Which sort are you: A follow-the-crowd runner who keeps tabs on trends because you don’t want to be seen wearing things that aren’t in vogue – or are you happy to stand out from lemmings every chance you get because what others say doesn’t matter?
We invite you to bring your open mind to nine boutique brands you may never have heard of, but don’t be surprised if one of them captures your imagination enough to send you searching for a pair.
Imagine telling friends that your newest kicks come from Sweden. Sweden? That country is all about IKEA and Volvos, both highly-trusted brands throughout the globe, so you might be interested in knowing about Icebugs, the company that considers itself David in a world of shoe Goliaths.
Icebugs offer superior grip and design thanks to patented carbide tip stud engineering. Traction issues are nonexistent and membranes define comfort, even in winter.
Our top pick? The ANIMA3-L RB9X, an improved version of the iconic Anima generations. This fast and light trail running shoe can conquer any terrain it meets. Intrigued? Check them out.
Price: €129.95 (Approximately, S$200)
2. Topo Athletic
This athletic shoe company may wish to rename itself The Thinking Person’s Brand because the company’s intelligent approach to making footwear is reflected in one of its themes: “Every Athlete understands that better does not just happen. You have to make it happen.”
Cerebral? You bet. Lofty, too. But do they measure up? Wearers say yes with great enthusiasm. These Topo Athletic shoes are engineered with little or no toe-to-heel drop to enhance gait and improve stride.
Shoes in the Topo Athletic collection help runners develop a natural running form. Both the men’s and women’s collections include the Fli-lyte, our pick for the best foot-friendly fit that allows toes to spread and splay within a lightweight, sparsely seamed design. Topo offers two sets of laces with each pair should you decide to change your look.
Price: US$100 (Approximately S$143)
3. Pearl Izumi
Pearl Izumi was launched 50 years ago and then stayed so stealthy, it outfitted 1984 Olympic teams without getting much worldwide attention. Now owned by a U.S. parent company rather than its original Japan-based corporation, Pearl Izumi may benefit from recent publicity efforts put forth to give products more international exposure.
Check them out for a taste. Heavy on transition, all shoes feature a signature midsole shape that is the company’s claim to fame, as is the seamless upper featured in a website-based video that shows this shoe’s versatility.
Want to be noticed? Get yourself a pair of the new Men’s Road NO v2, a “race-ready” road shoe that has never met a surface it couldn’t hug. Low light conditions have met their match: the reflective tongue mesh helps light a runner’s way.
Price: US$100 (Approximately S$143)
Scandinavians are sticklers for simplicity and function, so it’s no surprise that ECCO, a Danish shoe manufacturer headquartered in Bredebro, makes a great trail running shoe. Why hasn’t ECCO caught on?
Certainly not because the producer is afraid to spend money; 2012 financials were 8.061 billion Danish kroner. Perhaps the ECCO shoe brand suffers from too much diversity: the company produces casual, dress, sandals and golf shoes plus other sporting goods, thus there isn’t an overabundance of track and field styles introduced regularly.
Owners of this shoe don’t care. They are happy with limited choices, especially the sleek ECCO Biom Trail FL that resembles an all-purpose shoe but performs like a trail champion. See it in action to fully appreciate its features and benefits.
Price: €170 (Approximately S$265)
Owner David Sypniewski just wants to produce shoes with integrity for runners who are injury prone, because he was one of them. Inspired by the Nike Free shoe, Sypniewski launched his brand in 2012 and since then, he’s scored serious retail placements, including Amazon and Nordstrom. Skora shoes offer minimal cushioning and are made of fine goat leather for strength and elegance.
One shoe stands out from the crowd: Skora Men’s Form Running Shoe, a five-star pick for reviewers. Not inexpensive, but if, like CEO Sypniewski, previous injuries haunt you, you may not care how much you pay to be able to run your race.
