This year all sportswear brands have had a tough time due to Covid-19, with supply chains heavily disrupted, though generally, sneaker releases have still been of a high standard. There is one brand, however, that has dominated 2020 thanks — in large part — to its consistently strong collaborations: New Balance.
The New England-based sportswear company’s success in 2020 is no fluke and comes down to its roster of collaborators, the continued appeal of its heritage models, and an ability to tap into consumer trends with brand new products. “New Balance has changed the collaboration strategy quite a bit over the past couple years,” New Balance senior collaborations manager Joe Grondin tells Highsnobiety. “We’ve gone from individual retailer-based projects to longer-term brand partnerships, which I think has brought new energy.”
This shift in strategy has resulted in what Grondin describes as a “balanced roster of brands” including WTAPS, Joe Freshgoods, Stray Rats, and Aimé Leon Dore, to name a few. That balance is key. In comparison, Nike’s Virgil Abloh and Travis Scott or adidas’ Kanye West may eclipse most of New Balance’s partners when it comes to online followings but are part of a totally different strategy, as they’re inherently hype-driven collaborators.
Instead of focusing on hype to sell product, Grondin explains that New Balance places an emphasis on “aligning with brands that are authentic in their space and have substance behind their message.” New Balance’s roster of collaborators represent a wide range of aesthetics, communities, and subcultures, meaning the brand can speak to a variety of consumers based on what product has been matched with which collaborator. In a sense, putting together a New Balance sneaker collaboration is like a game of exquisite corpse. “We’re able to keep product executions and stories fresh while creating different followings for each type of partnership,” says Grondin.
Most brands have multi-pronged release strategies. In New Balance’s case, it focuses heavily on its Made in USA classic models and balances that out with new model introductions and more technical offerings from Tokyo Design Studio. “New Balance uses collaborations to authenticate classic models, bring new product to the market,” explains Grondin. “Collaborations also allow New Balance to be much more visible to new and important audiences that would otherwise not see us.”
Casablanca’s collaborative 327 is the perfect example of the above. The sneaker — which is an all-new silhouette inspired by two archival models from the ’70s — became the shoe of the summer because its aesthetic aligned perfectly with Casablanca’s and provided something fresh that resonated with consumers.
“New Balance has done a good job pairing the right partners with the right models and at the right time,” says Grondin. “With so many sneaker projects coming out each weekend, you really need to nail all three of those aspects to create legitimate energy.”
In addition to nailing the launch of new models this year, New Balance moves from strength to strength with its heritage line. The relaunch of 2006’s 992 — Steve Jobs’ favorite sneaker — has been a success both in terms of collaborations and general release colorways. WTAPS, Kith, and Joe Freshgoods have released highly-coveted versions of the shoe, while the OG grey and tan general release colorways also sold out swiftly upon release. The New Balance 827 is another archival model that has seen great success thanks to a collaborator — in this case Aimé Leon Dore — as it was the most sought-after drop when it was released in early March.
The resell market is often used as a measuring tape for the success of a sneaker — fairly or not — and a quick scroll through StockX shows WTAP’s 992 reselling for an average of $989, Kith’s recent effort at $695, and Joe Freshgoods’ Valentine’s Day 992 valued at over $500. Other efforts by Stray Rats, No Vacancy Inn, and Aimé Leon Dore are also selling for more than retail, proving that the product has resonated with consumers and people are willing to spend well above retail to get their hands on a pair.
With a successful first half of 2020 down, New Balance is not resting on its laurels and sneakerheads should be excited. “There is still a lot to come this year,” Grondin teases. “Our follow-up Made in USA project with JJJJound as well a full footwear and apparel capsule with Bodega hits this summer. In addition, we will launch our first project with Salehe Bembury in a few months as well.”