One of the most talked about New Balance sneakers this year isn’t a limited-edition collaboration attached to an influential name or clothing brand. It’s a collection of inline shoes on a silhouette that first released last year and has continued with projects in 2021. The New Balance 2002R “Protection Pack,” as it’s been dubbed by retailers, is a trio of sneakers—grey, black, and white—that take the traditional look of the brand’s suede sneakers and peel away chunks and layers of the upper. And they’ve caused quite a bit of commotion.
These sneakers have been making rounds all year on the internet, randomly popping up with little information. Interest was starting to grow—they looked great, after all—but what was the story? Was it a collaboration, or was it not? It was just known as an interesting take on the 2002R, a sneaker made popular mainly via a collaboration with former Versace designer Salehe Bembury.
After a release in Europe earlier this month, these sneakers finally touched down in the States this past weekend at New York City’s Extra Butter, attracting a line that extended around the block for or an inline New Balance, which is very rare.
“When we first saw this product back in December, we immediately got in touch with the New Balance team to align to rightfully storytell and bring it to life,” says Extra Butter’s creative director, Bernie Gross. “Even before the hype and co-sign of the internet, we knew this was lightning in a bottle.”
The sneakers were designed by Yue Wu, a 30-year-old New Balance employee who grew up in China before moving to the States to get his master’s degree and study at sneaker design program Pensole.
Wu grew up listening to artists such as Three 6 Mafia, DMX, and Snoop Dogg, and got into basketball and sneaker culture when Yao Ming broke into the NBA in the early 2000s. He also appreciated New Balance sneakers like the 574 and 580, which he says were popular in China at the time. He’s now been working at the brand for over four years, and these 2002s were his first crack at designing lifestyle sneakers outside of product made for retailers such as Kohl’s and DSW.
We had the chance to talk to Wu about designing the sneakers, why “Protection Pack” isn’t the right name for the shoes, and his history making shoes. He’s someone we’re going to pay attention to in the future. The conversation has been edited for clarity.