portfolio was no easy task, but their take on Nike/Jordan’s elephant print with 2007’s Nike Air Max 1 has yet to see any legitimate peers contend with it. And that includes the efforts from Nike themselves over the years. Just looking at what these AM1s beat out (“Safari” and “Viotech” Air Maxes, just to start), you begin to realize just how special these bangers are. Legendary.
Best: Saucony Shadow 5000 Teal & Grey
Runner-Up: Bodega x Reebok AXT Pump “Cottonmouth”
Boston-based Bodega is always putting out that work. So whenever they drop a collab, we’re all ears. But, our personal favorite from the shop’s luminous back catalog is the excellent teal/grey Saucony Elite Shadow 5000 from 2010. Produced in very limited numbers, these Shadows go hard, even beating out their excellent take on Reebok’s AXT Pump, which was nicknamed “Cottonmouth.”
Best: CLOT x Nike Air Max 1 SP “Kiss of Death” Part 2
Runner-Up: CLOT x Nike Air Max 1 NL “Kiss of Death”
If you’re familiar with the history of Nike Air Max 1 collabs, it’s no surprise to see CLOT on this list. Their 2006 collab on the AM1, dubbed the “Kiss of Death,” with it’s clear toebox – has been turning heads ever since it’s inception, and is widely considered one of the best AM1s of all time. Which is why their 2013 collab was such a big deal. When the release was announced, anticipation was high. And though sequels are often a let down, CLOT’s Nike makeups will go down like the Alien vs. Aliens debate. We just happen to prefer the ultimately more-wearable 2013 drop. Flames.
Best: New Balance 999 “Kennedy”
Runner-Up: Concepts x New Balance ‘Mint’ 998
Oooh boy, where to start? The boys from Concepts have been busy, particularly in recent years, creating some of the dopest sneaker collabs we’ve ever seen. So, picking a favorite is a bit of a challenge. But, their work with local brand New Balance has simply been unmatched. And while they had two huge hits on their hands last year, with the excellent ‘Mint’ and “C-Note” 998s, nothing could match the splendor of their 2011 drop, the NB 999 “Kennedy.” This is our favorite New Balance of all time. Nuff. Said.
DJ Clark Kent
Best: Nike Air Max 1 “112”
Runner-Up: Nike Air Max LeBron VII “112”
Man, we really wanna be homies with DJ Clark Kent. Aside from creating the iconic “112” colorway, Kent has had a hand in designing some of the dopest friends-and-fam drops ever. Remember those FnF “James Dean” LeBrons? Crack. But, it all started with the “112 pack,” and our personal favorite, the Air Max 1. We know the 112 colorway isn’t for everyone, but the color scheme just fits the AM1 silhouette so well.
Best: Footpatrol x Asics Gel Saga
Runner-Up: Footpatrol x Saucony Shadow 6000 “Only in Soho”
While wheat Timbs may be the go-to street shoe for Stateside sneakerheads, across the pond, it’s all about the trainers. Which is why we love Footpatrol’s 2012 collab with Asics. Melding the super-comfy Gel Saga with that infamous wheat color, trimming it with asymmetrical accents and topping it all off with a gumsole was a win. And, while FP has had some fantastic collabs throughout the years – particularly last year’s Saucony “Only in SoHo” drop – this one was a no-brainer.
Frank the Butcher
Best: adidas Originals Forum Hi “Hustler’s Crest”
Runner-Up: Saucony Shadow 5000 “Novem”
Frank the Butcher is one of our favorite individuals in sneakers. Not only does he put out legit music, but the dude is a sneaker OG. Just look at what he’s had a hand in creating, particularly in the Boston area. While we’ve omitted our favorite FTB design (the amazing and unreleased New Balance 1600 “Liberty, Justice & Freedom” pack), what’s left is still fantastic. Our favorite? The beautiful adidas Originals Forum Hi “Hustler’s Crest” pack, narrowly topping the “Novem” Sauconys. Those Forums are lush and beautiful.
Best: Hanon x New Balance 1500 “Chosen Few”
Runner-Up: Hanon x Asics Gel Lyte III “Wildcats”
This was a tough one. On the one hand, Hanon’s 2011 “Wildcat” collab with Asics have become one of the dopest non-RF GLIIIs. But on the other, we’re pure suckers for the New Balance 1500. And while the “Wildcats” are dope-as-hell, 2012’s “Chosen Few” 1500s use NB’s iconic grey and navy palette to perfection. In a photo-finish, we’re giving the nod to the “Chosen Few.”
Best: Nike SB Dunk Low “Pigeon”
Runner-Up: New Balance 575 “Pigeon” White
Sure, the “Pigeon” colorway has been done many times before. But that’s because it’s super-versatile and classsssssic. You already know we’ve got a soft spot for New Balances. And while 2009’s “Pigeon” 574s were considered here, lets be real: the SB Dunk Lows are iconic. With Nike recently taking beloved SB colorways, and retroing them as high-tops, we’ve been praying to the sneaker gawds that the “Pigeons” are up for retro consideration.
