Leather Is The Life And Sole Of The Sneaker Industry

Nicci Rae


Leather Is The Life And Sole Of The Sneaker Industry

These days, sneakers are available in a wide range of fabrics – including vegan versions – but how do they stand up to traditional leather footwear? In this article, we’re looking at leather vs synthetic and New Balance’s sourcing and sustainability promises.

In the beginning

The first ever sneakers crept onto the scene in 1876 and were introduced by the New Liverpool Rubber Company. These first sneakers (or trainers in the UK) were made from sturdy leather but, for the first time, featured hard-wearing rubber soles making them more comfortable for sports and athletics as well as quickly becoming popular for children due to the fact that they did not ruin or wear out easily. 

Since that time, sneakers have evolved rapidly with all sorts of clever innovations to improve comfort and performance. This evolution has also, of course, included the introduction of new fabrics including polyester, nylon and lycra. 

Looking at leather’s enduring popularity

Despite the vast array of fabrics now available for sneakers, leather still very much has an appeal and, in this section, we’re finding out why:

The look

Although synthetic fabrics can be cheap to manufacture and can have a modern aesthetic which many people enjoy, a huge number of sneaker aficionados still prefer the classic look of a leather or suede sneaker. Suede in particular had the advantage of adding a textural element to a sneaker which makes it extremely pleasing to the eye. 


While modern fabrics are extremely lightweight and can look great, the downside is that they can damage easily and are generally considered to be fairly flimsy, giving them a relatively short life. Leather on the other hand is an incredibly durable and hard-wearing material – which is why it remains incredibly popular for a wide range of clothing and shoes throughout the world. 


As great as some synthetic options can be, if they are damaged it’s pretty much impossible to do much about it – which means wearing your ruined trainers or putting them in the bin. Leather sneakers, on the other hand, can often be repaired (although this can be expensive) to give them a new lease of life. 


Synthetic fabrics such as nylon and polyester are able to be manufactured to be dense and seamless – which is great for creating waterproof anoraks and accessories. Unfortunately, it’s not so great for a sneaker as it limits breathability – which means that if you’re wearing these sneakers for sports, you’re likely to have a couple of pretty sweaty feet by the end of your session which is not only a bit smelly but will also, in time degrade the shoe. 

Leather however is an extremely porous material which offers natural breathability for a more comfortable sporting experience (as well as a more socially friendly one). 

Planet and performance – getting the balance right

Founded in 1906 in boston, Massachusetts, New Balance is one of the world’s leading sneaker manufacturers – and one which is popular with lovers of modern trainers and retro fans alike. These days, the brand offers a huge range of men’s, women’s, unisex and kid’s sneakers in every imaginable style, fabric and colour.


Although New Balance uses a number of synthetic fabrics in the creation of its sneakers, leather and suede remain a staple of their famous shoes – and it takes the sourcing and sustainability of its leather products very seriously !


When it comes to its sneakers, New Balance is all about quality and, as such, the brand only uses gold and silver standard leather to ensure that its customers are getting top quality, chrome free leather products. It also ensures that leather is only sourced from factories which treat their employees fairly. 

Green standards

While quality and comfort are key for New Balance, the company very much recognises its responsibility towards our planet. The company is constantly looking for ways to reduce its carbon footprint by sourcing environmentally friendly materials as well as reducing the number of processes and materials needed. 


New Balance also has a strong committment toward circularity – i.e. repair and recycling in order to give products a longer life and to help save our planet’s resources. The brand does this through its Green Leaf Standard which states that a minimum of 50% environmentally friendly materials must be used for each product – this includes sourcing its leather from the Leather Working Group. 

Leather wins the day


Over a billion pairs of sneakers are sold every single day around the world and, whether you wear them for sports, walking the dog or simply as a fashion statement, most of us now have at least one pair in our wardrobe. The ideal balance of comfort and style, sneakers with leather or suede features remain enduringly popular in 2024 and are likely to continue to do so for quite some time to come.