Sustainably-produced minimalist knit sneakers are a versatile option for men and women (and kids too). Compare the best wool and knit shoes from Allbirds, Vessi, Rothy’s, Cole Haan, Wolf and Shepherd and more sustainable fashion brands in this guide.
The emergence of sustainably-made knit sneakers
While minimalist knit shoes are not new, the emergence of sustainable startup brands like Allbirds, Rothy’s and Vessi, alongside continued investments from Cole Haan, has created a lot of options for men and women (and kids).
- Materials: Some knit sneakers are made from wool while others are made from recycled plastic bottles and still others from a patented vegan material.
- Features: Some are waterproof (some are most definitely not).
- Look: Some knit sneakers are more minimalist than others.
- Comfort: One of the brands below has been referred to as “the world’s most comfortable shoe.”
- Price: And prices for knit sneakers range from from under $100 to nearly $200.
Keep reading to compare the best options for knit sneakers and shoes for men and women.
Chart: Comparing the cost of knit sneakers
Before diving into the best brands making knit sneakers for men and women, here is a comparison of how much knit shoes cost from Allbirds, Vessi, Cole Haan and other leading companies. (I have also sought to note which of the models below are advertised to be waterproof or water-repellent.)
|Allbirds Tree Runners (men and women)||$95|
|Cole Haan Generation ZERØGRAND shoes for men||$100|
|Allbirds water-repellent Wool Runner Mizzle (men and women)||$115|
|Greats Royale Knit Sneakers (women and men)||$119|
|Hush Puppies Knit Oxford via Nordstrom (men)||$120|
|Vessi waterproof Everyday sneaker (men and women)||$135|
|Rothy’s The Lace-Ups knit sneakers (women)||$165|
|Cole Haan 4.ZERØGRAND knit Oxfords for women||$170|
|Rothy’s RS01 knit sneakers (men)||$175|
|Wolf and Shepherd Swiftknit Derby Sneakers (men and women)||$189|
Where to buy knit sneakers for men and women
Depending on the brand, you should expect to pay between $95-$190 for a good pair of minimalist knit sneakers or oxfords. But there’s a lot more than price that separates brands like Allbirds, Cole Haan, Rothy’s, and Vessi.
Keep reading to learn more about the best brands making minimalist knit sneakers for men and women.
Co-Founders Mikaella Go, Andy Wang and Tony Yu launched Vessi in 2018 with the goal of creating a shoe that could be “worn all day, every day, in any weather.”
The thing that I love most about Vessi’s minimalist knit shoes is that you don’t have to worry about whether it’s going to rain. Vessi’s knit shoes are 100% waterproof and minimalist and sleek enough to wear across a variety of “power casual” and business casual occasions.
Vessi makes several knit sneaker lines for women and men, including a lightweight and sleek “Cityscape Sneaker,” an Everyday Slip-On sneaker, and a slip-on “Weekend Sneaker.” My favorite is the Everyday Sneaker, a very minimalist knit shoe that is available in an array of colors. (Vessi is also working on a kids’ collection.)
Vessi’s shoes are constructed from a patented “Dyma-tex” breathable and completely waterproof knit. The insoles are treated to be antibacterial and feature a “cloud support” cushion. Underneath, Vessi brags that its sneaker soles are “ultra lightweight and bouncy” and feature a herringbone grip for traction.
On its website, Vessi describes its shoe technology in more detail:
Dyma-Tex is a waterproof membrane that we developed to create the most breathable waterproof footwear option possible. It contains millions of pores large enough to allow heat and moisture to escape, and small enough to prevent the outside elements from getting in – ensuring you have the most lightweight, breathable shoes that keep you cozy and dry even in the rain or snow.Vessi: Vegan Footwear
All of Vessi’s shoes are 100% vegan, which means that everything from the knits to the glue are entirely man-made.
The Vancouver, Canada-based athleisure footwear brand is “on fire” with sales so strong at one point that the company was forced to stop selling online to replenish inventory.
Get a 10% discount coupon off your first Vessi order when you sign up for emails at Vessi.com. (Wait for a pop up to appear on your screen.)
Vessi’s knit sneakers for men and women start at $135.
Allbirds makes really good looking, minimalist sneakers, which are sustainably-produced from New Zealand wool.
Allbirds’ story began with co-founder Tim Brown, a New Zealand native who designed a sneaker made from wool and originally launched a Kickstarter pre-sale under the company name “Three Over Seven” in 2014 to sell an early version of the Wool Runners.
Brown teamed up with co-founder Joey Zwillinger, a renewable materials expert and engineer, to officially launch Allbirds in 2016. Allbirds’ shoes almost immediately became popular in Silicon Valley. Today, the company enjoys a $1 billion valuation and is exploring going public.
Allbirds’ makes a variety of minimalist knit running shoes, everyday sneakers and slip-ons for women and men.
Their Tree Dasher for men and women is the company’s “most technical shoe ever,” according to the brand, and was named one of the best inventions of 2020 by Time Magazine. It’s a great option for running, though it’s not waterproof.
