New Balance Comes Out Running and Keeps On Going
It took more than 50 years for the New Balance Arch Support Company, founded in Boston in 1906, to create a publicly available sneaker. After all, the company's initial focus was on designing the best arch supports.
Founder William Riley wanted to give workers the ability to stand on their feet all day without pain. Using his backyard chickens and their three-pronged feet as inspiration, he created a flexible system with three support points (the chicken has long been an under-the-radar hallmark of New Balance, appearing in the Massachusetts headquarters and factories, and even on shoeboxes). Fans of New Balance wanted custom-made sneakers, and Riley created some special shoes, but none were mass distributed.
History of New Balance Sneakers
Riley's daughter Eleanor and her husband, Paul Kidd, bought the company in 1956. By 1961, the couple made the first run of sneakers available to the public, a Trackster model with a unique ripple sole. In what would later become a key calling card for the brand, New Balance dipped into its foot-support history and created the shoes in multiple widths to better match the needs of customers. The outsole on the 1961 Trackster was popular with cross-country runners. It remained a relatively small, local operation until the 1972 purchase of the brand by Jim Davis. That new ownership, timed with the soaring growth in popularity of running as a hobby in the United States, launched a renewed brand focus on footwear.
In 1976, the New Balance N logo appeared on a sneaker for the first time — on the New Balance 320 — and in the 1980s, New Balance continued a steady onslaught of new products in both the footwear and apparel arenas.
New Balance has never wavered from its original running heritage — but over time, the brand has explored new territory, launching a skateboarding shoe line to tap into a lifestyle culture the running silhouettes couldn't reach. New Balance also became a crucial player in cleated footwear, particularly in baseball. And the company's move into tennis continues to grow today.
Technological advancements continue for the brand, with its Fresh Foam technology from 2014 still one of the most popular it offers. New Balance made further waves in 2018 by signing NBA star Kawhi Leonard, signifying a move into performance basketball and embracing Leonard's subdued personality that matched the ethos of the brand.
Along the way, New Balance has remained a staple of culture by embracing the "dad shoe" label of the brand while creating fresh perspectives on classic designs. New Balance embraced its popularity across multiple demographics with the marketing line: "Worn by supermodels in London and Dads in Ohio."
Key New Balance Collaborations
New Balance is relatively new to the collaboration space, with an Offspring collection in 2006 marking the entry. Since that time, New Balance has worked with Norse Projects, United Arrows, Bodega, Kith and Ronnie Fieg, Stussy, Solebox and even dipped into pop culture with Marvel.
New Balance Takes the Runner to Stylish New Lengths
New Balance's strong emphasis on running doesn't mean ignoring the need for high-quality footwear in other sports. New Balance produced one of the most-worn cleats in Major League Baseball and offered a popular on-court tennis model to go along with its growing soccer and performance basketball lines. But across collectors and collaborators, the running heritage still speaks the loudest.
- The launch of the New Balance 320 in 1976 offered a couple of firsts. It started the company's numeric naming system and debuted the N logo on its footwear. Modern-day versions of the 320 series — such as 2020's 327 model — continue to give this sneaker relevant cultural moments.
- The 990 series made waves in 1982 when it became the first athletic sneaker priced at $100. The high-end running model with ENCAP cushioning soon became a lifestyle status symbol. The addition of the 991 in 2001, worn by Steve Jobs, brought grey suede into the limelight, and the 990 series remains the most remade silhouette of the brand.
New Balance 990 Series
New Balance 574
- The 574 brought New Balance out of its storied grey history in 1988. The running shoe still offered technical advances of the day but did so in a colorful new aesthetic.
- When Bill Clinton was seen running in 1993's New Balance 1500, it helped spark further popularity in the runner (Barack Obama was known for the New Balance 990). Other presidents have enjoyed New Balance for its robust Made in the USA program, which includes many shoes made in New England factories.
New Balance in Popular Culture
New Balance doesn't mind being known as a "dad shoe" even as the company offers up a variety of options. With grey as the brand's defining color, New Balance has long embraced its history as a run-first company. However, the brand's quiet confidence led to a rise in popular culture, especially when the '80s and '90s fashion trends returned to the streets. The technical know-how and incredibly powerful Made in the USA stance from New Balance have kept it a major player in sneaker culture.
Bill Clinton isn't the only famous feet spotted wearing New Balance. Hollywood A-listers Adam Levine, Emma Roberts and Timothée Chalamet rock the brand. Fashionista Kourtney Kardashian and supermodels Heidi Klum and Kaia Gerber also make a fashion statement sporting the big N.
Collectibility and Value of New Balance
Collaborations mark the New Balance collectible culture. The 990 and 1500 series offer up some of the most sought-after styles created by the brand. The New Balance 990v3 JJJJound is valued at over $3,000 on the resale market. The JJJJound 992 in a Mossy Green colorway is easier to get but still pricey, fetching over $800 on eBay. The New Balance 1500 has a couple of versions in the high-value range, with the PRVDR going for as high as $2,000 and the Solebox Toothpaste Mint not far behind at around $1,500. And the New Balance 992 Kith Spring 2 and 992 Joe Freshgoods No Emotions Are Emotions can both garner close to $1,000 on the resale market.