New Balance shoes: from "no one endorses them" to becoming the new favorite shoe of some sports stars
This is the transcript of the video.
Fabiana Buontempo: What do tennis star Coco Gauff, NBA MVP Kawhi Leonard, and Liverpool footballer Sadio Mané have in common? They all wear New Balance on the court and on the field. You don't have to be a huge sneaker fan to realize that New Balance weren't always considered "cool shoes." But somehow, despite strong competition, New Balance has managed to sneak onto the pitch.
From 2010 to 2018, sales reportedly increased by more than 100%, at a time when leisure was making its biggest dent in the footwear market. So how is it that athletes from across the spectrum of the sporting world are now turning to New Balance? The answer lies in the soles of the shoes and the attention to detail during their manufacture. I have traveled to the New Balance facility in Lawrence, Massachusetts to learn everything that goes into the process.
Manny Gomes, the facility's mechanical supervisor, taught me about the precision that goes into making the shoes. Making a pair of New Balance sneakers takes 50 to 60 steps, and the work is divided into four phases: the preparation phase, the initial stitching, the hand stitching, and the assembly phase. It's the fourth stage where the soles meet the rest of the shoe, and it's something New Balance has worked on from the start.
The company began in 1906 selling insoles that became so popular with athletes that they ordered custom-made shoes for their feet. But the company wouldn't release its first pair of sneakers until years later. When he started selling New Balance shoes, he decided not to rely on celebrity endorsements as the brand wanted their shoes to speak for themselves. He went so far as to make his mantra “endorsed by no one”, while improving the sole and the overall comfort of the shoe. But before adding the sole, the work begins at the first stage. This is where the fabrics are cut into the different parts of the shoe.
Fabiana Buontempo: How exactly does the trimming machine work?
Manny Gomez: This is the die, this will cut out this part of the shoe to a certain shape. What the trimmer does is place the material on top of this mesh. He cuts it out. It will flip it over so you can try to get as narrow a gap as possible and work your way down.
Fabiana: This phase is where the small but powerful details of the shoe come together, such as the affixing of size and model labels. The next phase is the initial stitching. During this step, workers use a technique called flatlock stitching, which is crucial to making shoes more durable. The individual stitches are made without crossing or looping the thread. They use this sewing technique because the flat seam does not leave any raw edges, instead creating a more durable double row of seam. This is important because it is the body of the shoe where most of the wear and tear occurs. Here, the clerk takes the cut-out pieces of fabric and places them on large yellow trays. They line up the pieces and close the lid of the tray so they can start sewing. Once the stitching is complete on a part of the shoe, the employee will send that part to the assembly line. The famous N is sewn during this process.
Now comes the part of the process where you have to sew by hand. The upper part of the shoe is almost finished at this point. But why is it sewn by hand at this stage? It turns out that the sewing at this stage is more intricate and requires the guidance of a human hand.
Manny: Sewing is tricky. Sometimes we miss a stitch and what ends up happening is the operator stops it, gives it to the crew chief, the crew chief gives it to the repairman, they fix that skipped stitch, put it back on the process and continue.
Fabiana: The final step is the assembly and finishing of the shoes. First, the upper is stretched on a shoe tree, which does the work of a foot in a shoe, giving it its final shape. The upper and the sole are heated in a small tunnel. From there, they go to a pressing machine, which permanently joins the two parts together.
Speaking of the sole, it's something of an engineering marvel. Traditional soles can be narrow and unsupportive, leading to all kinds of foot problems, including plantar fasciitis. And if they can't handle the rigors of the sport they can be a nightmare for a sneaker brand. New Balance widens the room for the toes. That extra room helps make the foot more stable. Additionally, New Balance gives their shoes a thicker midsole, making them more comfortable and cushioning.
But it's not a “one size fits all” when it comes to soles. The numbers in the name of each New Balance shoe indicate what type of activity the shoe is for and the type of support it offers. For example, if the name has a 40, like the New Balance 940 or 1540, it indicates that it is designed to offer the perfect control, stability and cushioning for running. The different numbers mean a different sole.
To finish the process, the New Balance shoe goes through a final inspection, and if all goes well, it is packed in its box and shipped to a store. Other shoe brands may still have an edge in terms of sales and cultural recognition, but there's no question that more and more athletes and customers are taking notice of New Balance.