The Difference Between Nearly Identical Sneakers That Cost $50 And $150

Left to right: MIA Italia sneakers ($50), VEJA Esplar sneakers ($150)
Left to right: MIA Italia sneakers ($50), VEJA Esplar sneakers ($150) HuffPost

A lot goes into why we choose our sneakers when there are so many identical ones on the market. If you like an expensive pair of shoes — such as these VEJA Esplar sneakers, which cost $150 — and you want to find a cheaper option, another brand likely sells a nearly identical pair for less — such as these MIA Italia sneakers, which are priced around $50. 

But what, exactly, is the difference between a more expensive sneaker and a cheaper one? We spoke with a marketing expert, a shoe brand founder, and a professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) to determine what the difference actually is between a $50 and a $150 pair of sneakers. 

A higher-priced sneaker tends to use more premium materials. 

“For the most part, higher-priced sneakers do tend to use more premium materials and advanced construction techniques, which, in turn, can extend the life of the sneaker,” explained Jill Topol, a celebrity fashion stylist and professor at FIT. “But [comfort] is a totally different animal.” 

Topol shares that since she has wide feet, certain higher-priced sneaker styles that are extremely well made and stylish may feel uncomfortable on her, but comfortable on someone with a narrower foot. “There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to sneakers. It’s always a good idea to read the online reviews from previous customers first before purchasing.” 

“More expensive sneakers will usually have an outsole made from higher-quality materials like rubber, which offer better cushioning properties for longer, as they’re a bit firmer and heavier due to an increased rubber percentage, which is better for long-term comfort and general shoe longevity,” explained Anna Baird, a podiatrist-turned-entrepreneur and founder of Bared Footwear.

To the eye, the $150 VEJA sneakers and the almost-$50 MIA pair are basically identical. “For a second, I thought they were the same brand until I realized the V was upside-down on the cheaper MIAs,” Topol said. “If you’re not fashion-savvy, chances are you’re going to be fooled by this and think you’re getting a great bargain on a luxury sneaker, but that’s about where the similarities end.”

While the $150 VEJAs are made of leather sourced from Uruguay and Brazil with a recycled polyester lining, the $50 MIAs have a synthetic upper and lining. “Leather typically molds better to your feet and tends to be more comfortable,” Topol explained. She said it’s evident that the MIA sneakers aren’t made from leather based on the low-star reviews they’ve received. 

“The main complaint is that they hurt your feet. No surprise there. But what might surprise you is that the expensive VEJAs didn’t get great reviews either,” Topol pointed out. “Customers complained that they ran big. Another reason to always read those customer reviews before hitting the ‘add to bag’ button!” 

Baird agrees that more expensive sneakers will generally be made of higher-quality materials like leather and created with better construction methods — meaning they’ll likely offer you more longevity. 

“Leather or canvas are great choices for the upper materials because they are breathable and long-lasting,” Baird said. “Strong stitching and reinforced seams are also important for overall construction.”

She explained that a lot of cheaper sneakers will have an outsole made from EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) foams. While this material is lighter and helps a shoe be more comfortable initially, it tends to compress and harden easily, which reduces comfort and support over time.  

If you look at the material of a sneaker, you may notice that a cheaper sneaker will use synthetics that mimic leather but lacks breathability and comfort. “While they are more affordable, they often wear out faster, provide less comfort and support for your feet,” Baird explained. “Not only that, but the midsole of an inexpensive sneaker is usually quite flexible to [the] point of being flimsy. Whereas more expensive sneakers tend to focus on using superior, premium materials such as genuine leather.” 

The brands marketing the shoes can make a huge difference. 

Sometimes a brand may do such an impeccable job of marketing its shoe that people overlook the price. But a high price may also cause customers to seek a cheaper option. 

“Marketing anything is always contingent on the brand itself. However, generally speaking, if a shoe is more expensive, it’s likely because the cost to produce it is higher,” said Samantha Ribakove, a PR and digital marketing consultant and founder of Solutions by Sam. “When marketing a more expensive shoe, marketers will typically highlight its points of differentiation to justify to the consumers why the price point is what it is. In other words, if the material is driving up the overall cost of the shoe, strong marketing would speak to what this material offers and why it was chosen.” 

The features a brand focuses on in its marketing campaigns play a huge role in who buys the sneakers. “Brands and marketers focus on longevity and quality. That being said, it’s clear that it takes a lot more to convince the consumer to purchase when it’s a higher price point,” Ribakove said.

“Consumers are smarter than ever because they have a wealth of knowledge and products in the palm of their hands these days,” she added. “It’s important that the marketing you’re putting out showcases the quality and longevity for them to consider when purchasing, especially at a higher price point.” 

Your own style preferences are also important to consider.

When deciding between two shoe styles that look almost exactly the same, your personal style is a big factor. 

