10 Brands Making The Coolest Leather Sneakers In 2023
Every footwear brand worth its salt makes leather kicks these days - from achingly-cool hype labels to old-school Northampton shoemakers - but these are the 10 names you need to know.
Gone are the days of sneakers being seen as the poorly-made, casual cousin of proper leather shoes. Over the last decade sneakers have gone high end – they’re now made using top-grade hides and the same traditional techniques as Derbies, boots and loafers.
Every footwear brand worth its salt makes leather kicks these days – from achingly-cool hype labels to old-school Northampton shoemakers – so there are plenty to choose from. To help you navigate the minefield, here are 10 names crafting the very best leather sneakers in 2023.
Oliver Cabell has quickly built a name for its premium minimalist sneakers, but it’s the American brand’s more directional designs we find ourselves gravitating towards.
There’s the classic 80s-inspired 481 sneaker, complete with contrast colour stripe running along both sides. And then there’s its Low 1 model, replete with signature ‘O’ insignia and pops of colour on the heel.
Cabell has also started producing distressed versions of its classic models, with faux worn leather and suede giving its styles a unique, lived-in look that a number of luxury brands (Balenciaga, Gucci, Golden Goose) have begun pedalling recently.
Each shoe is produced by hand in the Marche region of Italy using ethically-sourced Italian calfskin and Margom rubber outsoles, with its direct-to-consumer model ensuring you get all this quality at a fair price. The brand even go as far as breaking down the cost of each product, so you can see what your money is being spent on. It’s an approach to transparency that others would do well to follow.
Crown is relentless in its drive for quality. Handmaking footwear in its original Northamptonshire factory, the British brand sells a wide range of classic and more directional designs, from suede Desert boots to Serge Gainsbourg-esque jazz shoes.
Its sneakers follow the same meticulous production process, with each model handmade using first-grade suede and leather uppers sourced from the finest tanneries around the world, including the Horween Company and C F Stead. Fully leather lined for comfort, the sole unit is secured using sidewall stitching, which allows the sneakers to be resoled over and over again like a pair of Goodyear-welted shoes.
They’re an investment, sure, but these are some of the only sneakers that might just outlast you.
It may not yet be a household name, but JAK produces some of the finest leather sneakers on this list. Hailing from Lisbon, Portugal, the brand shows up many of its rivals when it comes to quality, choosing to only manufacture in its homeland at family-owned factories that are known for their fair working practices and time-tested, traditional shoemaking techniques.
JAK’s direct-to-consumer model also helps to keep overheads low, meaning you get premium-quality kicks at fair prices, without the traditional retail mark-up.
If you’re not sure what style of leather sneakers you’re after, or you’re just in need of some inspiration, try Zespa. The French brand offers a wide range of shapes, sizes, colours and finishes, all inspired by its Mediterranean roots. From clean white tennis shoes through to punchy, colour accented designs, there’s something for everyone.
Each pair of kicks is made in Portugal, often in family-run factories, using exceptional materials including full-grain nappa leather for the uppers, combed cotton for the laces and premium quality gum for the soles. They also come in their own branded dust/carry bags, ensuring your sneakers stay looking their very best, whether you’re storing them at home or packing them for a vacation.
When it comes to leather sneakers, Common Projects is the OG. The New York-based brand kickstarted the minimal sneaker revolution back in 2004 and has since come to define the sector.
Its recipe of simple, pared-back design – loosely based on classic tennis shoes – coupled with top-quality Italian leather uppers and signature gold numbering to the heel makes its now iconic Achilles Low model the quintessential minimalist kick.
The brand has of course expanded since those trendsetting early days, now offering everything from sleek mid tops to 80s-inspired running shoes. Price points remain high, but CP sneakers represent the pinnacle of understated luxury.
CQP is all about the construction. The Stockholm-based brand’s sneakers are produced with the same care as a pair of bench-made shoes, so you can expect unparalleled attention to detail and only the finest materials.
Its uppers are typically semi-lined for added softness and comfort, while the soles feature several layers of cushioning as well as a leather or metal shank for boosted arch support.
There are numerous designs on offer, from 90s skate shoe silhouettes (including one that looks suspiciously like a Nike Dunk) to 80s running shoes, all crafted from Italian leather and suede.
Grenson was one of the first British shoemakers to modernise its collections, quickly unshackling itself from the somewhat stuffy, traditional designs that defined it, and many of its contemporaries, for over 150 years.
It was ahead of the curve in that sense, producing trendsetting chunky-soled Derbies, fashion-forward hiking boots and minimal sneakers way before other Northamptonshire brands caught on. Today its line of kicks is expansive, packed full of sharp, sophisticated designs that reference Grenson’s heritage.