Allbirds’ Wool Runner Mizzles are my favorite minimalist knit sneakers from the brand. They are knitted from thick, ZQ-certified Merino wool from New Zealand and feature a water repellent shield and no-slip natural rubber grip on the sole.
Another reason to invest in the brand? Allbirds is an excellent example of a sustainable fashion brand, committing to “measure, reduce and offset” its carbon emissions and deliver transparency along its sustainability journey. Allbirds operates as a certified B-Corporation and has pledged to reduce its emissions, source low-carbon materials, rely on ocean shipping rather than air, purchase in renewable energy and committing to energy efficiency in its operations.
Allbirds’ knit sneakers for women and men start at $95.
Wolf and Shepherd
Launched in 2015, Wolf and Shepherd founder Justin Schneider began with a focus on dress shoes for men after hearing friends complain that theirs were uncomfortable. During the pandemic, buoyed by relationships with sports celebrities including Ron Gronkowski and Steve Nash, Wolf and Shepherd emphasized its versatile sneaker-like Longwing Crossovers and Swiftknit Derbies.
As I wrote in my in-depth review, “Wolf and Shepherd’s SwiftKnit Derby shoes offer a great example of that kind of versatile, go-to item that can be worn at home, work, the coffeeshop and bar. They are comfortable, deceptively easy to slip on and off, and appealingly different.”
While Wolf and Shepherd began life as a men’s shoe brand, the company has started displaying sizing for women as well on select colors of its Swiftknit Derby.
Wolf and Shepherd doesn’t exactly go deep on its sustainability efforts, though the upper is knitted from one single thread of recycled polyester.
My only gripe is that Wolf and Shepherd’s Swiftknit Derby sneakers are not waterproof. (Trust me on on this one.)
Wolf and Shepherd Swiftknit Derby shoes cost $189.
Founded by Ryan Babenzien and Jon Buscemi in 2012, Greats started life specializing in the vertically-integrated manufacture of leather sneakers.
The Royale Knit is a good-looking woven version of Greats’ most popular shoe, the Royale, and is available for men and women.
Greats brags that the Royale Knit is the “most responsible, and fastest-selling shoe to date” for the brand. The knit sneakers are made from 7 recycled plastic bottles, which are upcycled into yarn, and are 100% Vegan. The Royale Knit outers are also machine washable (though you should remove the soles, which are not).
Greats Royale Knit shoes are not waterproof.
Get a coupon for 15% off your first order from Greats when you sign up for texts.
Stephen Hawthornthwaite and Roth Martin began Rothy’s in 2012, but it took the pair 4 years to fully launch their brand, which started with a focus on comfortable women’s flats sustainably-made from recycled water bottles.
Rothy’s has diversified from its initial focus on women’s flats and today makes minimalist knit sneakers for women and men along with a variety of knit slip-on shoes for men and women.
Rothy’s also makes colorful kids’ loafers and sneakers, which is how I first discovered the brand. (My daughter showed me a feature on Rothy’s in her National Geographic book about sustainable fashion brands helping to recycle and save the planet.)
To date, Rothy’s has repurposed more than 76 million plastic bottles and halted 100 tons of plastic from waterways.
Get a $20 discount coupon off your first Rothy’s order of an item of $50 or more.
Cole Haan has been innovating around athletic dress shoes and comfortable footwear for years from its Innovation and Sports Lifestyle Design Center in Greenland, New Hampshire.
In 2014, Cole Haan launched a new line of ZERØGRAND shoes, which incorporated what the company referred to as Grand.Os technology. Their designers focused on ergonomic design, cushioning, propulsion and flexibility to create more comfortable dress shoes.
Since then, Cole Haan has continued to focus on comfort, pushing out the technology into a series of shoes and sneakers under sub-brands including GrandRevolution, ZERØGRAND and GrandPro.
Today, Cole Haan sells a variety of “stitchlite” knit sneakers for women and men under names such as the Grand Crosscourt Sneaker, Generation Zerogrand Stitchlite Sneaker, Zerogrand Knit Winterized Sneaker and Grandsport Journey Sneaker.
Cole Haan also makes a series of knit oxford shoes for women and men under names like the ZERØGRAND Wingtip Oxford, Grand Pluss Essex Knit Oxford, Grand Tour Oxford, and Original Grand Stitchlite Knit Oxfords.
For men, Cole Haan’s Generation ZERØGRAND shoes are constructed from an “ultra breathable Stitchlite knit upper” and a lacing system that secures laces in place and turns them into a slip-on shoe.
Cole Haan Generation ZERØGRAND shoes for men cost $100 and 4.ZERØGRAND knit Oxfords for women cost $170 via Colehaan.com. You can often find Cole Haan knit shoes on sale via major retailers like major retailers including Amazon, DSW, Nordstrom and Macys.
About JakeJake is passionate about exploring entrepreneurs' global journeys. He founded Modern Fellows in 2012 to get to know the entrepreneurs behind the innovative brands helping men dress sharp in the digital age. Jake has written about entrepreneurship, international business and/or fashion for outlets including Business Week, Forbes, Inc., Details Style Syndicate and Primer Magazine, and has provided analysis on international business for BBC Radio, NBC News, CNN and Time Magazine.
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