Much like the technology found in performance running footwear, the aesthetics of running shoes continue to evolve as well. Taking cues from fashion, art, street culture, tech and even space exploration, brands are merging performance and style in increasingly dynamic and fresh ways.

Inside this ever-evolving world of running footwear, those tasked with defining colors, textures, branding and other elements of a shoe’s physical look are pairing intuition with mounds of research to create – months (often many months) in advance, mind you – compelling styles capable of catching consumers’ eyes. 

“The days of predictability are on the wane … [though] there remains demand for a certain degree of sophistication,” New Balance design director-color Sarah Tenney says.

From wild to mild, Running Insight corrals the help of a few industry friends to explore what’s coming up the running footwear fashion pipeline.

Aesthetic nods to sustainability

With brands embracing sustainability at an accelerating pace, particularly in midsoles and upper materials, and consumer interest in sustainability rising, it should come as no surprise that footwear brands are looking to highlight their environmental ethos in visual ways.

Many brands are embracing earthy, natural tones to hint at sustainability, including colors such as ivory, taupe and moss green. 

Altra color and trend designer Shelby Trueax anticipates an increase in more nature-inspired pastels, particularly lighter colors, such as dustier-looking pinks and blues. And expect to see these earthy tones paired with pops of bright colors, especially since demand for bold, athletic colors remains popular, particularly in racing product.

In addition, Meredith Nash, strategic business manager for performance running at New Balance, says brands will represent sustainability aesthetically in other ways, too, such as using speckled midsoles.

“The aesthetic of sustainability is something we’ll see more and more,” Nash assures.

Genderless looks

For years, men’s running footwear owned dark, heavier colors like navy blue and charcoal, while women owned the pinks and purples. Those days are changing, as colors increasingly skew gender lines and brands embrace a more unified color direction in which men’s and women’s models share colors.

“It started in lifestyle and is rolling into performance,” explains Paul Lang, senior merchandising manager for performance running footwear at ASICS.

The concept of genderless color is particularly taking root with more neutral hues such as oatmeal, sand and gray. New Balance, meanwhile, is developing a soft beige color it’s calling Timberwolf. 

And even rugged trail shoes are embracing the genderless aesthetic. Altra’s Lone Peak 7, which dropped at the start of 2023, features one men’s colorway with a visible purple outsole and another with a peachy midsole.

“There’s so much fluidity and we’re going to see more of this across performance run,” Nash says.

Richer, deeper colors 

— and more of it

In a move she calls “guiltless expression,” Brooks senior manager of footwear materials Stefani Lovley sees more brands stepping away from the color wheel and creating artisanal hues, such as bolder brights, especially on speed product. Brooks, for instance, is utilizing low-impact dye methods and getting deeper saturation in colors, specifically brights.

“You don’t have to sacrifice aesthetics and beauty for performance or sustainability,” Lovley says. 

A willingness to explore color in new ways could prompt even more monochromatic footwear. While triple white and triple black looks remain popular, Florian Lang, global business unit director of road running at Salomon, foresees more colored midsoles and interesting blockings. ASICS’ Paul Lang, meanwhile, sees room for triple khaki, triple sand or triple gray options or perhaps even a triple mint look to play on seasonal tones. 

“We can open up wider from where we are,” ASICS’ Lang says.

The midsole as a canvas

With high-stack midsoles now commonplace across the industry, including models that go above and beyond the racing-rule limitations of 40mm, there is now greater opportunity to use the midsole as a canvas.

Brands are adding pops of color to the midsole and are also incorporating ombré looks blending one color hue to another. Some are also using the expanded midsole to tell a more dynamic story with pattern, color or design. 

The black-and-white Kakizome print colorway on the Mizuno Wave Rebellion Pro, for example, covers its midsole with a hand-splattered paint process employed during production. Like a fingerprint, every midsole is different, an element that adds to the uniqueness and personality of the eye-catching model.

Hiding ‘Easter eggs’

On its “Run Merry” holiday edition of the Revel 4 back in 2020, Brooks incorporated velvety red laces in a nod to Santa and the holiday season. That small detail earned attention and praise. Running stores and their consumers can expect more of those “little Easter eggs,” Lovley says. 

From texture moments to an inspirational quote running across the heel in cursive script, brands will look to surprise and delight runners with unexpected, distinctive details that create richer connections and distinguish the shoe. 

A return to simplicity — but sometimes elevated

ASICS’ Lang sees performance running footwear embracing more neutral colors on uppers, including black, white and different shades of gray. However, he sees these neutral uppers being paired with elevated details, whether its laces or logos brought out in exciting new ways.

While the recently released ASICS Gel-Nimbus 25 Lite-Show carries a straightforward navy blue upper, the ASICS logo spanning the side of the shoe features a floral-inspired design with pink, purple and yellow hues — a nod to the aforementioned genderless trend since the men’s and women’s styles are the same. The shoe also features orange lace loops holding navy blue laces.

“We’re turning up the radio dials and balancing it with neutrals,” Lang says.

Trueax attributes such elevated details to more travel and discovery in the post-pandemic world and a yearning for colors that evoke happiness and optimism. She suspects men’s footwear, in particular, will increasingly incorporate stimulating colors such as deep reds and red-orange hues inspired by space exploration.

Giving clarity

When Brooks introduced the Aurora-BL in mid-2021, a limited-edition product from its intentionally forward-looking BlueLine Lab, it did so with a mesh, almost transparent upper in specific places. Look down upon the toe box, in fact, and you could see your wiggling toes.

As consumers seek lighter product, many expect translucency to gain appeal, especially in speed product. Translucent layers manufactured with a strong textile can provide support and breathability while giving the illusion of lightweight, Lovley says. 

Daring to be different 

Like apparel design, footwear design can be polarizing and many predict unconventional looks will only accelerate in performance running footwear. Expect disruptive colorways for people who want to stand out, Trueax says, such as vibrant yellows paired with earth tones, uncommon color and texture pairings or daring pops of neon colors alongside beige and other nature-inspired tones.

“There’s more expression of uniqueness and individuality and less tradition,” Trueax says. “There’s a lid for every pot and certainly a group of people who like different and unique.”