The ‘made in England’ (M.I.E) model is our standout: crafted using a mix of nubuck, suede and calf leather, it is designed and made at the brand’s original factory using a modified Goodyear Welted method.
With their simple design and clean colourways, Superga offers up some of the finest canvas sneakers you’ll find anywhere. Its 2750 model is an icon in the same way Converse All Stars or Vans Authentics are – the kind of shoe you throw on with anything and only gets better with age.
Yet while Supergas are great in canvas, they’re arguably even better in leather, making them more durable and easier to keep clean. The Italian brand produces a number of its classic styles in leather, from the aforementioned 2750 through to more contemporary tennis shoe silhouettes. And with prices starting at just £79/$79, you can afford to stock up.
French brand Veja is as committed to responsible production as it is to easy-to-wear, stylish designs.
Case in point: its signature V-10 model boasts a perfectly chunky sole, a basketball shoe-inspired front toe, a simple ‘V’ logo either side and a contrast colour heel tab. It’s an excellent example of contemporary sneaker design, and one that would take pride of place in your rotation.
But that’s not all. Its upper is made from traceable bovine leather from Uruguay; its logo is a combination of rubber and rice waste; and its insole is a mix of Amazonia rubber, sugar cane and organic cotton.
So, if you’re after leather sneakers that look good while keeping environmental impact to a minimum, Veja might be the label for you.
Founded in Amsterdam in 2010, ETQ specialises in high-quality, minimal sneakers made from premium leather, nubuck and suede. Each of the brand’s designs is handmade in Portugal, a country renowned for its shoemaking prowess, and no detail overlooked: tonal metal eyelets, removable memory foam insoles, ultra-absorbent microfiber linings, natural rubber outsoles and complementary dust bags are all par for the course.
ETQ’s leather sneaker collection is designed to be timeless, with one eye on sustainability, so expect classic all-white tennis shoes as well as slightly chunkier models that incorporate subtle touches of colour.
What to consider before buying
Type of leather used
Although the kind of leather used won’t have a drastic effect on the look of your sneakers, it will impact how they feel, and potentially their longevity. While many high-end versions are made using classic shoemaking techniques – think wholecut uppers and cork-filled soles – the leathers used are significantly softer and more pliable than found on your typical pair of Derby shoes.
Of course, that’s because sneakers are designed to be comfortable first and foremost. As a result, expect to find lighter weight calf leather rather than heavyweight hides that take an age to break in. Even the smartest of leather sneakers should be comfortable straight out of the box.
This is largely personal preference and depends on your own personal style. For ultimate versatility and ease of wear, all-white leather sneakers can’t be beat. They’re essentially a blank canvas and can be combined with virtually everything in your wardrobe, from jeans to tailoring.
All-white kicks have long been the preserve of minimalists – those who shun brand logos and instead focus on fit and fabric. And while an overly simple, pared-back way of dressing might have recently given way to loud logos and wild, Tik Tok fashion, plain white sneakers deserve a place in every man’s rotation.
If you’re looking for something more visually stimulating, consider introducing a splash of colour. A contrasting gum sole, red, green or blue accents on the heel and tongue, perhaps a logo down the side… these are all subtle ways to add interest to your feet without sacrificing versatility.
This subtle, updated take on the minimal leather sneaker isn’t going to transform an outfit, granted, but it will add a new focal point and more personality to your looks than a clinical plain white version will.
Aside from white, every shade of leather under the sun is available these days, so don’t be afraid to experiment – there are stealthy all-black kicks, brown/tan leather sneakers that look more like dress shoes, as well as striking green and navy designs that will bring a new dimension to your fits.
Smart or casual?
Styles of leather sneakers vary hugely. There are of course classic, minimally designed versions, originally made popular by brands like Common Projects back in the early 2000s. These are the shoes that spearheaded the smart casual movement in menswear, essentially becoming the perfect accompaniment to chinos, Oxford shirts and navy blazers.
They’re still ideal for dressing down formalwear today, with their clean lines and simple, pared-back silhouette. They’re also what most people will picture when they think of leather sneakers.
However, sportier designs are often made from leather too, and shouldn’t be overlooked. A pair of high-tops with leather uppers, for example, are arguably the only pair of sneakers you need. They offer maximum versatility, combining well with jeans and a tee but also finishing off tailored trousers and a shirt with aplomb.
Popular 80s silhouettes are always a solid investment too. Think tennis shoes, mid-top basketball shoes and runners made from leather. These retain all the comfort and classic style that made them icons in the first place, but the premium quality of the leather elevates, affording them a more luxurious feel.