“The overall look of a sneaker really depends on the eye of the beholder. Price isn’t always a factor here. We gravitate to what we personally like,” Topol said. “Maybe you’re a nonconformist and like sneakers that are a little out of the ordinary. Or maybe you’re more conservative and prefer a simpler design with clean lines. Who’s to say one is better than the other?” 

Need a new pair of sneakers? Personal trainers say these are the best options for working out.

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Under Armour Charged sneakers
Under Armour Charged sneakers


Under Armour Charged sneakers

Personal trainer Phil Nicolaou also encourages shoppers to find a general supportive shoe to wear during different workouts. "I like Under Armour workout shoes which are usually called 'Charged,'" Nicolaou told HuffPost.  "I've never worn different shoes for cardio versus weight days, just make sure they offer support and are comfortable."

Women's: $55.96 at Amazon

Men's: $68.95 at Amazon

Hoka Kawana sneaker
Hoka Kawana sneaker


Hoka Kawana sneaker

Personal trainer and plus-size model Sarah Taylor put us on to Hoka's Kawana hybrid shoe for something you can wear for in both strength building and cardio. It has less cushioning than some of Hoka's running shoes, giving you a little more flatness for weight training. If you want cushion, Taylor loves and recommends the Clifton 9 sneakers and Parker recommends the brand in general for running and gym shoes.

Women's: $140 at Zappos

Men's: $140 at Zappos

Reebok Nano sneakers
Reebok Nano sneakers


Reebok Nano sneakers

Gary Samson, head coach and owner of Philly Personal Fitness, recommends the Reebok Nano for "general fitness, lifting, cross-training, HIIT-style workouts, heavy lifts, short distance running and everything in between."

$79+ at Amazon

$140 at Reebok

Nobull Outwork sneaker
Nobull Outwork sneaker


Nobull Outwork sneaker

Katie M. Feeley, coach at Power Plant Gym and board member of the Body Positive Fitness Alliance and Decolonizing Fitness founder Ilya Parker both recommend sneakers from Nobull, with Parker specifying they like the Outwork style. "It as a low sole and offers lots of stability," Parker told HuffPost "It provides solid traction for multidirectional movements and it is super durable." 

Feeley agrees saying Nobull kicks are "Sturdy enough for lifting and are also suitable for plyometric movements ([also know as] jumpy stuff) and shorter runs."

Women's: $139 at Nobull

Men's: $139 at Nobull



Xero "barefoot" shoes

If you're looking for a good "barefoot" sneaker, online fitness instructor Bianca Russo recommended seeking "brands that explicitly say their designs include a spacious toe box, so that your toes have the space to move and leverage their innate dexterity." Russo's favorite brand of barefoot-feeling shoes for working out and daily wear are from Xero. 

Feeley notes, "If someone isn't used to 'barefoot'-style shoes, they should ease their way into walking or running in them because the transition can be tough at first (sore calves and feet, tight ankles, cramping, etc.)"

$92.80+ at Amazon

$89.99 at Zappos

$89.95 at REI

Altra shoes
Altra shoes


Altra shoes

Feeley and Russo also both like Altra shoes, with Feeley noting, "A shoe could be considered 'barefoot style' (due to the minimal drop) and still have a big squishy sole... Altra has this option." (FYI, the “drop” is the difference in height from your heel to your forefoot in a shoe.)

Women's: $130 at Altra

Men's: $130 at Altra

Shop Altra at REI

Brooks Ghost sneaker
Brooks Ghost sneaker


Brooks Ghost sneaker

"If you plan on running longer distances more than a couple of miles, it’s best to get a shoe with more cushion and support. I use the Brooks Ghost for distances like The Broad Street Run 10 Miler," Samson told HuffPost. 

Parker also likes Brooks. "The primary things I need from a good running shoe is cushion and support. The shoe must also be lightweight," he said.

Brooks just released a new version of the Ghost made with a nitrogen-infused sole that's designed to be extra-light on the feet. The style is a longtime favorite with HuffPost readers.

Women's: $139.95 at Amazon

Men's: $139.95 at Amazon

Shop Brooks

Converse All Stars
Converse All Stars


Converse All Stars

Feeley, Nicolaou and Olivia Cadence Luxe, founder of the Ground Up Barbell Club, all recommended Converse All Stars for weight training and powerlifting. Feeley added: "For weight training, you want something that's flat and with a hard, stable sole. This helps maintain stability while lifting and facilitates power transfer (hard surfaces will allow for greater power transfer than squishy ones)."

$60 at Converse

$44+ at Amazon

Nike Metcon sneakers
Nike Metcon sneakers


Nike Metcon sneakers

Feeley and Taylor both like Nike Metcons for weight training. "For strength training, you usually want something with a little more stability and firmness so that you have a good planting while lifting," Taylor says. "I usually recommend a Nike Metcon." 

Women's: $85+ at Amazon

Men's: $65+ at Amazon

Shop Metcon at Nike