2020 has been one of the strangest years many of us have ever been through in our lifetimes. Lockdowns and tiers have taken over our lives for the most part. Fortunately for sneakerheads, though, one constant has remained. Our favourite sneaker brands have gone above and beyond to continue to release heat during the global pandemic.
We’ve seen some of the best collaborations of all time from New Balance, whilst Nike and Jordan Brand have simply re-created their most popular silhouettes with colossal success. Kanye West has played a significant part within the sneaker scene again with his Adidas collab, not only producing new sneakers but restocking some of his most popular shoes from years past.
So without further ado and in no particular order, let’s break down our top ten releases we have seen over the past twelve months.
1. Off-White x Air Jordan 4 Sail
Virgil Abloh teased this Off-White creation many times before we finally saw a release. The sneaker made an appearance at the “Figures of Speech” exhibit, Chicago, then again in Off-White’s Paris FW20 show. The sneaker turned heads within the community with the industry buzzing over the minimalist design.
The Off-White x Air Jordan 4 came dressed in an extremely minimalist yet clean colourway. The duo used a sail, cream and white colour palette throughout the design of the shoe.
The idea behind the silhouette was to be a women’s exclusive release. However, the incredible design had all genders climbing over each other to pick up a pair. Anyone that thought Virgil had fallen off with his sneaker concepts received a reality check when they saw the hype surrounding this AJ4.
Off-White and Abloh still hold plenty of power within the sneaker space. Do not be surprised to see their stock rise even further over the next 12 months.
2. Off-White x Air Jordan 5
We were all lucky enough to see not one, but two different versions of the Off-White x Air Jordan 5 release this year. The black rendition was released over All-Star weekend back in February and was almost instantly discussed as one of the best releases we’d see all year. Fast forward to October, and we would see the incredibly clean Sail colourway see a release too.
As with all of Virgil’s collaborative ventures, the true beauty lays within the details. Virgil manages to combine the OG design aspects we know and love with the Air Jordan 5, adding his flavour of deconstructed elements to the shoe. The uppers come covered in a synthetic material with transparent holes on both lateral and medial sides of the shoe on both pairs. Intentional ageing features can be found throughout the sneakers design, giving the silhouette a truly vintage feel. The iconic Jumpman logo and MJ’s jersey number both feature as they did with the sneaker’s original versions.
The idea behind this particular collaboration was to honour the OG Air Jordan 5, something Virgil manages expertly. The intentional vintage look on both versions would have you believe the shoe could have been plucked directly from the 90s: a great collaboration and an even better acknowledgement of Jordan Brands unbelievable silhouettes.
3. JJJJound x New Balance 992
Over the last few years, JJJJound has gone from an internet mood board to one of the industry’s most incredible sneaker collaborators in the game. We have seen JJJJound Founder Justin Saunders produce a handful of Reebok silhouettes, but none have come close to the unbelievable effort between JJJJound and New Balance.
The 992 has been a favourite amongst sneaker purists for quite some time but shot to fame due to the likes of Steve Jobs opting for the comfortable shoe on a day to day basis. The incredible detailing and craftsmanship that goes into the sneaker are what makes them such a fan favourite. Pair this with the cult following of JJJJound and Saunders creative flare, and you have one of the sneakers of the year.
In true JJJJound fashion, the minimalist suede uppers come covered in lowkey colourways. The only source of branding features on the heel in place of the usual USA print. The iconic silhouette turned the heads of more than just JJJJound fans, with the sneakers selling out instantly. The resale value now sits anywhere between the £400-£800 mark, making them one of the most sought-after New Balance’s ever.
This 992 is a genuinely legendary collaboration that hit the sweet spot regarding both brands identities. I hope to see more from this duo in the New Year.
4. Nike Dunk High ‘Michigan’
2020 will most definitely be going down as the Year of the Dunk. With the amount of heat that released this year, it was always going to be challenging to select a silhouette to discuss.
However, the ‘Michigan’ genuinely needs no introduction. You could even argue it is the most crucial colourway in the Dunks illustrious history. The aesthetically pleasing yellow and blue colour combo has been a favourite amongst sneakerheads since its OG release as part of Nike’s college colours programme in the 80s. We haven’t seen an OG release of the shoe in quite some time; only Virgil Abloh has tried his hand with the colourway on the recent Off-White x Nike Dunk Low.
The Michigan colours have a way of transitioning between sneakerheads and the mainstream. The most avid collectors want to rock yellow and blue, but we have also seen Jack Nicholson rock the famous hues whilst playing tennis.
The Michigan Wolverines may be on the decline currently, but wearing their colours on your feet will forever be a winning formula.
5. Union LA x Air Jordan 4
A silhouette that came under some scrutiny when images first leaked, the Air Jordan 4 x Union collaboration ended up being one of the finest sneakers to release this year. Coming in Off Noir and Guava Ice colourways, the sneaker featured some intricate design aspects that Union LA love. Union founder Chris Gibbs intentionally stitched down the shoe’s tongues as he did this to his AJ4’s when he was a kid. We also saw intentional ageing on the sneaker’s midsole, a move that Gibbs had done previously to his Air Jordan 1 collab. This technique instantly gives the shoe an OG feel and has become a massive part of sneaker culture in 2020.
