Categories / Sportswear

Six of the best obscure retro trainers brands

Six of the best obscure retro trainers brands
Six of the best obscure retro trainers brands (image credit: MaTes)
Note all articles are independently researched and written by myself. However, if you buy via one of the links it may be an affiliate and I may earn a small commission.

Are you bored of the same old Adidas, Nike, and Puma? Then, be more niche with my six of the best obscure retro trainers brands.

Not that it’s all about being niche. Although it is nice to stand out from the crowd sometimes. And if you are ever in a football crowd or a gig, there’s a good chance that you’ll do anything but stand out if you stick a pair of old-school Adidas on your feet.

Well, you might if you’ve unpacked a pair of limited edition City Series shoes or you’ve paid a small fortune for some kind of collaboration with today’s flavour of the month. But by and large, the big three are pretty much what you see everywhere. They’re in all the sports shops, mass-produced, and often retail at a reasonable price.

But there is an alternative. Smaller brands still exist, often throwing in some quality construction to go with their distinctive look. And, of course, you’ll probably be the only person wearing a pair. Sounds interesting? Good. Let’s pick out a few labels to get you moving.

Six of the best obscure retro trainers brands
(image credit: MaTes)

1. MaTes

I love this label. Proper old-school trainers that offer the perfect alternative to vintage Adidas.

It’s a label with a heritage as far back as Adidas. In the mid-1940s, a young Francesc Mates (an athlete and shoemaker’s apprentice) designed his first competition prototypes with scraps and leftovers from the shoe workshop where he worked. Those shoes took off, and the MaTeS label produced its first shoes in 1947.

Its reputation soared and it was a big producer of sports shoes in Spain in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Its heyday for sporting prowess might have passed, but it has been reborn in recent years for leisure wear – reproducing classics of the mid-20th century era and all still made by hand to a high standard.

At the top of the page is the wonderful MaTes Carmel Classic from the 1960s and just down the page is another 1960s gem, the MaTeS Atlantis Classic. But do check the website for shoes of other eras, all with the same vintage charm. Price-wise, you are looking at around €150.

MaTes website


Six of the best obscure retro trainers brands
(image credit: Walsh)

2. Walsh (aka Norman Walsh)

A Bolton institution and a runners’ favourite for years. But Walsh also does an interesting lifestyle range too.

Norman Walsh started his apprenticeship at J.W. Foster & Sons, a Bolton-based company, creating shoes and boots for Olympians and FA Cup winners before branching out under his own name in the 1960s to produce handmade specialist sports shoes.

A pioneer in several sports (their archive is amazing), the label has survived the big brands’ onslaught and still produces some fine running shoes. It is also a growing lifestyle label.

The V-Ripple pictured here hits both markets. Originally a 1970s sports shoe, it became popular in casual circles in the 1990s and is still made today in various colours. It has a handmade leather upper and a serious grip on the sole. It’s yours for £180.

Walsh website


Six of the best obscure retro trainers brands
(image credit: Valsport)

3. Valsport

There’s a common theme here. Labels that became a big deal in their native territory before the big boys moved in and dominated the trainer/sneaker market. Valsport is another one.

The label has been around since the 1920s, with Valsport being something of a go-to brand in Italian sport into the 1960s and 1970s—the Italian national football team and Juventus both have footwear supplied by Valsport, which is probably as big as it gets in Italy.

But again, these days, it is more about the lifestyle look and quality. Yes, another handmade shoe here, this time in nappa leather. Plenty of colours to choose from for this 1970s design, which sells for €249. Lots more retro styles are available from the maker, too, online.

Valsport website


Six of the best obscure retro trainers brands
(image credit: Karhu)

4. Karhu

1916 was the founding year of this Finnish sports label. Something of an all-rounder, it started with skis, javelins and discuses before developing running shoes and clothing. Olympians have worn Karhu, and its trademark ‘M’ symbol has been around since the turn of the 1960s (not unlike the MaTes above). There’s some pedigree here.

Unlike some makers, Karhu still makes performance gear, but its more leisure-based range, which tends to focus on reproducing sporting classics of a bygone era, runs alongside it.

There are plenty to choose from, and your favourites will probably be dictated by your favourite decade. I like the Trampas, which was developed in the 1960s as an everyday trainer and still works on that level today. This one has lots of finishes, including the navy suede featured here, and it sells for £110.

Karhu website


Six of the best obscure retro trainers brands
(image credit: Reproduction Of Found)

5. Reproduction Of Found

A fairly recent label introduction, but one that specialises in a certain type of retro trainers.

The Japanese label focuses on vintage military trainers, working with factories that produced these shoes from the 1950s through the 1990s to recreate them in the exact format of the original. It’s a nice idea, and the end product is pretty impressive, too.

The range varies from basic plimsolls to more chunky full-on trainers and includes the German Military Trainer you see here. £160 for this one.

Reproduction Of Found at Sunnysiders


Six of the best obscure retro trainers brands
(image credit: Feiyue)

6. Feiyue

Although the label has theoretically been around for decades, its current activity is fairly recent.

Feiyue means ‘Flying Forward’, and the lightweight canvas plimsoll it is best known for has been around in some form or another since the 1920s in China. It was the universal shoe for a time in that part of the world.

For various reasons, the label disappeared before being relaunched via France in 2006. Various finishes for its high and low shoes are available, but the look of the shoe is much the same. This is still the 1920s canvas plimsoll, and that timeless look works best for me when you keep it simple.

For example, the Fe Lo 1920 pictured here is a classic lightweight shoe that also offers great value—just £34.99 for a pair.

Feiyue website

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