Price: US$179.95 (Approximately S$257)
361-Degrees entered the market around 2003, but by 2010, it was named the official athletic shoe for the Chinese Men’s and Women’s Olympic Curling teams at the 2010 Vancouver games.
Never heard of the brand? That’s surprising. 361-Degrees quietly opened 5,543 markets by 2009 featuring clever marketing campaigns like Dare to Be and One Love. The company’s quirky name is a combination of numbers that represent satisfaction, love, work and sport.
Asked to pick one shoe from this collection, we chose the Sensation, not just because many runners named it a Best Buy, but because they were impressed with the shoe’s fit, stability and performance. Testers raved about an “energizing feel” attributed to the proprietary mid-sole compound. Need more performance energy? Take a closer look at the Sensation.
Price: US$120 (Approximately S$172)
Visit the Altra running company website to spot a guy holding one shoe while roasting its mate in a toaster oven. Unconventional? It’s intended. Company founder Golden Harper used unconventional methods during his original design process, melting off outsoles and chopping excess heel until he achieved Zero Drop level cushioning.
His final design, reflected in all Altra running shoes, offers ideal weight balance for improved posture and promises less impact, strengthened Achilles and lower calf muscles.
Which Altra do we love? No contest. The Altra IQ, of course. It won’t ship until late winter 2016, but when it does, this design will fly off shelves because a multi-sensor system spanning the midsole syncs your shoes with your smartphone! You read that right. This shoe was given the name IQ for a reason.
Price: US$199.99 (Approximately S$285)
Inov-8 athletic shoes fall into two main categories: All terrain running and performance training, so whether your passion is trail, mountain, obstacle, orienteering—or you love variety—you’ll find a pair that will add you to the family of fans, each of whom wouldn’t wear another brand even if they were free.
We chose two Inov-8 shoes to profile because we couldn’t decide! If muddy trails call your name, a pair of Mudclaws offers the superior grip of “an aggressive outsole” that is designed to release mud as quickly as it collects on soles.
Price: US$125 (Estimated) (Approximately S$178)
Our second pick, Race Ultra, are engineered for extreme adventure. The clever unique on-the-shoe gaiter offers debris-free running, so when Inov-8 invites runners go to extremes, they mean it. In addition to being rugged and tough, all of the shoes in the Inov-8 family are wildly colorful.
Price: US$130 (Estimated) (Approximately S$185)
Athletic shoe company AB Sport Artiklar have being kicking around since 1916 when Karhu Holding VB purchased the brand in 2006. This pairing is not without its quirky history: Karhu sold its proprietary three-stripe trademark to newcomer Adidas in 1951 for two bottles of whiskey and about 1600 Euros!
By 2010, parent company Karhu Holding B.V. split into two divisions: running shoes and skis. In concert with the University of Jyväskylä, Karhu shoe designers invented “Fulcrum Technology,” shoes tailored to meet specific types of pronation and training needs.
Karhu remains a boutique brand with its standard Karhu Fulcrum Strong design, so for 2016, we’re spotlighting the model’s cousin, the Steady 3 Fulcrum. Want a pair? Let us know!
Price: €70.00 (Approximately S$109)
Born in South East Asia, League entered Indonesia’s footwear market a decade ago. Now the Indonesian brand has been a leading premium brand in the country with over 20 years of experience for crafting performance for the world’s top sports brands like Nike and Puma.
Lead by Indonesian entrepreneur Siti Hartati Murdaya, League wanted to show the world that Indonesia is capable of manufacturing high quality products to rival global powerhouses.
We salute their aspiration and have a go with their Volans Nocturnal. This reflective running shoes provides an excellent grip and traction in all condition with their Ultra-Grip outsole without sacrificing fit and comfort.
Price: IDR 599,000 (Approximately, S$62)
Do you know of a Singapore shop that specialises in selling rare shoe brands? Let us know so we can share your resource with adventurous runners eager to stand out from the crowd?