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New Balance - not only running shoes

No introduction is needed for New Balance as running shoes brand. Famous N-sneakers are running aficionados' often first choice. But not only theirs. Various New Balance models were celebrities' pick, too - Steve Jobs' or Kanye West's among them. It is to them, among other factors, that New Balance shoes owe their popularity among regular users, caring mostly about design trends. Only few of them, however, are familiar with their favorite brand's history and the trivia related thereto. Therefore, we would like to remind one of the sports footwear leaders' road to success and shed some light on its relations with hens, kangaroos and... Bill Clinton.  

Insoles and hens - back to New Balance's basics

Most of you will probably be surprised by the fact that at the outset New Balance was not a shoe manufacturing company. They were producing insoles. The company was founded in Boston in 1906. The founder, William J. Riley, took upon himself to improve the workers' comfort, wearing uncomfortable shoes all day long. The innovation introduced by New Balance were insoles with an arch support inspired by... chicken foot! Riley, watching the birds in his yard, noticed that the perfect balance they maintain is a result of the three-pronged structure of their feet. That's what inspired the design of his arch-supporting insoles. Triangular-shaped structure provided an extra support for shoe balance. From this chicken balance achievement the brand took its name.


First shoes and kangaroos

In the early 30's New Balance designed moldable insoles, adapting to the user's unique feet shape. Shortly after that, in 1938, first shoes by New Balance were released. Three decades later! The brand made a technical footwear for the local Boston Brown Bag Harriers sports club out of... kangaroo leather. Riley was confident that thanks to the fabric choice even the demanding customers will flock to the new brand, becoming its first supporters. Hence a "satisfaction guaranteed" policy, with a full refund ($7 was plenty at the time) promise to everyone dissatisfied with the products.

Cold War and racing tracks

With the full-fledged Space Race on in the background, New Balance stayed focused on a whole different kind of race - on the running track. The brand's goal was to improve technology that would take running to the next level. In 1956, William J. Riley passed away, leaving the enterprise in the hands of his daughter and her husband. The new owners renamed the company - former "New Balance Arch Support Company" became "New Balance Orthopedic Laboratory". The ploy's aim was to emphasize the brand's commitment to research - an attitude strongly favored in the Cold War period. Trackster model was born out of this atmosphere. The shoes were exceptionally lightweight, which made them perfect for running. The availability of different shoe widths was something that set them apart. Now everyone could find the perfect fit, not only in terms of insole length, but also the width.


The time is Now

Although today New Balance's regonizability lies in the famous N-logo on the sneakers, it wasn't there at the outset. Not until the 1970s, when Terry Heckler designed the emblem. The first N-branded sneakers were New Balance 320, also known as "the best shoes for runners", as praised and awarded by the prestigious magazine "Runner's World".


The recognizable logo was exactly what the brand needed. Earlier, despite recoginition gained in specific circles, was rather unknown. A single letter, taken as a trademark, made New Balance a brand reinvented, which ended up in taking the company straight to the top.

From the strategy of silence to Barrack Obama

For many years New Balance brand followed the "Endorsed by No One" rule, forbidding the footwear advertising by high profile personas. The manufacturer wanted the people to make the choice based on belief in the shoes' quality. Such was the corporate policy for a hundred years. In theory. In reality, the brand did step out of its own line - for example, by signing a million-dollar contract with James Worthy, a Los Angeles Lakers player. When he got caught with a prostitute in 1990, New Balance quickly regretted their decision. New Balance sneakers, however, happened to be the world-class personas choice, completely independently of marketing activities. Bill Clinton, for example, wearing New Balance 1500 for presidential jogging routine:    


Perhaps the biggest fan of New Balance brand, however, was Steve Jobs. His Apple conference apparel invariably consisted of Levi's jeans, black golf and New Balance 992 model.


In 2009 New Balance announced they're done with "Endorsed by No One" policy. Contracts were subsequently signed. Among celebrity signees there were such athletes as baseball player Miguel Cabrera, basketball player Matt Bonner or Heidi Klum, the supermodel. In the same year, Kanye West was often seen in the 998 model. One of the most interesting New Balance sales pitches was designing dedicated... Barack Obama shoes. The message was as follows: if those simple, gray shoes (with a signature, stating the addressee) fit the president of these United States, they're everyone's fit. Today, New Balance enjoys the position of one of the leaders in the sports footwear market. Being a kind of an outsider in the Nike-versus-adidas race, New Balance keeps putting the quality first. At the same time, it's worth pointing out that it is the last big sports company that keeps parts of its manufacturing domestic - in the USA (Maine) and UK (Flimby).


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