Best: Nice Kicks x New Balance 1500
Runner-Up: Nice Kicks x Vans Sk8-Hi “The Duel”
The fellas over at Nice Kicks know what they’re doing when it comes to designing a sneaker. While they might not have the volume of say, Kith or CNCPTS, when they do put out a collab, you know it’s going to be on point. Like our favorite, their perfect take on the classic New Balance 1500. Dropping back in 2011, we love this colorway so much because it just fits the New Balance steez so well. NBs always look best in grey tones. But adding pops of that NK red gives the sneaker just the right amount of flare.
Best: Nike SB Dunk Low “Tiffany”
Runner-Up: Diamond Supply Co. Marquise
Come on, you knew what this entry would be as soon as you saw Nicky Diamonds on the list. The gorgeous “Tiffany” Nike SB Dunk Low from 2005 is simply one of the greatest SB colorways of all time. And, while the Diamond Supply team has put out some solid heat since then (especially their in-house line, like the Tiff-blue Marquise), they set the bar crazy high with these SBs. That’s the sneaker equivalent of a walk-off.
Best: Reebok Kamikaze II Mid “Remember the Alamo”
Runner-Up: Reebok Question Mid “Practice”
If you’ve been reading our site for long, you know how big of a fan of Packer Shoes we are. When Packer drops a collab, they do their homework, usually picking an out-of-the-box silhouette and excellent colorway, and it usually comes along with an awesome storyline and packaging. As was the case when they dropped the “Remember the Alamo” Kamikaze’s in 2013. We’re ’80s babies around these parts, so honoring the 1996 NBA All Star Game (widely considered the dopest ASG from a sneaker perspective) is right up our alley. Not only does the colorway perfectly harken back to those wild ’90s unis, but the capsule that came along with the kicks (jersey, shirt & hat) were excellent too. Bravo Packer.
Best: Patta x Nike Sportswear Air Max 1 Premium QS
Runner-Up: Patta x Nike Air Max 1 Premium TZ ‘Black’
If you’re a sneaker designer, looking to use the Air Max 1 as your canvas, you better bring it. Because the likes of atmos and Dutch shop Patta have already set the bar sky high. This may have been the most difficult choice on the list, considering all the fantastic collabs that Patta has dropped since opening their doors back in 2004. But, the purple “Cordouroy” Air Max 1s they dropped back in 2009 are just legendary. If you put swatches of these materials and colors on a table, you’d never imagine they’d come together like they do. But that’s what makes Patta so special. All hail!
Ronnie Feig / Kith
Best: Asics Gel Lyte III “Cove”
Runner-Up: Asics Gel Lyte III “Salmon Toe”
You just can’t have a list like this without including Ronnie Feig. Quite simply, he’s put trainers back on the map in the US and has single-handedly put a whole generation on to brands like Asics and Sebago. With all the fire RF has put out over the past few years, it’s really tough to choose a favorite, because each one is crafted so well. However, the top RF makeup to us has always been and (likely) always will be the “Cove” Gel Lyte III. The Leatherbacks, Selvedges, Flamingos and Rose Golds are classic worthy of all the fire-emojis in the world. And we’re quite partial to the Salmon Toes as well, not just because they’re a super clean looking shoe, but they were the first shoe Ronnie dropped after opening Kith. But in the end, there’s just something special about that “Cove” hue paired with the grey midsole.
Best: New Balance 998 “Tassie Devil”
Runner-Up: Puma Blaze of Glory “Sharkbait”
The good folks down under at Australia’s finest sneaker publication, Sneaker Freaker, certainly know their way around a sneaker design. Having put out several excellent collabs, we’re huge fans of their work. But, they’ve really come on strong in the last few years. One of our favorites, the “Sharkbait” Puma Blaze of Glory was the perfect way to close out that trilogy. But the Sneaker Freaker design we love most is 2013’s New Balance 998 “Tassie Devil.” Not only is the white/black/purple color palette fantastic, but we just love the speckled midsole and those infamous “teeth” paying homage to Australia’s Tasmanian Devil.
Best: Reebok Question Mid “Shoe About Nothing”
Runner-Up: SNS x Asics GT-II Grey/Red
In recent years, we’ve seen several colorway/collabs of the iconic Reebok Question. And while there have been some fantastic designs, we’re not sure anyone has nailed it as well as Stockholm-based Sneakersnstuff’s 2013 “Shoe About Nothing.” Nowadays, seemingly every sneaker has a “story to tell.” So it’s refreshing when a shop says, “you know what, no theme. We just like the colors.” And we couldn’t agree more. And, extra credit points for the Seinfeld reference. That’s just good hustle.
