The Boston-based brand just signed a $17.3 million contract to make the new 950v2 for the military.
In November 2016, shortly after Donald Trump was elected president, New Balance found itself in hot water. The brand's vice president of public affairs, Matt LeBretton, said in an interview that the brand hoped Trump's outspoken stance against the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership would bode well for the brand's ability to make sneakers in America. "The Obama administration turned a deaf ear to us," LeBretton said at the time. A few weeks later, neo-Nazis were claiming NBs as "the official shoes of white people." (In response, New Balance released a statement condemning bigotry.)
And while brands like Patagonia and Gucci have benefited from opposing Trump's policies, in 2018, New Balance hasn't taken the same stance—and it seems to be working. Outside of politics, the rise of dad sneakers means the brand's shoes have never looked cooler. But on thornier issues, too, New Balance has seen success. The TPP is assumed to be all but dead. And yesterday, New Balance announced it had reached a $17.3 million agreement to make sneakers for the military. “This is a great win for the preservation and growth of American manufacturing jobs,” says Rob DeMartini, President & CEO at New Balance. The brand currently employs about 1,000 workers in the United States, and though it estimates this military deal with lead to more hires, it's unclear how many new employees will join as a direct result.
The NB-military relationship significantly predates the Trump administration. "New Balance has been the sole supplier of athletic footwear to the US Navy and the US Marine Corps since at least 1998," says Brad Miller, General Manager of New Balance's Enduring Purpose division (which oversees its "Made in the USA" projects). "We also have provided footwear for the US Army and US Airforce." Then, in 2012, New Balance sought a contract to create sneakers for the U.S. military—they even invested in an IMEVA machine, a device that allowed them to produce fully molded midsoles here in the U.S.—but a deal never came to fruition. In 2016, the Boston Globe reported that the dad sneaker experts promised to remain quiet about the TPP in exchange for the contract—a promise they claimed President Obama never kept.
Under the deal, New Balance will produce and distribute a model called the 950v2. According the New Balance, the 950v2 "was developed specifically for the military and will be available in three running shoe types for men and women including neutral, stability and motion control." To make the shoes, the brand is working with 21 American subcontractors, with materials that are 100% made in America. The "Made in the USA" part seems like an obvious condition, but in the past, New Balance has faced legal trouble for what some considered false "Made in the USA" claims, including a 2016 lawsuit (still pending) alleging that the brand knowingly sold sneakers labeled "Made in the USA" that were made of up to 30 percent foreign labor and materials.
$17 million is a lot of money—but it's somewhat insignificant next to the almost $4 billion in annual revenue New Balance brings in. In fact, New Balance won't benefit financially beyond the contract: the 950v2 won't be available to the public. So why is New Balance eager to go through all this trouble for a seemingly small return? The answer ultimately comes down something like patriotism—and given the fuss the brand has made, over this issue and others, it's safe to assume this isn't just about marketing. "We believe American workers can and should make shoes for the military’s newly enlisted recruits," says Miller. "We are proud to be the only athletic footwear manufacturer to make athletic shoes in America for over 75 years. We believe this initiative helps support American jobs and the local communities where they exist."
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