While the New Balance (NB) sneaker brand became popular for pioneering the “chunky shoes” style, it attracted attention caused by a political controversy.
While NB’s 100% “Made in America” label proved useful in the company’s bid to forge an important contract as a major supplier of sneakers for the U.S. Armed Forces, it took some political wrangling before the deal came into fruition.
NB founder and chairman Jim Davis wanted the “Made in America” claim as the main distinction of NB sneakers from other brands that competed with NB’s “chunky shoes” style; whilst also citing the economic benefits of providing employment to American workers. That is why Mr. Davis was quite vocal in opposing the Obama administration’s support of the Trans Pacific Partnership, which embraced offshore labor outsourcing.
Although offshore business process outsourcing (BPO) can greatly reduce direct labor cost by paying wages based on the currency of countries like China and Vietnam, BPO also means displacing work opportunities for local American workers.
That being the case, the NB founder was more inclined to support Donald Trump, whose promise was to “Make America Great Again” by keeping U.S. employment opportunities available only to Americans. Unfortunately, Mr. Davis’ vocal political support for Trump was misconstrued by a group of neo-nazi Trump supporters, who began declaring New Balance as the “official shoes of the white Americans.”
The statement of course created a negative impact as it gave the impression that New Balance in turn supported Trump’s racism and bigotry as well. Despite efforts by the company’s public affairs department to clarify the issue, damage was already done.
More so, when the company finally won the U.S. military contract during Trump’s administration. As a result, the popular “chunky shoes” became politically tainted.
The Truth Behind New Balance’s Deal with the U.S.Military
Actually, the move to purchase American-made shoes started in 2014, when in January of that year, the Department of Defense (DOD) initiated a market research for the availability of 100% American-made shoes. The main purpose of which was to make the U.S. Armed Forces compliant with the 1941 Berry Amendment, which includes defense procurement among those subject to domestic source restriction.
Based on a press report released thereafter, the Defense Logistics Agency reported that they found four firms that can produce and supply American-made athletic shoes for military personnel. Among the four companies ascertained as having the capability to produce 100% U.S.-made athletic footwear is New Balance.
However, the DOD initiative to comply with the Berry Amendment was stalled during the Obama administration due to oppositions coming from the White House and the Pentagon. The latter wanted to keep its practice of simply issuing vouchers as a way of providing athletic shoes based on personal choices.
When Trump assumed office as president in 2017, a bipartisan resolution long introduced by Congressional Representatives from Maine and Massachusetts, finally passed approval. Based on the 1941 Berry Amendment, the new bill orders the U.S. military to discard the voucher system and instead issue American-made athletic shoes to its military personnel.
The Popularity of Chunky Shoes Enabled NB to Rise Above the Political Controversy
In the spring of that year, New Balance and 2 other companies won contracts to supply the U.S. Armed Forces the athletic shoes that will be issued to members of the military. Still, market reports say that the U.S. military contract reflects only a minimal portion of the 3 million sneakers produced by New Balance every year, which denotes that the company was able to rise above the 2016 political controversy.
After all, the chunky style sneakers remained popular among adult males that it subsequently gained popularity as the “dad shoes.” In 2019, as the trend saw an increased demand from the younger generation, which was helped by the fact that several famous personalities posted Instagram photos in which they sported the latest in NB’s chunky shoes like the new nb 993 edition.