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Success Stories: New Balance- From Comfort Footwear to Global Sneaker Sensation!

The athletic footwear section often found success when following a particular trend. However, there exists a brand that defied convention, embraced functionality over fashion, and found inspiration in the unlikeliest of places – New Balance.


From its humble beginnings in the early 20th century to its current status as a global sneaker sensation, the story of New Balance is a testament to the power of innovation, resilience, and a commitment to the comfort of ordinary people.


It was in early 1906 when the visionary Englishman, William J. Riley, founded the New Balance Arch Support Company in the bustling city of Boston, Massachusetts. Riley’s pursuit was not focused on the forefront of medicine or technology, but rather on redefining the everyday comfort of footwear.


As we delve into New Balance, we’ll unravel the mystery behind the chickens adorning the inside of every New Balance shoebox. Also, explore the brand’s unexpected connections, including a link to none other than Michael Jordan, before the Nike era.

The Roots of New Balance

In the twilight years of the 19th century, the British Empire faced a decline in opportunities. An Englishman named William J. Riley embarked on a journey across the Atlantic, settling in the vibrant city of Boston, Massachusetts. Being surrounded by Harvard and MIT institutes, Riley was drawn to a different. “The enhancement of everyday comfort for the common man through innovative footwear.”


In 1906, Riley’s vision took tangible form as he founded the New Balance Arch Support Company. As the popularity of pimsels (Shoe Soles) was on the rise, his take was to manufacture superior comfort and support pimsels. His vision was to create not only a practical but a shoe that helped improve the wearer’s health and well-being.


How did New Balance design idea come into place


By the late 1800s, Riley’s company began producing specialty products that incorporated three support points, aligning with the natural design he observed in chickens. These offerings aimed to provide greater support and a unique balance to individuals seeking comfort in their everyday lives.


Riley’s venture initially focused on arch supports rather than complete shoes. His target audience was primarily law enforcement, particularly policemen and firefighters. These professionals, standing for extended hours during demanding shifts, appreciated the support offered by New Balance products.


Evolution of New Balance Pricing

Marketing Mantra for Arch Support and Niche Success

As the New Balance Arch Support Company navigated through the challenges of the Great Depression. However, it found its niche in a market dominated by complete shoes.


Riley's Vision on Footwear


Instead of traditional storefronts, the company relied on traveling salesmen who promoted the products at conferences, events, and by visiting people’s homes.


This unconventional approach allowed New Balance to quietly grow its niche market while avoiding the pitfalls of the economic downturn.


During the Depression, when thousands of businesses were failing, New Balance not only survived but expanded. The arch support products continued to gain traction, particularly among professionals who valued the support provided during their arduous work shifts.

Partnership with Arthur Hall and Expansion

In 1927, William Riley joined forces with Arthur Hall, forming a partnership that proved instrumental in the company’s growth. Riley focused on innovation and product development and found in Hall a valuable ally with expertise in marketing. Arthur Hall, initially a salesman, quickly ascended to become an official partner of New Balance in 1934. Together, they embarked on a journey to break into what would become one of their most successful markets – athletics.


As the partnership unfolded, Arthur Hall’s marketing acumen played a crucial role in expanding New Balance’s customer base. The company’s products, initially specialized and focused on foot comfort, began to find favor among athletes, particularly those involved in basketball and running. The comfort and stability offered by New Balance became a significant advantage for sportspeople, leading to a surge in demand.


In 1938, a landmark moment for New Balance occurred with the release of their first pair of sneakers. Tailor-made for a young runner in Boston, this marked the company’s official entry into the athletic footwear market. The collaboration between Riley and Hall had successfully extended the company’s reach from its origins in arch supports to a broader audience, including athletes engaged in various sports.


With the release of athletic footwear, New Balance expanded its presence across a spectrum of sports, including baseball, tennis, and even boxing. The company’s commitment to comfort and stability resonated with athletes, positioning New Balance as a sought-after brand in the athletic community.

The Hall Family Era

As New Balance delved deeper into the realms of athletic footwear, the company underwent a crucial transition during the Hall family era. William J. Riley’s dedication to comfort and innovation had laid a solid foundation, but it was the next generation – Eleanor and Paul Hall – that would carry the torch forward and propel New Balance into a bold yet natural direction.


Key Trackster features


In the 1960s, under the leadership of Eleanor and Paul Hall, New Balance faced the challenge of creating a widely available shoe that retained the brand’s commitment to comfort and support. The result of their efforts was the Trackster, released in 1960, which became New Balance’s first mass-produced, widely available shoe.


While the rippled sole on the bottom of the shoe may seem commonplace in the modern era, it was groundbreaking in the 1960s, providing much-needed traction for competitive running. The company, though expanding, retained its small-scale operations and a focus on specialization. The insole technology that had originated in Riley’s backyard was now directly integrated into New Balance shoes, combining quality, functionality, and comfort in a single package.

