Very few sneaker brands can say they’ve been around for over 100 years, though New Balance can proudly say that they are one of the oldest running shoe brands in the world since their founding 116 years ago back in 1906. For having such a long history and the current hype that they possess today, it might come as a surprise to many that it really wasn't until the last few years that NB really became one of the leaders in the sneaker game. In the 2010s, as the normcore trend grew in popularity, it birthed an entirely new sneaker trend that had been among us all along, the dad shoe. While New Balances spiked in interest within the sneaker community due to normcore tastemakers such as Steve Jobs, the scene was still being dominated by monstrosities such as the Fila Disruptor II.
While its increase in popularity resulted in the 99x series being spotted more often in the streets, it wasn’t until some of the most influential voices in streetwear got involved that things really started to take off.
As NB started to see a gap in the market where sneakerheads couldn’t take Nike’s SNKRS app any longer, the over a century old brand swooped in to give the people what they wanted. New Balance wasn’t new to collabs as they teamed up with brands throughout the 2000’s and early 2010’s. A strategy that would prove to be extremely fruitful as they would go on to collaborate more and more highly influential brands and designers such as Aimé Leon Dore, Joe Freshgoods, Salehe Bembury and many more. While collabs are nothing new to fashion, especially the sneaker game, it was the way in which they conducted these partnerships that really helped propel NB forward.
New Balance x Teddy Santis MiUSA 990V3 "Macademia Nut"
For the most part, a collaborative shoe for most brands typically just entails a unique colourway, but New Balance would afford more freedom than some to their partners, allowing and even encouraging them to tell their stories and perspectives through their designs. This approach allowed the normies to really find their own appreciation for New Balance through the lens of some of their favourite brands and with this, New Balance intelligently used this hype to thrust their GR sneakers into the mix.
These collaborations were so impactful that on the StockX platform, New Balance’s trade growth rose 200% in less than a year, solidifying them as the sixth fastest growing brand on the site. Best of all, 7/10 of their most popular models are general releases. Solidifying the hype even further was the appointing of Teddy Santis, Aimé Leon Dore’s founder and creative director as their own CD of their Made in USA line in April of 2021.
For a brand who didn’t hold many stocks in the sneaker world, New Balance played their cards perfectly to cement themselves as genuine players in the shoe game, all while staying true to themselves. Given their newfound cultural-equity, the list of popular NB sneakers is constantly growing, but here’s some backstory on a few of the models that got them to where they are today and some of their new models that are quickly catching eyes.
The 550 really is New Balance’s bread and butter when it comes to the sneaker game. Debuting in 1989, the 550, originally the P550 Basketball Oxford, was designed by the legendary sneaker designer Steven Smith as a low-top basketball shoe to rival the Nike Dunk Low. The shoe would first be released to the American market before making its way overseas to the UK and Asia before it ultimately was quickly forgotten. Funnily enough, the 550 would go from total reject to, like we previously mentioned, one of NB’s most popular and sought after models after the aforementioned Teddy Santis chose the then obscure model to use as the basis for his collaboration between ALD and NB. After tracking down a collector and getting their hands on an original pair, the team would go through upwards of 10 iterations before they came to their final product.
In 2020, the 550 would see its first reissue since 1989, as well as its first ever collaborative release with ALD. Following the success of that launch, New Balance would relaunch the shoe with general release pairs on December 1st of the same year and the 550 craze was officially underway.
New Balance 550
New Balance’s 2002R has a similar story to the 550. With a rise that was not quite as meteoric, it did make a massive statement early on into its life which we’ll talk about afterwards.
Released in 2010, the 2002 came as a successor to the 2001, a shoe we will do you the courtesy of not showing (trust us), and hit the shelves at a hefty $250 USD price tag much to the discontent of customers. Like the 550, it quickly faded away. Due to its original high cost and lack of appreciation, the sneaker almost never made its comeback. That was until Tetsuya Shono, a longtime employee at New Balance, suggested swapping the soles for that of the 860v2 and thus the 2002R was born at the much more affordable price of $130 USD.
