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Top 10 Minimalist Sneaker Brands For Men Who Prefer Understated Kicks

If you like your kicks with a sleek silhouette and understated styling then look no further.

Words by: Ryan Thompson

Minimalism in fashion is a term open to interpretation, but suffice to say that it’s a genre that eschews embellishment in favor of a sleek silhouette, subtle details (if any) and a restricted color palette.

So what does that mean in terms of sneakers? When we think of minimalist sneakers, it’s the classic tennis pump silhouette that comes to mind – that lo-fi sports shoe that came out of the burgeoning sports and fitness craze of the 1950s that hasn’t really changed too much in the intervening decades.

Cut in soft leather and with a rubber sole, minimalist sneakers often feature contrast-colored heel tabs or perhaps a contrast suede panel on the upper. But besides that and perhaps a logo, they are relatively clean and simple sports shoes that have cemented their place in contemporary menswear.

Today, nearly every footwear brand offers its own take on the style, from luxury shoemakers to designer labels to up-and-coming independents, which can make the choice a little overwhelming. So, if you’re currently hunting for your next pair of super-clean kicks, start with the brands below, and you won’t go wrong.

The best minimalist sneaker brands for men


Man wearing Clae Malone white with gum sole minimalist sneakers on feet with green cargo pants and oversized black T-shirt

Since launching in 2001, Los Angeles-based brand Clae has been quietly producing its own take on minimalistic sneakers, quickly garnering a devoted following thanks to its ‘Bradley Essentials’ model, which is constructed using a super-soft Nappa leather upper.

In addition to premium leather, Clae produces pared-back styles in waterproof nubuck and vegan alternatives. Style-wise, the silhouettes are second to none, including perfect summer mid-tops and slip-ons.


Man holding a pair of white leather minimalist Cariuma skate shoes

Making great minimalist sneakers is easy. Making great sustainable minimalist sneakers? Not so much. Brazilian footwear company Cariuma is one of the companies that does it well, and honestly.

Unlike many sneaker brands, which create a small number of planet-friendly designs and a great many more that are not, Cariuma’s whole range is consciously made from natural and recycled materials, including rubber, cotton, cork and bamboo. It also leads the way with green design practices and carbon-free shipping.

None of this comes at the expense of style or comfort, either. Most of its designs come in a single color and a low profile, with grippy rubber outsoles and highly cushioned insoles as standard.

The collection is heavily influenced by skate culture and spans stripped-back slip-ons and lace-ups, all of which work as well with chinos as they do with a wide pair of skate pants.


A pair of white JAK minimalist shoes on a rattan chair

Founded in 2014 by Isabel and José Maria, JAK is a bootstrapped independent based in Lisbon, Portugal. It sells its minimalist sneakers directly to consumers, so you’ll find them pretty good value compared to some of the other names on this list.

The ‘Royal’ style was JAK’s first design and is still its bestselling model to this day. It’s easy to see why: it has an extremely clean design, a full-grain calf-leather upper, an ultra-soft calf-leather lining, full leather midsoles, and a cemented and stitched rubber sole for durability.

Crown Northampton

A pair of blue and brown burnished leather minimalist sneakers by Crown Northampton

This 110-year-old heritage brand combines minimalist design with Northamptonshire shoemaking craft. A family business currently run by the fifth generation, Crown brings the quality leathers, solid construction and time-honored shoemaking techniques Northampton is renowned for to a curated selection of smart-casual sneakers you can wear with anything.

Wider fits are available on request and, like a quality pair of Derbies, you can also have them resoled when the time comes. You don’t get that from many luxury sneaker brands.


Men's grey suede Aurelien sneakers worn sockless on feet with grey tailored joggers

The smartest name on this list is Aurélien, a Mediterranean-inspired menswear brand that produces stunning smart-casual clothing with a strong sustainability direction. However, its minimalistic sneakers are as good as any specialist footwear maker.

The off-white ‘Portofino’ sneakers are understated classics, made from supple full-grain leather and constructed on ivory rubber soles. The ‘Bayside’ models meanwhile are tonal and textural delights, thanks to a blend of suede and linen fabrics, while the ‘Playtime’ sneaker takes a sustainable approach, being made of a water-resistant technical fabric spun from recycled PET bottles.

Oliver Cabell

Men's white minimalist Oliver Cabell sneakers with black heel and tongue detailing

Founded in 2016 by Scott Gabrielson (who had no experience in fashion or retail), Oliver Cabell has done an excellent job challenging the status quo of the footwear industry, most notably with its flagship product, the ‘Low 1’ sneaker.

Cabell uses Margom outsoles as well as ethically sourced premium Italian leather to create his minimalist designs, many of which come with contemporary distressed details that don’t detract from the pared-back aesthetic.

