While it may not be apparent at first glance, many of today’s contemporary sneakers owe a lot to heritage running design. Informed and influenced by an unyielding quest for innovation and comfort, the 70s, 80s and 90s were arguably the most prolific decades for spawning instantly classic sneakers


The wild evolution of sneaker design can largely be categorised into three key areas of innovation: materials, function, and cushioning technology. As the industry progressed in each of those areas, it entered each decade with even more radical ideas. There are sneaker concepts used to this day that were created almost 50 years ago!

No well-rounded rotation is complete without a pair of retro sneakers, so relive this golden era with Hype DC’s curated Heritage Running collection. This collection handpicks the most iconic designs spanning almost 50 years from legendary labels Nike, ASICS, New Balance, Reebok, and Saucony.

Let’s see what truly classic sneakers look like!

The 1970s were largely informed by material innovation. While leather was established as a durable material for sneakers, brands began trialing lightweight synthetics. The Nike Daybreak and Air Tailwind 79 championed the use of nylon and mesh for their superior breathability and lighter weight. It’s fair to say that today’s hi-tech uppers wouldn’t exist if not for the foundations laid in the 70s. And some archive-influenced styles like the New Balance 327 pay plenty of homage of the established nylon uppers of their 1970s forefathers.

For classic sneakers that retained their leather uppers, like the Nike Cortez, ingenuity was literally wedged underfoot. The Cortez was one of the first sneakers to experiment with different midsole materials, a practice which comes as standard on almost all modern sneakers. Rubber was also reinvented in the 1970s, with Nike’s accidental invention of the waffle sole pattern among their earliest successes, and it’s still used today!



For classic sneakers that retained their leather uppers, like the Nike Cortez, ingenuity was literally wedged underfoot. The Cortez was one of the first sneakers to experiment with different midsole materials, a practice which comes as standard on almost all modern sneakers. Rubber was also reinvented in the 1970s, with Nike’s accidental invention of the waffle sole pattern among their earliest successes, and it’s still used today!

By the time the 1980s rolled around, brands had plenty of experience with mixing materials, and turned their attention to making sneakers even more functional. Saucony, Reebok, and New Balance led the charge. Saucony is a household name of 80s running, taking the established nylon and suede combination of their predecessors, and beefing up the midsoles and tread for wider use. Meanwhile, Reebok introduced the Classic Leather and Classic Nylon, both versatile models that could be used for a wide range of activities. They’ve since become staples of any retro sneaker collection.



By the time the 1980s rolled around, brands had plenty of experience with mixing materials, and turned their attention to making sneakers even more functional. Saucony, Reebok, and New Balance led the charge. Saucony is a household name of 80s running, taking the established nylon and suede combination of their predecessors, and beefing up the midsoles and tread for wider use. Meanwhile, Reebok introduced the Classic Leather and Classic Nylon, both versatile models that could be used for a wide range of activities. They’ve since become staples of any retro sneaker collection.

Meanwhile, in 1988, New Balance launched arguably their most iconic sneaker, the 574. The suede and mesh upper combination was met with the cutting-edge ENCAP midsoles and Motion Control Device (MCD). Designed for running on all but the most treacherous terrain, the 574 truly defined the 1980s decade of heritage running. Its 990 sibling, launched in 1982, lives on today in the latest generation: the 990v5.

Materials and function were refined as the industry entered the 1990s, and brands made some truly daring moves with new-fangled cushioning technologies. One of the era’s most radical sneakers was the Nike Air Max 90 with its visible Air sole, which built on the work started by its older Air Tailwind 79 sibling. It’s just been remastered with a nip and tuck in eye-popping pastels – right in time for its 30th birthday this year.

ASICS also had some fairly wild ideas, introducing the seminal GEL-Lyte III in 1990. Like the Air Max 90, the GEL-Lyte III demonstrated a new pinnacle of ASICS’ flagship cushioning technology. Unconventional design cues like the unique split tongue and intricately layered design combined to create an iconic retro sneaker.



ASICS also had some fairly wild ideas, introducing the seminal GEL-Lyte III in 1990. Like the Air Max 90, the GEL-Lyte III demonstrated a new pinnacle of ASICS’ flagship cushioning technology. Unconventional design cues like the unique split tongue and intricately layered design combined to create an iconic retro sneaker.

Simultaneously, Saucony made a drastic departure from their earlier work with the Aya. The lightweight road runner has always had a penchant for outlandish colour combinations and materials that highlight its Ionic cushioning system. Did you catch the Raised By Wolves x Saucony Aya earlier this year?

Next time you check out a new pair of sneakers, be sure to look for any nods to the past. To help jog your memory, take a trip down memory lane today, tomorrow – and forever – with Hype DC’s curated Heritage Running collection!

Shop our full edit of the best Heritage Running Styles here.

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