Best: Sole Collector x Nike Air Zoom Flight The Glove “Sonic Wave”
Runner-Up: Sole Collector x Nike Zoom Revis “Talaria” F&F
You probably already know this, but we’ll say it anyway: Sole Collector does fantastic work. Not only is their publication top-notch, but their sneaker design portfolio can go toe-to-toe with some of the best. We love the unorthodox silos and well-thought-out colorways they apply to them. From the amazing Penny pack to the neck-breaking “Cowboy” Dunks, the work SC puts in is inspiring. And, while we REALLY want a pair of those “Talaria” Revis’s, our favorite design is their latest-and-greatest. The “Sonic Wave” Zoom Gloves are just a thing of beauty. GP would be proud!
Best: Solebox x New Balance 1500 “Nazar Eye”
Runner-Up: Solebox x New Balance 1500 “Purple Devil 3″
We’re just going to go ahead and put this out here: outside of Concepts, no one can touch Solebox’s work with New Balance. Yeah, we said it. Just look at the ridiculous back catalog of highly-coveted collabs this Berlin-based shop has put out (seriously, you should see how much some of these NBs go for on the resale market). And, throughout all the gorgeous designs, simplicity wins out, because our favorite drop they’ve ever done is 2008’s New Balance 1500 “Nazar Eye.” It’s just a perfect shoe. It doesn’t get any better than this…trust.
Best: Asics Gel Lyte III
Runner-Up: Converse Pro Leather
Chi-town’s finest, Saint Alfred doesn’t have a ton of sneaker design collabs under their belt yet. But the ones they have dropped have made waves. While guys like RF and Concepts are dropping straight fire on New Balance and Asics silos, Saint Alfred showed that they can play with the big boys with their 2013 Asics Gel Lyte III. Sure, they may not have a catchy nickname. But that powder blue-grey paired with the (off-yellow) gumsole is just a sight to behold. We’re huge fans of their NB 1500 too, and their Converse Pro Leather two-pack collab. But, their GL IIIs are just out of this world.
Best: Stash x Nike Air Max 95
Runner-Up: Stash x Nike Air Force 1 High
If you ask any sneakerhead in the know, NYC-based graf artist Josh “Stash” Franklin has not one, but two designs that are widely considered to be the “best colorway ever” for their respective Nike silos. Now, when you’re talking about the Nike Air Force 1 and Air Max 95, that is a bold statement. That said, just look at ’em: the pics say it all. These are straight fire. While it’s difficult for us to choose a favorite, we lean toward the iconic Air Max 95 because of that speckled sole and the eye-popping gradient.
Best: Taka Hayashi x Pendleton x Vans Vault Sk8-Hi
Runner-Up: Taka Hayashi x Vans J-Lay Mid
Taka Hayashi is one of the most unheralded sneaker designers in the game today. Sure, he gets steady work with Vans and, to be honest, we’re all better for it. But his designs are so under-appreciated in today’s limited-run, hype-driven sneaker game. And that’s too bad, because he just continues to put out straight fire. While we usually love one or two pairs from every seasonal drop, his 2010 team-up with Vans and Pendleton is legendary. If you’re familiar with Taka’s work, you know he loves the Sk8 Hi silo and, in our humble opinion, these are the greatest Sk8-His of all time.
Best: New Balance 1600 “Benjamin”
Runner-Up: Saucony Grid 9000 “Dirty Martini”
What we like about Philly’s UBIQ is that their collabs aren’t limited to the traditional Asics, Nike, New Balance collabs that have become so popular in recent years. They work with several smaller brands and design some really dope stuff that brings these brands into the consciousness of newer sneakerheads. However, while we do appreciate the variety we see from UBIQ, call us old-fashioned, but we think their best work was on 2013’s New Balance 1600 “Benjamin.” They’ve done some excellent work with the likes of Asics, Vans and Saucony as well. But these “Benjamin” 1600s got us feeling all patriotic over here.
Best: Air Jordan IV “UNDFTD”
Runner-Up: Undefeated x Bape x adidas ZX 5000
You already know what it is. While UNDFTD may stretch the term “independent” a little, the designs they’ve dropped are legendary. Not only do they put out crazy throw-downs with brands like Bape and adidas (seriously, those ZX 5000s and Campuses are CRAZY), but they’re the only shop on this list with that coveted Jordan collab. And, naturally, said Air Jordan collab takes the cake here. Not only is it Loch Ness Monster rare, but the oiled olive suede, black and pop of orange is a sight to behold. The UNDFTD IVs are a perfect sneaker.
Best: West NYC x New Balance MT580 “Alpine Guide Edition”
Runner-Up: West NYC x Saucony Shadow 5000 “Cabin Fever”
When you talk about the best sneaker designers, West NYC usually isn’t in contention for a top slot. And we think that’s a shame. While they may not have a ton of drops on their resume, it’s quality over quantity with West. And while we think their “Cabin Fever” Sauconys are some of the best Saucony’s of all time, their amazing collab with NB is just as gorgeous. The “Alpine Guide” MT580 is one of our favorite New Balances over the past few years, and one every true collector should have in their stash.