Origins: New Balance

British born William J. Riley is the founder of New Balance, in 1906 he emigrated to the Boston in the USA to begin a new business with an revolutionary high quality product. Inspired by watching chickens and their ability to stand up with just 3 claws in all conditions he came up with the idea of building heel arch supports. In the early 1900's shoes were basic as pretty much the entire population wore the same style, his aim was to provide the highest quality product and using travelling salesman he product was brought to the masses. The original company was called so contrary to belief New Balance didn't actually produce their first footwear until 1938. 

Riley didn't create a shoe company but he believed that he could provide technology that would provide additional comfort and support to the existing product at that time, he was ambitious in the sense that he would do everything in his power to produce the highest quality inserts for the individual. In 1927 he hired Arthur Hall as a salesman who would go door to door selling the product allowing the business to be successful and begin to expand. 

In 1934 Hall and Riley were business partners as Hall realised that this product was ideal for for certain market of professionals who spent lots of time on their feet. Firefighters and Policeman were the main beneficiaries of this unique product which gained popularity at a cost of 5 US Dollars a high price at the time but it was about value for money and not profit gain. 

22 years later the company had been sold by Hall to his daughter and her husband, the new owners were keen to take the existing products and put the technology into their own footwear so that the process could be better managed and they could guarantee a better product to the public.

The first shoes were produced for local sportsman Danny McBride, a runner, the shoes were made specifically for the person rather than for the population. They understood that we have feet with all shapes and sizes and so as the years progressed New Balance were growing more commercial, branching out into various US sports and their care and attention to detail gained an attraction the sporting celebrities but not necessarily from the retailers who struggled to sell the variations of width size shoes. Word of mouth was the most important method of advertisement. 

Thought a depression and WWll New Balance prospered thanks to the original product from Riley, however in 1960 the company were using their local and national success in the industry to produce the first and most recognisable running shoes known as "The Trackster"

New Balance first trainer The Trackster

 

It is fair to say that the first concept shoes were of poor design externally, but the main focus was provide a shoe that fits. Other brands were happy to allow the customer to get away with wearing a size too big and shoe that would be too narrow or wide. New Balance wanted everyone to know that you don't have to accept what you are told by the shoe makers, that you can have what your feet needs for performance or comfort. 

The company was bought out again in 1972 by Jim Davis who really got the ball rolling, he brought in designer Terry Heckler who introduced the N logo on the shoes, this did worry New Balance at the time as it was thought it would confuse the customer with Nike, however Heckler was happy with this comparison and it stays to date. The 320 was one of the most notable and defining trainers of the 70's, the idea of dropping the name was because they didn't want shoes to have ridiculous names and they figured the customer will be able to recognise a number just as easily as a name. 

The first European shoes were made in Ireland in 1979, 3 years later production started in Flimby, Cumbria where shoes are still made even now. The reason for production in the UK goes back to the roots of the company as Riley was originally British, the production over here means that the European market can be easily managed however it comes at a cost as US collectors would now find it almost impossible to get their hands of the sneakers, and the cost of production would drive the european prices up.

Since 1982 New Balance has made trainers in the US, UK and Asia, the concepts have changed like the industry, all manner of materials are used, designs have been simple, complex but the main goal has been to produce the most comfortable sought after shoes.

Whilst I write this I can assure the reader of the same experience I had when first tried a pair of 576 Made in UK models trainers. Firstly, I have been wearing the wrong size trainers all my life, I was on the understanding I was size 13, in fact I am size 12.5. The comparison in comfort between adidas Originals and New Balance is outrageous, I prefer a pair of ROM over 576 for style and looks, but the comfort from New Balance is a treat. 

New Balance is a brand we are proud to sell, the following of wearers is few and far between but to us few it's like a secret because these really are some of the best trainers you will ever wear. 

Sources

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Balance
http://uk.complex.com/sneakers/2013/06/50-things-you-didnt-know-about-new-balance/
http://www.theshoegame.com/New-Balance-History.html


David Eade
David Eade

Author