Alden Wicker is a freelance journalist living in Brooklyn. She covers sustainable fashion and living, personal finance, and other curiosities.

The Difference Between $50 Sneakers & $500 Ones

The Difference Between $50 Sneakers & $500 Ones

We demand a lot from our sneakers: We want them to protect our feet during marathons, and cushion them as we run errands. We want them to wick away odor and match our outfits. We want them to last forever, and to communicate our values and identity: into fashion or couldn’t-care-less; hip-hop or pop; athlete, professional, or professional athlete.

But no matter how many things you’re able to say with a pair of sneakers, they seem to only exist in three price categories: Below $50, around $100, and way above $100. To find out why, we talked to three experts: Suzette Henry, director of the sneaker design school Pensole’s materials lab; Sébastien Kopp, co-founder of the sustainable and fair trade French-favorite Veja, and Joseph Zwillinger, co-founder and vice president of sustainability and innovation at sneaker brand Allbirds. As it turns out, there’s a reason for this (and, contrary to what you might think, the more you pay doesn’t necessarily mean the more you get). 

A few things to note: This is not prescriptive, but more of a general guideline. Each shoe company will mix and match on options to yield an ideal cost and price. It’s a cliché, but true: You get what you pay for — and sometimes all you're paying for is brand recognition. Also important: Direct-to-consumer products are often higher quality for a lower price, because you’re not paying for the profit margin of department stores. “Consumers are trained to only buy shoes on discount. That puts an extreme amount of pressure on the brand,” says Zwillinger. So, if you’re talking about a direct-to-consumer brand, take everything here and subtract about $50.

Finally, consider companies that specialize in sneakers, rather than fashion labels that also happen to market sneakers. “A lot of times, brands chase other brands or license out their designs, and they give away the strength of the brand just to keep up with trends and designer price tags,” Henry explains. “I believe if a brand believes in its product and the craftsmanship that has gone into it, that’s talked about on the website.” 

With those guidelines out of the way, here’s what you’ll get for each price:

See the infographic on Refinery29. 

Conscious Consumerism Is a Lie

Conscious Consumerism Is a Lie

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