Unfortunately, the Guava Ice was impossible for many of us to get due to its minimal release. However, the Off Noir was slightly more attainable with many collectors adding this unbelievable silhouette to their collection.
Whenever Union LA and Jordan Brand join forces, we are guaranteed a sneaker that will instantly be catapulted into the Sneaker of the Year discussion. We look forward to what the dynamic duo come up with in 2021.
6. WTAPS x New Balance 992
In a year dominated by collaborations, it was great to see Japanese brand WTAPS (pronounced double taps) produce one of the standout pieces of the year. The New Balance 992 has become one of the best sneakers around, and the collaborations we have seen based on this model have been outstanding.
The WTAPS rendition was a thing of beauty, sticking to their brand identity of army-inspired garments perfectly, the shoe came covered in grey, green and olive hues. You can find the WTAPS lettering on the heel and tongue of the shoe. A pop of high vis orange features on the midsole to finalise the clean design.
Much like the JJJJound collaboration, we expected the WTAPS following to snap up this release. However, the sneaker has become one of the most sought-after releases of 2020 with a resale value of up to £800. If anybody doubted New Balance’s power within the sneaker industry, 2020 should prove that they are a real contender.
7. Grateful Dead x Nike Dunk SB
With the wild sneakers we have seen release this year, you would think it could prove challenging to stand out amongst the crowd. However, Grateful Dead stayed true to form, releasing an outrageous, furry version of the Nike Dunk. Known for their psychedelic music and tie-dye merchandise, any fan would not have been disappointed with the groups take on the iconic skate shoe.
The colourway of the three sneakers drew inspiration from the dancing bear cartoons that featured across multiple albums. Fuzzy faux fur was complimented by smooth suede giving the illusion of a bears fur. Contrasting Nike swooshes matched the bear’s collar that they represented.
This Nike SB collaboration was a truly mind-bending tribute to an identity built by Grateful Dead. It is always great to see Nike hand over creative control to their collaborators, which we know happened with this release.
8. Ben & Jerry’s x Nike SB Chunky Dunky
Depending who you ask, this shoe is either an instant classic or ugly. But one thing that can’t be denied, this Dunk collaboration felt like a throwback to the OG collabs we used to see with Nike SB.
The sneaker comes covered in a design that would not look out of place in the frozen food section of a supermarket. Cow print pony hair combined with a dripping swoosh, all overlaying the landscape print we are used to seeing on Ben and Jerry’s tubs. The marketing that surrounded the sneaker really pushed the hype to unparalleled heights. Friends and Family of Nike SB received Ben and Jerry’s giant tubs with ice cream and sneakers inside. We even caught a glimpse of Solebox founder Hikmet Sugoer eating ice cream straight from the sneaker.
In a year dominated by collaborations between artists and sneaker brands, the Chunky Dunky felt like a throwback to a bygone era. Oldheads who used to collect Nike SB were suddenly rejuvenated to start collecting again; something other Dunk collabs have been unable to do this year.
We may not see another Ben and Jerry’s collaboration soon, but keep your eyes peeled for other niche projects Nike may commit too next year.
9. Air Jordan 1 x Dior
The Dior x AJ1 almost didn’t make this list due to the difficulty that sneakerheads had to obtain the shoe. Whether it was the minimal numbers or the premium price tag that put you off, you cannot deny the importance of the Dior x Air Jordan 1 within the sneaker industry.
This collaboration indicated the first time that Jordan Brand had joined forces with a luxury label and what a place to start with fashion powerhouse Dior. Both the high and low versions came in extremely limited numbers with each sneaker having a personal number stitched into the shoe.
The silhouette was made in Italy and featured premium materials throughout the design of the shoe. You will also find co-branding everywhere, with Air Dior featuring on the tongue, a custom Air Dior wings logo and a monogram Dior swoosh.
Many collectors think the Dior x AJ1 was simply for celebrities to flex and outpriced the usual Jordan Brand consumer. But I think the design was a true reflection of how a high fashion sneaker collaboration should look. Hopefully, this shoe will open the door for more collabs of this nature. Although, I do hope the price-points are revised.
10. Yeezy 700 ‘Azael’
It would not be fair to do a Sneaker of the Year article and exclude Kanye West. Despite the current pandemic, West and Adidas have had a solid year. They released many new silhouettes and colourways, even re-releasing his most popular sneakers like the Yeezy 350 Zebra. The sneaker that really turned my head this year, though, was the Yeezy 700.
A futuristic yet natural progression from the highly-coveted Wave Runner silhouette, the 700 pushes the design boundaries. Something we know Kanye loves to do. A minimalistic white primeknit material is complimented perfectly by the cream cage we see surrounding the upper. A black sock houses the lacing system and ensures the sneaker fits snug to your foot.
The sneaker’s entire design is pulled together by the sleek sole and teal outsole that features the shoe’s bottom. The combination of minimal tones, the roll cage style design across the upper and the pop of teal makes this sneaker one of the finest Yeezy colourways to date.
2020, what a year.
So there you have it, our definitive list of the best sneakers that released during 2020. No doubt some will agree, and some will disagree, but that is part of the fun of writing these lists. If you disagree with any selections, let me know. I’d love to discuss what you think should have been included.
Happy New Year everybody, I look forward to what 2021 holds for the sneaker community.