January 7, 2019

The New Balance 1500 Archive Interview with Matt Kyte

Kevin Kosanovich

Kevin holds a Ph.D. in American studies and is an expert in American cultural history and hip-hop. He is the Senior Content Manager at StockX.

Matt Kyte created the New Balance 1500 archive and developed it over the course of seven years. He graciously agreed to let StockX use his illustrations and commentary concerning the history of the New Balance 1500 to create a permanent archive.

Below is our exclusive interview with Matt, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

StockX: Would you please introduce yourself?

Matt Kyte: My name is Matt, and I’m a sneaker nerd… Haha!

I’ve been actively acquiring sneakers as a hobby for about 12 years so I’d say that I’m still a relative youngling in the grand scheme of things. However, for my age, just under 30, I think I’ve got a fair bit of experience.

I have been involved in some fun events, writing and just about anything else to do with sneakers. I also worked at a boutique named Laced from 2009 – 2016. After leaving Laced, I started a fashion boutique, Contra, in Brisbane, Australia with my long-time mate who I met through the Sneaker Freaker forums back in 2006. 

Matt Kyte New Balance

Matt Kyte

How did you get interested in sneakers?

My initial introduction to sneakers as social currency was through skate brands like Adio, E’s, DC, and Globe, etc. When I was in my final years of primary school, I distinctly remember nagging my mum for the first pair of sneakers that I wanted. Up until that point I was wearing Lynx, which is a brand kind of similar to Sketchers as far as brand perception.

At some point, I stopped being a mega-nerd and got some cool friends so when the time came for new shoes they had to be a proper brand. I can’t remember the model, but I do remember they were navy blue Globes with yellow laces and some sort of fake air bubble. To this day that exact colorway always appeals to me on shoes, I think because of that early memory.

Have you always been interested in New Balance sneakers?

So when I moved into high school sneakers became a bit uncool. For years the trendy shoe to wear was Dunlop Volleys, which to anyone outside of Australia it’s hard to explain but the closest thing would maybe be the UK’s Plimsoles. To put it in perspective they were $30 when a pair of Vans runs you $90. Basically, they’re an Aussie icon yet relatively uncool but for a brief period around 2003-2006, if you were at my school, you had to have them.

Matt Kyte New Balance

Dunlop Volleys, Internationals

I started getting into early hip-hop before the end of school and this is where I started taking an interest in the fashion and sneakers of that period. Think Run DMC & Beastie Boys. I ended up buying a pair of Nike Dunks off eBay at some point, the ones from that pack with argyle print, they had a bit of pink on them which was pretty cool at the time for me. Things really kicked off when I bought a pair of Run DMC 35th Anniversary adidas Superstars on eBay that turned out to be fake. Through my research, I stumbled across the Crooked Tongues sneaker forums which turned out to be a very important moment for my life.

I had a moment of collecting Puma Suedes, Clydes, and Baskets, but moved into New Balance (NB) sometime around 2007.

I bought a pair of Run DMC 35th Anniversary adidas Superstars on eBay that turned out to be fake.

How did you get into the 1500s?

Even when NB wasn’t on my radar, the 1500s appealed to me. In 2006 they brought back the original grey colorway for the company’s 100th anniversary and I always remember thinking “man those are cool.” Later I’d end up tracking down a pair of those once the prices had skyrocketed. Now I have a pair I wear plus a deadstock keepsake.

Matt Kyte New Balance

The New Balance 1500GB. The original.

 What is so special about the 1500s?

I think it’s pretty close to being a perfect sneaker. It’s tech yet classic, there’s some wedge in its shape but it’s not clunky. I have owned and handled thousands of pairs of shoes over the last decade or so but when I grab a pair of those 2006 retroes in the original grey it still brings a smile to my face. Steven Smith, the shoe’s designer, has a knack for making sneakers that seem to remain futuristic looking even as time marches on. The 1500 is a good 30 years old at this point.

I still maintain that the original grey “Made in USA” is the purest version of the shoe.

What is significant about the “Made in the England” 1500s?

Compared to its Asian-made companions it all boils down to the quality. That manifests itself in a few forms; the materials used, the details in construction, and the story of where it’s made.

Although recently we’ve seen an uptick in more premium, locally produced sports footwear, NB has been doing this since their inception. While most sportswear manufacturers completely outsourced production in the 1970s and 1980s, New Balance always maintained their facilities in the USA and UK.

Being located in Cumbria, in the UK, it means that sourcing some of the finest leathers and fabrics on the planet is relatively easy since they’re being produced within driving distance most of the time. Pair that with the fact that these guys were able to make tiny batches of styles and you get the perfect recipe for limited edition special projects. This exactly what created the mythology of a “Made in England” 1500.

What is the difference between the “Made in the US” and the “Made in the UK” 1500s?

The USA versions were only ever the original production run, so these were the top-of-the-line NB running shoe in their time. The UK versions took on a more contemporary fashion approach; this is where we started to see the premium materials compared to the synthetic, lightweight construction of the USA models.

Matt Kyte New Balance

Matt Kyte’s pair of New Balance 1500WN.

 Do you have a favorite pair of 1500s?

I still maintain that the original grey “Made in USA” is the purest version of the shoe; If I wanted to be a bit fancier though I’d say the white/navy pair that was part of the first Made in England ones. I’ve always had a thing for OG New Balance in white/navy. As far as collaborations go, nothing will ever top the Solebox GGB, Hikmet’s first version of the 1500.

Matt Kyte New Balance

New Balance 1500GGB

 What was New Balance’s reaction to your archive? Did they reach out?   

They reached out to me when I did the final run of prints back in 2015. They purchased them off me for a competition they were running but I never saw or heard anything from them once I shipped them. Hopefully, some people out there got them; those were some high-quality, museum-grade prints!

I never really created this with the intention of fame or recognition, it all began as a personal project to basically see if I could track down all of the 1500s out there. This project started back when NB announced that the 1500 wouldn’t be produced any longer due to the original sole molds being destroyed but alas here we are in 2018 and they’re still coming out! I lost motivation once the shape of the shoe had gone a bit wonky and the colorways began to get a bit too methodical.

My only hope is that NB Japan comes to the rescue and puts their weight behind a project similar to the 1300JP.

Anything further that you’d like to share about New Balance and the 1500s?

From about 2006 the shape of the 1500 changed fairly drastically. While there was no one particular detail that made things wrong, the whole shoe lost the aggressive and balanced shape that defined it, being slightly more bulbous and bulky which in my view really hurt the shoe.

Over the years NB has done their best to try and fix the problem, with toe reshapes and whatnot but to my eye, the problems are with just about every panel along with the sole itself which now seems to be straight from the Asian-made version. For my mind, there’s no fixing the problems short of going back to the drawing board but honestly, I don’t ever see that happening, the cost would far outweigh the benefit.

My only hope is that NB Japan comes to the rescue and puts their weight behind a project similar to the 1300JP, which has been a project that attempted to create a 1:1 replica of the original 1300 every five years since its introduction in 1985. I’ve said it many times but if they did a Made in USA 1500, with a proper attempt to make a 1:1 replica, within modern production constraints of course, and made them prohibitively expensive like the originals, then it would make a lot of people very happy. Other than that I don’t see myself owning a new pair of 1500s ever again.

Are you working on any new projects with New Balance?

Yes, actually! I helped put together the book about the New Balance 997. I’ve also launched the New Balance 997 archive, which in my opinion is far superior to my work on the 1500s. The 997 archive is currently being updated here.

For an in-depth look at the history of the New Balance 1500 check out our deep dive here 

Check out the authoritative New Balance 1500 Archive here