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How New Balance became dope
Diving into the footwear brand's recent history and how they went from dad sneaks to Hypebeasts
Sprezza is a new kind of newsletter exploring men’s style.
We talk about independent menswear, WTF style means, cover drops, review products, and the business of retail.
Steve Jobs left us on October 7, 2011.
We lost an extraordinary thinker. His unique vision for the world that he wanted to build around Apple and its many products was a reflection of his values: he was a true innovator at heart. And—as is often custom with certified, crazy geniuses—he stuck to a simple, daily uniform. Jobs’ sneaker of choice?
New Balance 992s.
Last fall, crossed the ten-year anniversary of his passing. And there’s something telling about the connection of that 10-year passing and the simultaneous rise to power we’ve witnessed from New Balance in 2021, let alone the last few years. “Cool” and “New Balance” weren’t always interchangeable, Steve Jobs as the American footwear brand’s unofficial ambassador didn’t exactly help.
Even a few years ago, New Balance (as they have done with previous administrations) announced it would be the official sneaker sponsor to former President Trump and his team.
But a lot can change in 10 years.
And, so, here we are, wracking our brains to imagine a world where New Balance is going toe-to-toe with Nike to claim its position as a culturally dialed-in brand in the sneaker business. This is the world we live in.
But, what happened to the old New Balance?
They’re a conundrum, a textbook case of how a brand evolves over time. They’re a beacon for how we can shift our perception of where a brand has been and what it can be. After all, New Balance sneakers used to be for corny dads in the way that minivans are to soccer moms.
So, what changed?
With the rise of social media over and the way we distribute and consume information over the last decade, New Balance leveraged that and repositioned itself to work with some of the most culturally-dialed-in artists, designers, and musicians in the game. And they deserve credit for that.
From boring dad sneak supplier to an incubator—no, creative lab—for creative thinkers, a string of top-tier collabs has shot NB to the moon and executed them across every customer genre.
Here are a few responsible for helping them make that jump…
JoeFreshGoods and have been among the favorite for NB over the last couple of years, He’s had wildly successful drops in 2020 and 2021, and now he’s teasing out his third drop this year. NB loves working with him so much that they’ve appointed him as Creative Director for a new campaign called Conversations Amongst Us. It drops in April as a storytelling campaign about the black experience in America and how Joe is shifting the conversation to inspire the next generation of black creatives.
Another creative partner they’ve employed recently is Justin Saunders, founder of JJJJound, a design and creative studio in Montreal. Justin is an off-spring of Ye’s DONDA agency, the same joint that gave guys like Jerry Lorenzo, Matthew Williams, and the late Virgil Abloh their start. JJJJound has had a few successful drops with NB himself, most notably the recent 990v3 he released last week, retailing at $250, which sold out in minutes.
JJJJound is a much more minimalistic designer in nature, a lot of neutral and muted tones, where Joe infuses splashes of color in his. Both of these approaches work, and they each carry their own loyal fanbases to the American footwear brand.
Aimé Leon Dore
Perhaps the most recognizable NB sneaker over the last year-ish are the 550s that Teddy Santis (Aimé Leon Dore founder) brought back as part of his infusion of basketball with ALD. The 550s felt like the most Instagrammable shoe out there and have made their way all over the world and have been adopted by the most A-list celebrities, like Justin and Haily Bieber.
NB has been courting Teddy for a while. As a brand, ALD exponentially propped NB up into the kinds of circles they didn’t float in, bordering into luxury
After success with the 550s, the company hired him as the Creative Director for New Balance’s Made in America line. The newest collection under that line should be dropping this spring.
And then there’s Salehe, perhaps the most interesting designer to come into the picture over the last year for New Balance. Bembury has incrementally forced his way into this position, having taken a more traditional path than the others mentioned. He’s spent time everywhere from Payless and Cole Haan to GREATS, Yeezy, and Versace.
Now he’s doing his own work with New Balance, Crocs, and was hired by LeBron James’s UNINTERRUPTED media arm last fall.
He made a big splash with New Balance when he launched the 574 Yurts, an outdoor footwear and apparel collection that felt so creatively fun and playful.
New Balance, for everyone
New Balance is its ability to transcend socioeconomic boundaries is something we should appreciate. Few brands can do this. But NB understands how to position their product to different customer segments, which is really challenging to do as a brand.
But they’ve managed to do this with Japanese brands like WTAPS, Casablanca, Bodega, Rich Paul, Stüssy, and even Todd Snyder.
It’s hard to deny the cultural impact and moment New Balance is having with its partnerships. Makes you wonder what their ceiling for success looks like. One thing’s for sure, though. If there’s more gas left in the tank, they won’t be going it alone.