New Balance: From Humble Beginnings To Global Success
As it stands New Balance is one of the largest footwear manufacturers in the industry with an extensive range of product and a reputation for quality goods. Nowadays its a household name almost across the entire world, but New Balance’s success didn’t happen overnight and instead dates back to the early 1900s.
Boston, Massachusetts 1906 – British born immigrant William J. Riley founds the New Balance Arch Support Company with aspirations of selling a flexible arch support to provide greater balance and comfort within the shoe. The support itself consisted of three balance points and the inspiration behind the design is rumoured to of come from Riley observing chickens strut about his back yard. It is even said Riley kept a chicken foot on his office desk to explain to customers how the three-pronged foot results in perfect balance.
21 years of hard work go by and in 1927 Riley hires a man by the name of Arthur Hall as a travelling salesman. At this point, New Balance is not yet sold in retail stores, but this ended up working in the duo’s favour as the personal approach to selling helped them stand out amongst competitors. The arch supports at the time were priced at $5, which might have been considered pricey as this was roughly the same price as a new pair of shoes, but the brand wanted to deliver the highest quality possible to customers, despite the cost.
In 1936 Arthur Hall becomes a business partner and decides to personally visit workers that spent a lot of time on their feet, like the police and firemen of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. These men couldn’t be sold on a gimmick so instead by allowing them to try the arch supports in person he quickly gained their loyalty to the brand and simultaneously tapped into a new market.
In 1938 Riley approached a young runner by the name of Danny Mcbride who was a member of a local running club called the Boston Brown Bag Harriers. Riley had the idea of creating him a comfortable running shoe. Mcbride loved the idea and the shoe was designed featuring a crepe sole and black kangaroo leather upper, thus making it the first sneaker in New Balance history.
By 1941 the brand’s name started spreading due to their quality product and New Balance continued to explore other existing sports avenues such as baseball, tennis and even Boxing. Most notably making cleats for Major League Baseball team the Boston Braves.
In 1956 a few pivotal moments take place when Arthur Hall’s daughter Eleanor and her husband Paul Kidd buy the company. At first, the Kidds turn focus to the brand’s name and change it to ‘New Balance Orthopaedic Laboratory’ to satisfy America’s fascination of science bought on by the Space Race and the Cold War. Following this action, the Kidds soon gained an interest in developing sports footwear to meet the needs of different athletes, and while eventually the name change was short-lived, the latter idea certainly wasn’t.
1960 saw the introduction of the Trackster. The Trackster was New Balance’s first widely available running shoe coming in a variety of width fittings. This shoe quickly became highly praised by the running community due to its different sizing and fantastic quality. But despite this, the brand received slight pushback from retailers when they didn’t agree with the concept of measuring a foot width-ways as well as the standard length-ways.
The time between 1960 and 1972 saw sales languish, mostly due to the fact the company only had 6 people on staff making 30 pairs of shoes daily. This was until current chairman, Jim Davies, bought the company on the day of the Boston Marathon. Davis retained the ideas of quality product and customer service. It was also at this point that Boston became the centre of the running boom that hit the US, making sales skyrocket, alongside New Balance’s product line.
1976 saw one of the most pivotal points in New Balance’s style and design even to this day. It was in this year the 320 model launched, the first shoe of which features the instantly recognisable “N” logo. Featuring an electric blue suede alongside a gum-sole, the 320 was eye-catching as well as superbly made. Sales quickly skyrocketed for the 320 as Runners World Magazine vote it number one running shoe on the market.
The 80s saw the introduction of some of New Balance’s most recognisable models beginning with the 620, the first sneaker to break the $50 price mark. The 420, a favourite even to this day after being released in a massive number of colourways. And the iconic 574, still one of New Balances most popular models to this day after transitioning into an iconic staple in casual design.
Today sees New Balance as a direct competitor to the likes of the biggest footwear brands in the world. The company is still headed by Jim Davis and based in Boston, MA and continues to excel in fields of fashion, sport and culture. New Balance now makes a huge variety of sneakers including specialised models for Cricket, Basketball and even now Skateboarding. As well as this New Balance has collaborated with a number of brands including Woodhouse favourite, Norse Projects. Like the early days, New Balance is often recognised for their high-quality product and even have a range of sneakers Made In The USA as well as the Made In England collection.