budget sneakers youve never heard main01 Adidas Nike vans
DSW

Sneakers are big business, that’s no secret. A once niche interest has now generated a resale market estimated to be worth $6 billion, according to StockX data. In fact, StockX alone is now valued at $1 billion, while the entire athletic footwear market is forecast to be worth more than $95 billion by 2025.

But while big-name, limited edition releases are what ignite the major conversations among sneakerheads, the biggest-selling styles are those that don’t require the SNKRS app to cop. They’re the shoes found in department stores and outlet malls, sneakers that rarely cost more than $80 and blend in rather than standing out. Sometimes they might even feel like a fake you’d find on AliExpress for $20 with misspelled adibas or Nkie branding.

Yet these are Nikes and adidas alright. They’re the shoes on which major brands tweak and simplify their own designs to create budget versions for mass consumption. Discerning sneakerheads and collectors might turn up their noses, but these styles account for a sizeable chunk of the market, no hype required. For price-conscious shoppers looking for serviceable branded shoes at an agreeable price, they do the job.

In the first few months of 2019, for example, models like the Tanjun, Nike’s bestselling shoe in both 2017 and 2018, and Vans’ Old Skool-alike Ward were among the top 10 bestselling shoes by revenue, according to trend and market research firm NPD.

Adidas Nike vans
The Tanjun was Nike’s bestselling shoe in both 2017 and 2018.
DSW

NPD’s Matt Powell told Put This On that the average price of a men’s shoe in 2018 was approximately $70. That means the sweet spot for most sneaker buyers might not be at Foot Locker, but at budget shoe chains that cater to a different shopper.

It’s clear on first glance that many of these styles use their more illustrious cousins as a starting point, usually switching out the more technical, complex, and expensive elements and materials. NPD notes that performance footwear sales have declined as shoppers opt for more casual lifestyle options, so perhaps these mid-market versions check that box.

And if you’re someone who isn’t online every weekend trying to pick up the latest release, someone who cares little about what’s “cool,” someone who isn’t a sneakerhead at all, you can see the appeal. The Tanjun’s simplistic Roshe-like design makes it a solid choice for someone who needs a “do-everything” shoe that’s neither too technical nor too casual. The Ward, meanwhile, is nearly identical to the Old Skool aside from a few stitching differences.

While some of these simplified styles get billing on their brands’ websites, the easiest way to find them is to scroll through the DSW or Famous Footwear sites — or simply wander through your local department store or outlet mall and rummage through the missorted shoeboxes. And the Tanjun and Ward are hardly the only bargain bin models worth considering.

Like the Ward, Vans’ Asher is a take-down of another Off The Wall classic, the Slip-On. Its additional stitching lines set it apart from the OG but the similarity is obvious. Elsewhere, the Nike Ebernon Low and High look like what would happen if you smashed together an Air Jordan 1 and Air Force 1, while Reebok’s Heredis is a near-identical replica of the Workout Plus.

The PUMA Super Liga has shades of its fraternal rival adidas’ Samba, while the Three Stripes itself sells the Grand Court, a sneaker that is quintessentially adidas, albeit without a single bit of personality. adidas also has the Duramo, something of a budget Ultraboost that swaps out the signature Boost midsole for Cloudfoam cushioning.

budget sneakers nike adidas vans ebernon
The Nike Air Jordan 1 is one of the most coveted and collectible sneakers. Nike's similar Ebernon is about half the price.
Famous Footwear

These renditions might move units, but they don’t really move the needle for informed sneaker enthusiasts. But Nike can’t bank its entire year on Travis Scott collaborations. Instead, it needs to reach as big an audience as it can, to cater to as many budgets and tastes as possible without diluting the Nike brand. Whether the shoes cost $65 or $165 doesn’t necessarily matter, as long as they’re selling.

These shoes represent a trickle-down approach to sneaker design. The original, innovative model hits the market in limited quantities, generating excitement among the most dedicated (and wealthy) consumers. But down the line, the more accessible, diluted version quietly makes its way into the market at volume. By that point, the OG’s luster might have worn off among sneakerheads, the hype shifting elsewhere to something new, but you can bet there’s someone out there heading to an outlet mall in need of a reliable, affordable pair of sneakers — and these are the shoes they’ll buy.

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Words by Skylar Bergl

Skylar Bergl is a freelance writer based in New York City.