New sneaker startups are gaining traction

While the sneaker market is quite crowded, young consumers’ passion for kicks is fueling demand for more. New entrants in the space are gaining their footing through approaches that resonate with modern youth, including the direct-to-consumer business model, as well as transparency and a social good component.


Whereas most luxury sneakers retail for upwards of $500, Koio brings similarly stylish and well-made Italian leather kicks to the masses at much more affordable price points. The company’s creators, sneaker enthusiasts Chris Wichert and Johannes Quodt, realized they could sell luxury shoes for less by bringing them directly to consumers, thereby eliminating middleman markups. The startup, which is backed by the founders of Warby Parker and Bonobos, sells low-tops starting at $148 and high-tops starting at $298. Last year Koio grew 400% over 2016 and now sells more than 1,000 pairs each month between its online sales and its two stores in NYC.


Brooklyn-based sneaker brand Greats also offers minimalist leather sneakers comparable to luxury brands like Gucci and Lanvin at a fraction of the price. The direct-to-consumer company got its start with men’s shoes and has enjoyed much success, particularly with its Grey Jason Wu collaboration that sold out in 12 hours and a Marshawn Lynch partnership that sold out in 49 minutes. Greats has expanded into women’s sneakers and continues to grow rapidly, having recently partnered with Nordstrom to sell an exclusive collection on its site and in select stores. Meanwhile, Greats is getting into the brick-and-mortar space, with a shop in its Brooklyn office, a forthcoming store in LA, and more in the works.


Following in the footsteps of social-good footwear brands like TOMS, startup PATOS has amassed a following for its minimalist sneakers that feature traditional textiles produced by Latin American artisans. The company is the brainchild of 21-year-old Fernando Rojo, who was inspired by local artists in Argentina who sold their handmade shoes at flea markets but struggled amidst the economy. Rojo combines modern styles with the textiles from such skilled artisans and took to Kickstarter to fund the concept. PATOS has since hired over a dozen Peruvian craftsman and sells its sneakers, which retail for $95 each, in 15 countries.