How New Balance Reinvented the Original Dad Shoe

The New Balance 990v5 releases today, and here's how the shoe differs from the v4, what it was like when Kawhi Leonard debuted it, and more.

New Balance 990v5
New Balance

Image via New Balance

New Balance 990v5

From far away, a lot of New Balance sneakers look the same. Grey suede, thick midsoles, and reflective hits that outline the shoe. And the models haven’t changed much over the years. The 993 isn’t much different from the 992, and the most recent shoe, the 990v5, isn’t a far cry from the 990v4.

There are subtle, performance-minded variations in the shoe, like an Ortholite insole and the molded rubber piece that runs along the upper, that makes the v5 different from the v4 -- and people are paying attention. The sneaker industry is in the height of its dad shoe era, where big and bulky shoes are preferred over slim, minimal designs. With that said, New Balance has had a big past few years with its 990 series due to it being the originator of this style. Not only were the sneakers popular with the fashion crowd, but they have genuine street cred in Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

We got a chance to speak to Eric Vassall, a product manager at New Balance who’s had the chance to work on the 990 series dating back to the 992.

It feels like you guys put that shoe out a lot faster than the previous iterations of the sneaker.
Yeah. That was kind of the plan. I think, with the 990 series, we've kind of done little, minor tweaks over time. And we felt this time we just wanted to push it a little bit more. But we also wanted to look at a little bit of a history of the 990 series and connect it. One of the things, if you look at that strap that's on there, we've designed it in a way that it reminisces back to the 990v2’s suede piece that went right into that arrow.

It's hard to deny that the v4 had a real moment in the past few years.
One of the things that really turned heads on that v4 is when we did that “Sunrise” color, that sort of peach that kind of set it off. We saw some influencers out there, like Dave East, posting it and wearing it. That's what I think really set it off. We planned on putting some fashion appeal into it. We did the white, the “Nimbus Cloud,” which went over really well. They were calling it, I don't want to say, but they were calling it some other stuff down in Baltimore and Philly.

What's the biggest difference, you would say, between the v4 and the v5?
From the v4 to the v5, we wanted to clean it up and go a little bit cleaner on the v5, which I think you see, and then add that strap piece that kind of comes in, that power strap. Then we added OrthoLite inserts. So people who used to wear the v3 and v4 were like, “Man, this thing is comfortable.”

Kawhi Leonard New Balance 990v5

What do you think the appeal is on boring, grey old white guy sneakers?
If you go down in Baltimore, D.C., that's where that shoe has resonated, and it's gravitated up into Philly. We're starting to see it up in New York and everything. If you're in Baltimore, if you go on one side of the bridge, the one side of the bridge shows that it caters to the doctors, the lawyers, the people that have that money and everything. The “dad shoe” that everybody wants to say. But people on the other side of the bridge? It's a different cat that's wearing that shoe, man. It ain't your doctor/lawyer, it's that dude that, I don't wanna say the word, he's running his hustle, you know what I mean? He would wear that shoe and be like, and people are like, 'Dude, how you wearing that? You can't afford that shoe.'

Kawhi Leonard debuted the v5. What was it like to see that?
It was great. I've been seeing him jumping into it. What Kawhi brings to the table in terms of in that basketball industry. Hopefully, he's going to sort of be the MVP this year, up there in Toronto. I think him wearing that shoe brings a lot of street cred to it as well, and I think that that's going to be very helpful.

You talk about the “dad shoe” trend over the past few years, and obviously New Balance is the originator of that.
You got it.

You see the Balenciaga sneakers, which are derived off cues of the shoes that you're designing for a purpose. They're made to ridiculous proportions and worn by people who may have not worn a New Balance shoe five years ago. What do you think about that?
I think it just shows they're giving us a nod to what we've been doing for years. I think one of the things, we've always created that kind of look in everything. It's nothing new to our DNA, it just so happens that now it's fashionable. And the reason why I think it's fashionable is everything got so very clean. That clean look, and very minimalistic type of look, and I think, really, the industry wanted a refresh. The dad shoe, the big midsoles, because it's new and different. We just happened to be in that space all these years, and it just happened to catch on.

What can we expect for the v5 going forward?
I think you're gonna see some similar things that we've done on the v4, where you're gonna see some fresh colors and everything. We're working on doing a little bit of a trail outsole, you're starting to see a little bit of that trail-inspired stuff coming out and do some of those trail-type of colors. But, really, we're gonna stay true to who we are, and I think we just wanna continue to build our consumer base. You're also gonna see even some more presence internationally. You're also gonna see some of us giving that to some of their predecessors, too. So we're gonna be splashing in some of the older shoes in there, like maybe a 992 you might see coming out soon. You might see some of those things. 993. What you're seeing right now with the v4 is giving a lot of credit to the 993, and we're starting to see the 993 sort of coming back to life.