Since New Balance began making shoes in 1906, they have changed the way people view running sneakers. New Balance consistently improves their sneakers, making sure the signature “N” remains synonymous with quality. Pushing out products adored by sneaker enthusiasts around the world has garnered New Balance a cult following. New Balance manufactures their shoes in factories located in the United Kingdom and the United States. The factories in both countries have a variety of differences but share one important commonality: They both produce the New Balance 1500.
Producing more than 7 million pairs of various models yearly in the US and UK, the brand’s factories have been attracting and keeping customers by never skimping on production quality. Because of this commitment, the 1500s made in the US and UK remain coveted by sneakerheads worldwide. Now that StockX also has headquarters in the US and UK, we decided to investigate the impact the brand and the 1500 has made on both sides of the Atlantic. With insight provided by some of the most influential New Balance heads in the sneaker community and a conversation with the creator of the shoe itself, Steven Smith, we discovered that the 1500 is more than just a shoe and that New Balance is more than just another footwear brand.
The “Rolls Royce” of sneakers
In 1986, right out of college, Steven Smith (@stevensmith) joined New Balance, starting in design. In his three years of working for the company, Smith created some of New Balance’s heavy-hitters, including the 996, 997, 574, and most importantly, the 1500.
Smith believes he was able to create something innovative and versatile. In a conversation with the man himself, Smith knew from the jump that the 1500 was going to be a knockout. “I knew there was something special about it,” says Smith. He further elaborates “that no matter where you look at it from, it is still interesting and the design is resolved.” In previous interviews, Smith describes his inspirations for shoe designs coming from aerospace and medical innovations. But for the 1500, he wanted to capture the feeling of a “Cadillac or a Rolls Royce.” To capture this feeling, he created the 1500’s midsole with a “plush suspension” and gave the shoe “pigskin suedes as the equivalent to Connolly leather [Connolly Leather is the historic company that supplies leather for Rolls Royce].”
With its sleek look and cutting edge features paying homage to classic cars, the 1500 has proven to be a shoe that continues to hold its own in the streets. The brand has delivered many collaborations with streetwear brands and sneaker boutiques from around the world, many of them working on different iterations of the 1500 model that holds the shoe to Steven Smith’s original, high-end standard. The use of various materials and colors have created an even stronger fanbase, making the 1500 a trendsetter.
American Through and Through
In 1985 New Balance opened their first factory in Norridgewock, Maine. Since then, the brand has expanded their operations throughout New England. In a country that mostly outsources production overseas, New Balance is one of few companies that prides itself on making shoes in America. They openly acknowledge this feat, with many of their factories donning signs that read “Excellent is ‘America Made’.” This sense of patriotism for their production resonates with many Americans, having multiple customers stay loyal to the brand. It is this loyalty that is partially responsible for New Balance’s mark on American streetwear culture.
We asked Richie Roxas (@newbalance365), one of the world’s largest New Balance collectors, why he thinks New Balance and America go hand-in-hand.“When you think of US brands, you think of New Balance” says Roxas. “NB will always be American at its core, no matter what countries it is doing well in, or which countries they are manufactured in. They still embody ‘Americana’ at its heart and still manufacture and produce many products in the states. No one else can say that they do that.” Roxas values New Balance because he finds that the brand sticks to its roots and they consistently stay aware of “their heritage.” Owning somewhere between 500-600 pairs of shoes, and 75% of that collection dedicated to New Balance, Roxas appreciates NB’s foundation being embedded in authenticity and attention to detail.
Richie Roxas is just one of many US New Balance fans who believes the brand is way ahead of the pack when it comes to keeping manufacturing jobs in the US. New Balance’s impact on American manufacturing has not gone unnoticed by the US government either. In March of this year, New Balance won a $17.3 million government contract to manufacture shoes for the military.
Bringing Back the Craft
Flimby, Cumbria, UK is a small village filled with open green pastures and small homes. Before the start of the day’s shift, sheep can be found munching on grass and locals from the area can be seen walking towards New Balance’s factory. Since setting up camp in 1982, New Balance has been producing some of their classic runners in Flimby. Similar to the New England locations, many of the people working in the UK live near the factory and have been making shoes for the brand since it first stepped foot in Europe.
