A Buyer’s Guide to Handmade Shoes and Sneaker Brands for Men

Along with a dapper suit and a solid timepiece, there are few pieces in a man’s wardrobe that bring a touch of luxury and style to his everyday appearance like a refined footwear.  Specifically handmade sneakers, boots, and loafers.

But what’s so special about handmade shoes? Aren’t all shoes technically handmade? Well, no. Some are made entirely by robots and machines. Handmade shoes and sneakers, however, are meticulously crafted by experts set on ensuring an exceptional end result, a pair of kicks that prize and present longevity and luxuriousness over short-term sufficiency. The materials used in handmade shoes are high-end, polished, and sophisticated. And the best handmade shoes and sneakers are crafted using a combination of superlative stitching, top-quality leather, and dedicated, bespoke craftsmanship. A great pair of handmade shoes should fit like a glove, reflect your individual style, and elevate your existing wardrobe, while hopefully not breaking the bank. 

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John Lobb

Benefits of Buying Handmade Sneakers and Shoes

The benefits of purchasing a pair of handmade shoes are many, but there are some advantages that truly make a purchase like this worthwhile. For one, off-the-rack sneaker and shoe styles change with the seasons, but handmade shoes will forever be a sought-after trend in footwear fashion because they offer something typical shoes don’t: customization, top-notch materials, and most importantly, you’re not likely to find a coworker or friend with the same pair. Other benefits include:

  • Great fit: Because many handmade shoes are ordered custom, you don’t have to worry about a shoe being too wide or too narrow for your feet. This personal fit is something that is hard to beat in terms of all-day comfort.
  • Durability: Handmade sneakers are made from the highest quality materials, meaning handmade shoes, more often than not, don’t suffer the wear and tear typical of department store shoes. Think materials like top-grain Italian leather, animal hides, and specialty laces, soles, and eyelets.
  • Longevity: When you make the decision to purchase a pair of shoes, one of the biggest aspects that go into your choice should be the duration of time the shoes or sneakers will last. Handmade sneakers, because they’re crafted with polished materials, will stand the test of time and give you your money’s worth. In fact, you might actually save money because you won’t have to go out and buy a new pair of shoes a year or two down the line. One of our editors has had a pair of KOIO sneakers for three years, and, even after wearing multiple times a week, they still look nearly brand new. 
  • Variety: Handmade sneakers and shoes are truly personalized, meaning you have a lot to contribute when it comes to color combinations and materials. Even if it’s not a totally custom contribution, a handmade sneaker brand tends to give its buyers a plethora of options to choose from when it comes to personalization.
  • Comfort: Shoes made with high-quality materials, which typically include natural textiles and textures, boast an unbeatable feeling of comfort that is worth the money. A sneaker made from synthetic and cheap materials tend to wear out quickly and lose its supportive abilities, with the end result being a flattened arch, collapsed heel, or eroded footbed. Handmade sneakers, boots, and shoes just get better with time. 

To help you discover which handmade shoe and sneaker options are the best for you, we rounded-up 12 handmade shoe brands that we love. We hope you do, too.

Best Handmade Sneakers and Shoe Brands

KOIO

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KOIO’s vision of blending minimalistic style with the heritage of Italian-made leather sneakers is one that does not go unnoticed. It offers a great selection of completely tonal designs that are made with high-end Italian quality by German designers. One Primo sneaker is handcrafted from 88 separate parts to assure you support and longevity. It’s this dedicated engineer-like approach to shoe construction that makes KOIO so desirable. It’s clear that the brand’s focus is not on flashiness, but rather a commitment to craftsmanship and quality that lets you forge your own path amongst your peers.

Price Range: $$-$$$

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M. Gemi

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Italian craftsmanship and artistry is always a highlight when diving into the handmade sneaker world, and M. Gemi — seeing that their shoes are handmade and shipped from the motherland of craft itself — has run with that idea straight into the upper echelon of the luxury trade. This attention to detailed design has enabled M. Gemi to produce shoes that pay homage to traditional shoemaking techniques from old school family-owned Italian workshops, while still keeping a foothold in style and comfort. And, by cutting out the middleman and selling directly to consumers, M. Gemi keeps their prices fairly affordable for those of you looking to snag high-quality shoes for the low (comparatively, at least).

Price Range: $$-$$$

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FEIT

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FEIT’s handmade shoes may seem simple to the eye, but they are superb when broken down into their details and the inspiration behind them. Built out of one man’s desire to change the way consumers see products, the New York City-based, Australian-born brand is an act of divergence from the reliance on synthetic materials that are bad for the environment after its short shelf-life. Instead, FEIT waved goodbye to technological advances and moved back to the basics by assembling a crew of master shoemakers to craft sneakers made from, usually, one single piece of high-grade leather for the upper construction.

Price Range: $$$$

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Oliver Cabell

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Founded in 2016 by 27-year-old Scott Gabrielson, Oliver Cabell shoes stakes its reputation on the creation of handmade, fun, functional, and stylish footwear. The brand’s direct to consumer model also means that you’re not paying a fortune for something that is constructed from top-quality materials and fabricated in factories that pride themselves on their ethical obligation to providing a great working environment for the company’s cobblers. And, what sets this brand apart from many of the others on this list is that they are constantly producing new designs, styles, and models. Which means, if you like Oliver Cabell’s styling, you might just find yourself maxing out your credit card collecting all their latest efforts. What’s more, almost every sneaker from the brand prices in at under $200.

