2021 saw the sneaker industry’s focus shift from general releases and safe silhouettes to unexpected heroes and surprising collaborations. With “supply chain issues” becoming common vernacular, and sneakers becoming more popular than ever thanks to the power of social media, this year saw more demand and less supply. 

While the Nike Dunk predictably performed well in 2021, some of the year’s biggest surprises came from Jordan Brand. The Jordan 1 maintained its pole position, but it’s the Jordan 3 that caught the attention of the industry, thanks in no small part to Atlanta-born brand A Ma Maniére. Elsewhere in the sneakerverse, New Balance secured its place as a frontrunner with the New Balance 550, which looks set to be one of the stand-out sneakers of 2022. 

As we get ready to pull the plug on 2021 and step into a brand-new year, let’s take a closer look at some of the best sneakers to drop over the last 12 months, shall we?

Slam Dunk 

Earlier this year, Nike predicted the Dunk would be the “shoe of 2021” thanks to its extensive list of collaborations and colourways scheduled for general release. Staying true to its word, the Swoosh brand released a staggering 255 colourways and launched some jaw-dropping collaborations including: AMBUSH, Travis Scott, Off-White and Supreme, who all put their spin on the iconic 1985 hoops shoe. Not to be outdone, Nike itself also dropped brand-new models like the much-anticipated Dunk Low Scrap. 

Off-White launched a 50-strong collection back in August, cementing the collaboration’s spot in the sneaker hall of fame and further elevating it to luxury status. Dubbed “The 50”, and also known as the “Dear Summer” collection, this was the first sizable pack from the Swoosh brand and the late Off-White designer to land since “The 10” back in 2017. All but two of the 50 Dunks dropped in a versatile Grey Fog colourway, accented with colourful cables and Off White’s iconic speech marks.

Easily one of the most in-demand silhouettes of the year, no collection was complete in 2021 without this OG sneaker. 

First Place

Since its debut in 1985, the Jordan 1 has consistently been one of the world’s most sought-after sneakers. Throughout 2021, the silhouette showed no signs of slowing down, with demand for the hoops shoe increasing with every new colourway or collaboration. This year saw heavyweights like A Ma Maniére, Travis Scott and Aleali May all drop their own take on the Jordan 1, with each style selling out faster than you can say ‘Jumpman’. 

With its reputation sky high, the Jordan 1 took a back seat towards the end of the year to allow other Jordan Brand silhouettes to step into the limelight. 

Third Time’s a Charm 

While the Air Jordan 1 continued its reign as one of the world’s most coveted kicks, it was the Air Jordan 3 that had fans clambering to get their hands on a pair this year. With luxury atelier A Ma Maniére propelling the AJ3 to the top of everyone’s wish list, this sneaker was an unexpected favourite of 2021.

The first of two collabs from AMM, the A Ma Maniére x Air Jordan 3 put a huge focus on premium materials and meticulous craftsmanship. Built from tumbled leather and brushed suede, this Jordan 3 comes dressed in ultra-wearable neutral shades, making it an instant  modern classic. Following the success of this particular AJ3, Nike launched more sought-after colourways to satisfy rising demand for the Jordan 3. 

The Underdog 

Originally landing in 1989 as a functional basketball sneaker, the New Balance 550 was left in the archive just a few years after its debut. Fast forward over 30 years and Aimé Leon Dore has brought the retro-inspired sneaker back to the forefront of the conversation and instantly transformed the NB550 from a forgotten relic to a must-have.

Once sneaker fans were fighting to get their hands on a pair of the Aimé Leon Dore x New Balance 550s, the Boston-born brand launched an array of richly hued iterations. Set to be one of the most in-demand sneakers of 2022, the New Balance 550 is undoubtedly the silhouette that no one saw coming in 2021. So successful in fact, that Aimé Leon Dore founder Teddy Santis will take over as creative director of New Balance’s Made in US line in 2022. 

Return of the Max

The Nike Air Max 1 is the sneaker that helped secure Nike’s place as a sportswear heavyweight back in 1987. The first design that saw Tinker Hatfield adopt an architectural approach to footwear, the AM1 was the first kick to remove part of the midsole revealing the technology underfoot, paving the way for future silhouettes like the Air Max 90, Air VaporMax and Air Max 95.

In 2021, Nike teamed up with Amsterdam-based Patta to release the Patta x Nike Air Max 1 pack. Made up of four colourways, the Patta Air Max 1 has been dubbed one of the best collaborations of the year. Utilising premium materials, co-branding and seasonless hues, this collaborative pack was specifically designed to be as timeless as the silhouette itself. 

As 2021 comes to a close, the industry’s shelves are filled with the most popular silhouettes of the year – like the Air Jordan 1, Nike Dunk and New Balance 550. With a few spaces remaining for all the styles set to land in 2022, we’re predicting more basketball kicks, richer hues and, of course, even more record-breaking collaborations.