Axel Arigato

Men's black Axel Arigato Clean 360 Laceless sneaker in suede

It mixes Swedish and Japanese design codes, so of course, Axel Arigato is a minimalist sneaker brand. Even when it’s making chunky moon boots or retro running shoes with multiple panels and materials, the palette is stripped-back and tasteful.

The beauty of this approach is that it makes each design truly elastic: practically every shoe they produce is versatile enough to wear with wide-legged trousers, slim-fit jeans and everything in between.

Produced exclusively in fine Italian leather and manufactured in Portugal, this is modern footwear that’s instantly timeless.


Three minimalist Zespa suede sneakers in beige, green and navy colorways

Born in Aix-en-Provence, France, Zespà is a relative newcomer on the scene but is already proving worthy of the accolades. With a small boutique on Boulevard des Filles-du-Calvaire in Paris, the brand launched espadrilles in 2009 but switched its focus to premium leather kicks in 2014 and has not looked back.

The build quality is exceptional and the styling is subtle, with contrast tongue and heel details as well as suede paneling.

Common Projects

Common Projects Original Achilles Full-Grain Leather Sneakers in black and white

Common Projects, the collaboration of designers Flavio Girolami and Prathan Poopat, can rightfully take its place in the pantheon of modern menswear as the minimalist sneaker brand that did more for its crossover than any other.

Crafted from super-soft leather and with only the most subtle logo detailing on the heel, Common Projects’ now iconic Achilles model paved the way for the casual sports shoe to be worn in a smarter context.

Still one of the best on the market, despite many excellent imitators, CP has since expanded its color palette to include an array of muted tones and the odd vibrant style, all still conforming to the brand’s trademark luxury minimalism.


Men's grey suede minimalist CQP sneakers with gum sole

Founded in 2013, Stockholm-based CQP is unique for the fact that it makes exclusively suede sneakers. With a focus on “materials, shape and graceful aging”, its minimalist sneakers are designed in Stockholm and manufactured in selected facilities in Portugal and Italy, with approximately 80% of the manufacturing process hand-finished by skilled craftsmen. As you would expect, the build quality is exceptional.

It’s perhaps most recognized for its Racquet and Tarmac styles, both classic tennis pump silhouettes, but it has also created a slick line of retro runners and some pared-back slip-ons, too.

The premium suede uppers are reflected in the price, but you’re guaranteed a stunning sneaker you can pair with your entire wardrobe.

The minimalist sneaker’s impact on men’s fashion

A top down view of a selection of minimalist sneakers in white, black and grey leather

Axel Arigato

The minimalist sneaker’s influence on modern menswear has been significant, playing a key role in the crossover between sportswear and casual, everyday style. Being naturally comfortable, combined with its sleek, clean looks, the minimalist sneaker was integrated into the smarter end of the modern wardrobe in the early 2000s at a time when only traditional shoes such as Oxfords, Derbies and loafers were considered the styles to wear with a suit or tailored trousers.

The minimalist sneaker broke the mold – not without much resistance we might add – but when brands such as Common Projects hit the menswear scene and stylish types started to wear their pared-back styles in a more formal context, they never looked back. Now, minimalist kicks have become such an embedded part of a modern capsule wardrobe that it’s hard to think of a time when sartorial types looked down their noses at them.

Beyond the lo-fi tennis pump, you can also find more contemporary sneaker silhouettes that play the trend by being totally monochrome rather than having a clean, classic shape.

What to consider when buying minimalist sneakers

Fabric choice

Men's minimal blue fabric sneakers worn with cuffed white pants


Although the silhouette of the minimalist sneaker has its roots firmly in sportswear, it was when brands started to create them in premium leathers that the concept of them as a crossover shoe took hold.

Today you can expect to find them crafted in buttery-soft leather and premium suede fabrics, often handmade to the same meticulous standards as traditionally smart shoes. Note that most of those British legacy shoemakers – such as John Lobb, Grenson et al. – have all dipped their refined toes into the minimalist sneaker market and to good effect, too.

Sneaker style

Selection of smart leather men's sneakers

Crown Northampton

As discussed above, the evolution of the tennis pump has been the key direction of the modern minimalist sneaker. Still, new shapes have also been able to capitalize on the pared-back aesthetic through monochromatic color palettes.

Oversized soles are very contemporary yet still have the prime tenets of the tennis pump at their core. The key then – regardless of the shape – is for the shoe to consist of few superfluous details, minimal branding and no more than one or two colors.

How to style minimalist sneakers

The joy of the minimalist sneaker, and the reason why it has become so popular in modern menswear, is precisely because it has become so versatile.

It naturally suits being worn in a casual context with sportswear and casualwear: everything from track pants to chinos is a natural extension of the sneaker’s sporting heritage, but it can also be a great adjunct to formal suit trousers or pleated tailored trousers.

The clean lines of the tailored pants lead nicely into the equally clean geometry of the minimalist sneaker, with the latter providing a crisp white contrast to the dark tones of a tailored bottom half.