Price Range: $-$$$

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Red Wing Heritage

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For over a century, Red Wing has met the demand of tough work environments that call for superior protection, while also supplying comfort to those working through those rough moments. This dedication sets Red Wing apart from the rest of them. This is also a big reason why the brand’s reputation has consistently been in high esteem with workmen across the U.S. Red Wing shoes are still made with the traditional Goodyear welt construction process, an elaborate method of stitching a thin premium leather welt together with the upper and the leather insole. This process, as time has tested, yields the highest quality shoes that are both durable, comfortable, and makes resoling shoes possible down the road. Check out our tour of their factory in Minnesota if you don’t believe us. 

Price Range: $$$

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John Lobb

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British footwear brand John Lobb is another one of those companies that have stayed true to its rich heritage of craftsmanship, service, and style over its 150 years of existence. Dubbed the Rolls Royce of shoemaking, it has kept its bespoke principles in the manufacturing process of its ever-expanding ready-to-wear collection of shoes, which began with John Lobb himself during his stint of making sturdy footwear for Australian miners in the 19th century. By pulling full grain leather over each shoe at the end of its construction, John Lobb shoes are able to provide a sense of elasticity that molds over your foot over in time, providing the perfect fit and ultimate comfort. These custom and bespoke shoes are not cheap but think of this as an investment in your footwear future.

Price Range: $$$$

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HELM Boots

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Designed and crafted in Austin, Texas, HELM is faithful in its efforts at making versatile and functional handmade shoes that will give any man confidence, whether digging away at a DIY project or slogging through a task at work. Carefully curated with over 153 steps involved before a shoe or boot can be completed, HELM produces a wide array of handmade boots and sneakers from premium leather that are lightweight and durable. How can you tell its a HELM boot? The easy to spot white, midsole line.

Price Range: $$$

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Rancourt & Company

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Rancourt & Company is a family owned and operated business known for crafting some of the most exceptional hand-sewn shoes in the world. Mike Rancourt and his son, Kyle, began the Lewiston, Maine-based company in 2010 with hopes of reviving the American-made tagline and the workforce of shoemakers in their hometown. It sources 90 percent of its materials from the U.S., acquiring their premium leather from staples like Horween and SB Foot for their array of moccasins, boots, and loafers – the whole nine yards. It puts in practice the treasured Blake Welt stitch construction, which features a single row of stitching inside the upper, connected to the outsole. Because Rancourt & Company uses this process, there is no rib attached to the inner sole, meaning your handmade sneaker gives you greater flexibility and longer wear.

Price Range: $-$$$

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Paul Evans

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Paul Evans was started with one goal: To make great looking, comfortable shoes from luxury materials that won’t cost you upwards of $1,000. Its sneakers, which are outlined in New York City and hand-sewn in Naples, Italy, also benefit from the classic Blake stitch for its inherent flexibility, comfort, and sleek aesthetic. But these puppies are not only hand-stitched by cobblers with premium Italian calfskin leather materials, Paul Evans uses skilled artists to hand paint each pair of shoes for a unique finish that eclipses the quality and design of many of the brand’s competitors.

Price Range: $$$

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Undandy

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Now on to Portuguese craftsmanship, which is also world-renowned due to its passionate drive for high-caliber products. Undandy sneakers are made in a third-generation workshop in São João da Madeira, often referred to as the shoe capital of Portugal. It uses full-grain calfskin leathers sourced from Italy and France and offers its handcrafted shoes in over 50 colors of leather, suede, canvas, and more. The most exceptional part of the Undandy process is its use of a small number of cobblers, each possessing their own craft, like pattern cutting, leather grading, and seam-stitching. This unparalleled craftsmanship is apparent in Undandy’s Blake Rapid construction designs, which cannot be replicated by machine. Only human hands can create something this fine.

Price Range: $$-$$$

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Añel Racer Collection

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Añel Racer’s handmade sneakers are like a glove for the foot. Made from some of the finest leather and fabrics in, you guessed it, Italy, each sneaker possesses the brand’s unique aerodynamic silhouette and is available in a variety of lavish color combinations. This combination of thoughtful design and elite substance is something that many products simply can’t offer. The brands make some other high-end retail products, too, such as suits, apparel, fragrances – pretty much anything and everything you need to look and feel fresh. However, it is its exclusive handmade sneakers that make us drool. The best part is all of this is available for just under $400, which is a steal for stylish, hand-sewn, Italian shoes.

Price Range: $$$

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Filling Pieces

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Amsterdam-based Filling Pieces works with three family-owned manufacturers in Portugal to craft all of their handmade shoes, relying on knowledge and expertise for its end product. Created by designer Guillaume Philibert in 2009, Filling Pieces has succeeded in bridging the gap between what we see on the mainstream market as stylish sneakers and what we know from high-grade craftsmanship. The result? A cult-like brand that is approaching its 10-year anniversary because of its dedication to using only the finest Italian materials, a unique high-tongued style, and its dignified ‘Low Top’ silhouette.

Price Range: $$-$$$

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Not sure about what some of these fancier looking shoes actually are? No worries. Learn all about dress shoes and which types to buy for what occasion here.

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