The re-launch took place in 2020 with several GR releases and was featured in heavy-hitting collaborations with brands and designers such as Salehe Bembury and thisisneverthat. It wasn’t until 2021 where they would take notes from their collab strategy and create a story for a sneaker pack of their own.
Enter, the Refined Future pack. Designed by in-house designer Yue Wu, New Balance’s “Refine Future” pack (now, unintentionally known as the Protection Pack) took the sneaker community by storm and was quickly crowned as Sneaker of the Year for many sneakerheads around the world. This accomplishment sent the revived sneaker into stardom and has led to the expansion of the pack into several more colourways, all which seem to disappear off shelves just as quickly as the OGs.
THE NEW BALANCE 2002R "REFINED FUTURE" PACK IN "LILAC CHALK" & "LIGHT ARCTIC GREY"
As a lot of NB’s recent success derives from old and re-introduced models, the 9060 is a completely new silhouette that was introduced in 2022. The design of the new sneaker was headed by James Lee, a senior footwear designer at New Balance and the aforementioned in-house NB designer, Yue Wu. Unlike any previous work they had done, the initial process of designing the 9060 began towards the end of 2019, which saw both footwear designers having to work remotely on the project. What most would assume would lead to disaster, actually resulted in the complete opposite as both Lee and Wu expressed great pleasure in being able to create independently and then compare their ideas and evolve them. This surprisingly synergetic cooperation, considering the circumstances, resulted in a shoe which drew heavy inspiration from retrofuturism. The 90/60 is based on both classic and newer models as the pair looked towards the 990 series and the 860v2 to create the perfect juxtaposition.
THE NEW BALANCE 90/60 "ELEMENTS" PACK IN "IVORY CREAM" & "TRUFFLE"
The last model we're going to talk about is the newest yet at the same time the second oldest of the bunch. The New Balance 1906R, named after the year they were founded, was initially just the 1906 when it was introduced in 2009. The sneaker features an almost entirely mesh upper with synthetic panels and nubuck detailing which helps it look like some classic running shoes you’d quickly associate to the early 2000s. As with its “R” compatriot, the 2002R, the 1906R had its sole replaced with that of the 860v2 for a much cleaner look with less of a full on running shoe aesthetic. To help with the re-issuing of the 1906, New Balance got together with Akio Hasegawa, a renowned stylist and fashion director from Japan for a themed photoshoot for the sneakers based on the idea of “Past” and “Future”. While the 1906R is still fresh on the market, the sneaker still has its fair share of dope colourways, both new ones and some that pay homage to the OG model, and there’s even been reports of a “Refined Future” iteration, so keep your eyes peeled.
NEW BALANCE 1906R IN "CASTLEROCK" & "METALLIC SILVER"
Honourable Mention: The 580s.
One of New Balance’s more obscure silhouettes, die-hard NB collectors on this side of the globe will remember the times when the 580 was region-locked as an Asia exclusive for many many years. Serving as a canvas for some of the first-ever collaborative releases, the 580 only slowly found popularity with the Harajuku youth until it eventually saw a collaborative release by the likes of Ueno-based retailed Mita Sneakers, Real MadHECTIC, Stüssy and UNDFTD. From then on, New Balance introduced the western world with the MT580 in 2007, which has since then seen numerous collaborations with the likes of Stray Rats to Palace Skateboards leading up to the near 1-to-1 re-issue of it’s OG model.
THE NEW BALANCE MT580V2 IN "NATURAL INDIGO"
New Balance’s are quick to come and go. There’s constantly new colourways, new silhouettes and even old ones coming in and out of our doors. Hit the link below to check out our current selection of Newbies and if you don’t want to miss out on any of the new pairs, click here to sign up to our newsletter where we give early info on our upcoming releases.