While most major sneaker wear brands are left in the dust by Nike’s considerable lead in the field, we see a surprising new emerging runner up in New Balance. The US brand has seen a huge boom in popularity with sold out collaborations with Jaden Smith, JJJound, Concepts, Bodega and Aimé Leon Dore. Part of the new wave of popularity can be attributed to the return of the ‘Dad Shoe’. While certain sneakers such as the Air Jordan 1, Air Force 1, Stan Smith or Superstars have remained in style pretty much since their conception, chunkier shoes which focused more on comfort have only recently caught the eye of the culture. This style of the Dad Shoe remains one of New Balance’s most iconic elements in a large portion of their lineup.
The original Dad shoe was popularized in the 80’s and 90’s by silhouettes such as the Nike Air Monarch IV and the New balance 990s (which were featured in Steve Jobs’ iconic denim and turtleneck look!). At the time sleek, in style shoes were made from less wearable leather and the more ergonomic Dad shoe with chunkier rubber soles and midsoles and, more snug uppers were quite unfashionable. Hence these shoes majorly sold at the behest of the mid 40s suburban white dad in USA and Europe for whom comfortable shoes and good lumbar support took priority over the latest fad. But as major sneaker companies bought back the Dad Shoe trend in late 2010s New Balance’s tagline for the new 990s describes the modern dad shoe aptly as, “Worn by supermodels in London and dads in Ohio.”
The black turtleneck, light blue Levi’s and grey New Balance 992 remains till day an unmistakeable attribute of the design and tech visionary Steve Jobs. But according to urban legend not only did he favour the 992 he even had a hand in the conception of the 99x series at New Balance. Rough sketches of sneakers were sent by him to founder Jim Davis. The launch of the 992 in 2006 was a huge moment for New Balance, as it marked the brand’s 100th anniversary. The silhouette also needed to be a worthy successor to the huge success that was the 990 series. And thus legend says that Davis tapped in Jobs’ exceptional ability for design to guide the shoe.
New Balance remains distinct from most other sneaker brands at its price point in the fact that they still manufacture all of their shoes in USA and UK, unlike brands like Nike and Yeezy which have been notorious for outsourcing manufacturing to sweatshops in China which pay workers less than ideal wages and have terrible work conditions.
Up and coming rapper Jack Harlow and Jaden Smith both recently attached themselves to the brand as representatives. Jack Harlow even name dropped them in his chart topper ‘What’s Poppin’ and has openly spoken about how New Balance has always been his go to shoe brand because it's never been a popular shoe. The comfort of the shoe combined with its lack of mainstream appeal has been a huge eye catcher for the brand. Jaden Smith also launched his own New Balance VisionRacer with huge midsoles split into three, bright colouring in Yellow and Baby Blue and the text ((Vision)) written on the icy sole of the shoe and in tiny print around the midfoot. The collaboration was a completely vegan shoe made from partially recycled materials. This effort in creating a green shoe stays true to the vision of both Jaden who helms a large number of charities centred around sustainable development and New Balance.
VP of Sneakers at Versace, Salehe Bembury dropped his own collab with New Balance on the New Balance 2002R, with bright orange and yellow suede and mesh on the upper. The shoe was inspired by the designer’s recent shift to the West Coast where he got to travel around a number of US National Parks and observed their textures and colors.
In 2020 Montreal based JJJound dropped collaborations with New Balance on the 992. The shoe comes in two earthy shades of Green and Brown and boasts high quality suede across the upper, with New Balance’s N on the side and JJJound written across the back. The take on New Balance’s famous dad shoe sold out and has been a huge favourite across Instagram’s various street culture moodboards. The monochrome duo matched with cream laces has been a huge hit for fit pics. And somehow the Aimé Leon Dore x New Balance P550 has managed to outshine even the JJJound collaboration when it comes to being a social media hit. The sneaker has been retroed for the first time since 1989 and dropped in four colorways made primarily white but with accents of either red, navy, grey or green. The sneaker shouts vintage with its creamy upper and flat sole.
Directions by Harkrishan Alag
Written by Aditya Chopra