Flimby has a deep history rooted in footwear manufacturing. Since the mid 19th century, the people of Flimby have made shoes. More recently they worked on footwear for companies such as K-Shoes, Bata, and Millers, where employees got hands-on experience with premium leathers and other skins. When these companies started shutting down factories in the 1970s and 1980s, this left shoemakers and the families of Flimby without work. New Balance wanted to tap into that already established skill-set of shoemaking and open up a factory in the small village. When the New Balance factory opened its doors, the people of Flimby answered the call and filled the floors, eager to put their skills to good use. In a town of 1,700 people, the New Balance Flimby factory employs over 300+ from the area, popping out around 28,000 pairs a week like a finely tuned machine. The Flimby shoemakers have put their skills with high-end materials to good use, earning the New Balance Flimby location the reputation as a hub for premium runners and classics.
Some of these shoes that get the premium treatment are the 576s, 770s, 991s, 999s, 1300s, and, of course, the 1500s. The 1500s are crafted with a mix of authentic leathers, suedes, pigskins, and other materials that cannot be found on other brands. From Steven Smith’s initial concepts to today, the 1500 still holds to its luxury foundation, being made with the most premium materials found in the UK. This commitment to luxury and quality has attracted people from all over the world and established the Made in England 1500 as one for connoisseurs of top tier goods.
One of these collectors is Thomas Lindie (@thomaslindie), co-creator of @newbalance_gallery, Instagram’s most influential page dedicated to New Balance shoes. He is one of the few heavy-hitting collectors in the New Balance community, owning over 300 pairs from the brand alone. Describing New Balance’s relevance to UK streetwear, what the brand means to him, Lindie says “I just wanted something different when it came to trainers.” Continuing, he says, “I wanted to be able to walk down the street and not see someone else wearing the same shoes as me, and I didn’t see a great deal of New Balance being worn around Aberdeen.” The originality of New Balance models piqued Lindie’s interest, and from there, it has lead him to start a collection and develop a close relationship with the brand that is four years strong. The bond that he has created with New Balance has opened many doors for him, including an invite to tour the Flimby factory for the 35th anniversary. There, he was able to create his 1-for-1 version of the 1500, adding to his already extensive collection of the model.
During his travels throughout Europe and posting on @newbalancegallery, Lindie has seen the impact of New Balance on the European streetwear scene. He sees different European countries embracing various models from the brand, including the 1500. “Whether it’s the dad shoe obsession in Scandinavia, the classic 991 in Italy, or the love that Scotland has from MiUK product, there’s a strong love for the brand in European streetwear.”
Lindie believes the love for New Balance in the UK stems from their manufacturing, similar to why people in the US value New Balance “For a brand to still be domestically manufacturing footwear in the UK, and to have been doing so for over 35 years, that’s no small feat,” he continues. The Flimby factory has employees who have been with the company since the factory opened in 1982. With such employee loyalty, Lindie believes that New Balance’s “Made in England” line “really cements the relationship between New Balance and the UK”.
Where the US and UK Meet
Around the world, the famous “N” logo has many different meanings for people that come across it. For some Americans, New Balance evokes patriotic sentiments encouraging them to purchase and stay loyal to the brand. In the UK, New Balance has meant a rebirth of a century-long footwear manufacturing industry, resurrecting a job force, a town, and fostering a sense of pride in craftsmanship. Despite the geographical and cultural distance, the two regions share the values of meticulous craftsmanship, both producing the famous 1500 model, a shoe that has become one of the brand’s most timeless silhouettes. Since the shoe’s creation in 1985, the 1500 has become an indelible bridge between the sneaker community and fans of luxury and functionality in the US and Europe. The 1500 is a part of a group of footwear models that has fueled American jobs and revived artisan shoemaking, making New Balance a company that transcends the footwear industry.
For a look at the only authoritative New Balance 1500 archive in the world, go here.
For an interview with Matt Kyte, the creator behind the New Balance 1500 archive, go here.