New Balance has always been a mainstay in my life, no matter what phase I was going through. Growing up in Washington D.C., we gravitated toward classic colorways of the 574 and 1500, serving as one of the few sneakers of uniformity among the black community. In the late-2000s/early-2010s, we saw the meteoric rise of their American-made sneakers due in large part to the booming success of menswear and, more specifically, Americana. And today, the brand is seeing incredible support from the streetwear and fashion industry with high-profile collaborations with Ronnie Fieg, Concepts, and END Clothing. But all of this went to absolute shit with their untimely decision to publicly support the election of Donald Trump, the first major sneaker company to do so.
The Boston-based brand decided to risk alienating over 63 million Americans when its VP of public affairs, Matt LeBretton, sounded off about welcoming Trump’s presidency and his stance opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership—a free-trade agreement that essentially rewards brands with lowered tariffs who manufacture overseas—a contentious deal that helps sportwear rivals like Nike. New Balance has made it a priority to make a certain portion—according to New Balance, the brand manufactures 4 million U.S.-made pairs per year—of its sneakers in the U.S. This is something they’ve been doing since the brand was founded in 1906. (The brand also operates a factory in Flimby, England, and is dedicated to domestic manufacturing in multiple markets.) Soon after the backlash, they released a statement saying they were merely supporting the opposition of the trade agreement, not any of Trump’s larger geopolitical agenda items, or lack thereof.
The fact of the matter is this: It doesn’t matter what New Balance meant. It doesn’t matter if New Balance was merely admiring Trump’s opposition to the TPP, which is the same stance Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both share. It doesn’t matter that they’ve long opposed it, speaking out on it years ago (although they agreed to stop yapping about it in exchange for a U.S. government military contract, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.) What matters is that the timing of the statement speaks deafening volumes. There’s a huge segment of the U.S. population with a fresh wound, still in emotional agony just a handful of hours after a stunning (or not-so-stunning?) presidential upset. They’re in complete shock, and yet New Balance felt it was a good time to A) speak out against Obama and B) say you “feel like things are going to move in the right direction” under Trump, a misogynistic, xenophobic, race-baiting pathological liar who is constantly spitting vitriolic venom with juuuust a sprinkle of fearmongering?
Did people take the original statement out of context? Hell yes, they did. Was New Balance merely speaking on an issue they’d fought against previously and Trump just so happens to support them in the endeavor? Absolutely. But the day after the election—less than six hours after Clinton’s concession speech—was probably the absolute worst time for a brand who has catered to a melting pot of sneaker-lovers to comment on this incredibly divisive time. As a brand that seeks to represent all of its constituents, the lack of sensitivity for the situation is concerning, to say the least. I think it’s safe to say that the shows of support for Trump should be kept all the fuck away from brands who want to be considered a part of “the community.” And you want to know which part of said community this probably pisses off the most? The audience whom New Balance has made great strides in trying to win big with: millennials, even going as far as doing projects with producer Metro Boomin.
The brand issues a second statement, saying:
Estimates show approximately 24 million people under the age of 29 voted, only 37 percent of whom voted for Trump. These are the same millennials who have helped catapult the brand within a burgeoning audience by influencing others through various social mediums. Now the same audience is influencing others by burning, stabbing, and destroying their New Balance sneakers in protest of the brand’s recent comments. Even though I feel like the shoes could be donated to the less fortunate, it’s important to understand just how significant a movement this is. Not just among the sneaker community, but for a nation hurting as we witness a citizenry who is symbolically banding together in solidarity against the threats of despotism looming over us. And it’s not just a race thing. It’s not just black people who are scared. White people are, too. As are Latinos, Muslims, Catholics, gay people, straight people, males, females, cisgendered. The list goes on, as Trump has proved time and time again that there is only a fraction of Americans he truly cares about. By supporting him in the slightest bit, in the darkest hours of this election for many, New Balance—in my eyes, and many others—has chosen to support the idea of a Trump presidency in all its mangled, cold-blooded divisiveness. So they need to take what comes with such a decision, too.
But, you wanna know the fucked up thing about all of this? New Balance will probably gain as much support as they are losing. Congratulations to New Balance, the unofficial sneaker of the alt-right.