Jim Davis and Commercial Integration

On the day of the 1972 Boston Marathon, Jim Davis purchased the New Balance Arch Support Company. Jim Davis was not interested in conforming to the norms set by titans like Nike, Adidas, and Puma. Instead, he sought to carve out a unique identity for New Balance in the competitive sportswear landscape. The first major change under Davis’s leadership was the creation of a more distinctive brand identity. In 1976, the iconic trademark ‘N’ was introduced, designed by Terry Heckler, who later went on to create logos for Starbucks and Cinnabon.


The appearance of the ‘N’ on the 320 model marked a significant shift for New Balance. This simple yet recognizable symbol gave the brand an identity that it had been lacking, setting it apart from competitors in a crowded market.


Did you know fact on New Balance


The 320, with its nylon upper section, molded plastic bottom, and Achilles pad, became a benchmark for functional shoewear. Released in 1976, it provided a level of comfort and support that resonated with consumers. Runners World Magazine even voted it the best running shoe, cementing New Balance’s position in the sportswear world.


The Iconic 990 cost


The commitment to quality and performance kept customers loyal, positioning New Balance as a brand synonymous with premium athletic footwear.


Moreover, before Nike’s sports supremacy and the iconic Air logo, it was New Balance that adorned the feet of athletes across America. Notably, even Michael Jordan, before becoming a global superstar and the face of Nike, was spotted wearing New Balance shoes.

New Balance in the Commercial Marketplace

While other sportswear giants were chasing fashion trends, New Balance steadfastly resisted this tide. The brand’s resistance was not a result of oversight but a conscious decision to maintain its focus on functionality over fashion. New Balance had become synonymous with daywear rather than flashy sportswear, earning a reputation as the “Sensible Sneaker” brand.


Contrary to the pursuit of trends, New Balance cultivated its quirky personality, setting it apart from the competition. The company’s shoes were not perceived as cool or trendy; instead, they were reliable, functional, and sensible. This deliberate departure from the mainstream trends allowed New Balance to create a distinct niche for itself in the marketplace.


New Balance 992 Steve Jobs


This unintentional endorsement showcased the brand’s appeal even among influential figures who valued comfort and reliability over fashion trends.


As New Balance expanded further into the commercial marketplace, it wasn’t just a sneaker company anymore. Since the 1970s, the company has been producing clothing, including Gore-Tex suits, nylon singlets, and tricot shorts specialized for performance. The brand’s commitment to performance extended beyond footwear, with New Balance running its biochemical research lab to support athletes using their products.

New Balance’s Impact on Fashion

As New Balance maintained its commitment to functionality and resisted the allure of fleeting fashion trends, it unintentionally found itself amid a Normcore movement. The brand, known for its sensible and dependable sneakers, became a symbol of authenticity in a world often driven by ever-changing styles.


Names like Timothy Chalamet, Hailey Bieber, and Jack Harlow have been spotted sporting New Balance sneakers, signaling a shift in perception from mere athletic footwear to a fashion-forward choice.


Collaborations with notable brands, such as the redesign of their best-selling shoe, the New Balance 550, in partnership with fashion brand Aime Leon Dore in 2021, marked a turning point. The collaboration not only enhanced the aesthetic appeal of the shoe but also multiplied its trade rate by 20 times, elevating New Balance from a practical choice to a coveted collector’s item.


The brand experienced a remarkable 21 percent growth between 2021 and 2022, positioning itself as one of the fastest-growing sneaker brands globally. New Balance has moved from the functional section of shoe stores to a prime position next to industry giants like Nike, allowing the brand to fully flex its creative muscles.


The shift towards fashion prominence doesn’t mean New Balance has abandoned its core principles. The brand still adheres to its commitment to functionality, durability, and foot structure. The same ethos that guided William J. Riley’s vision in the early 20th century continues to resonate, proving that a lack of trend-spotting and marketing can be a key to success in the ever-evolving world of fashion.

New Balance Beyond Sneakers: Diversification and Global Impact

While New Balance continues to make waves in the sneaker world, its impact reaches far beyond just footwear.  From Gore-Tex suits to nylon singlets and tricot shorts specialized for performance, New Balance’s expansion beyond sneakers has been both strategic and purposeful. 


In an industry often driven by trends, New Balance has stood out by refusing to sponsor athletes early in its history. The company believed in athletes choosing the brand organically based on the quality and performance of its products. However, recent years have seen a shift in this approach, with New Balance making significant strides in the football market. 


A partnership worth $40 billion with Liverpool Football Club marked a bold move into a new sporting arena, showcasing the brand’s ambition to leave a lasting imprint on diverse segments of the athletic world.


Key New Balance Stats 2024


New Balance has become more than just a sneaker brand; it has become a cultural symbol. The blend of functionality, authenticity, and a touch of fashion-forwardness has contributed to the brand’s resurgence and its appeal to a younger demographic.


Did you know facts on New Balance


The journey from a small arch support company to a multifaceted global brand exemplifies New Balance’s ability to evolve without losing sight of the values that have defined its success.


The chicken on the inside of every New Balance shoebox, an homage to the brand’s unconventional inspiration, serves as a constant reminder of the legacy that continues to evolve, leaving an imprint on the hearts, soles, and stories of those who choose New Balance.

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