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The right community is the key to success

The rise of New Balance told from where it all began, Boston

The right community is the key to success The rise of New Balance told from where it all began, Boston

Everything changed in about 2019, with one of the most timely communication strategies of the hype-era: «worn by supermodels in Milan and dads in Ohio.» The city of the first part of the statement changed depending on the geographic location of the reader, but the meaning remained perfectly the same. The relaunch of the 990 by New Balance did not pass only by a new shape, the v5, but especially by a positioning able to read perfectly its contemporaneity and identify the dad-core/normcore trend before its final explosion. Already in 1982, with the release of the first 990, NB had redefined a standard: the first running shoe to break the wall of 100 dollars, becoming a cultural hit even before commercial. A few years later the same thing will happen, with the global success of 574, which will clear customs to the general public the very idea of New Balance. The success of those launches, however, comes not only from a great ability to predict consumer tastes and interests, but also from a modus operandi - one of the so-called "intangible" factors of a company - that NB has then proposed frequently in the years to come and that finds its most visible expression in the way it selects its collaborations and its brand ambassadors. A way that slavishly meets the habits of a city, one of the oldest in America, capital of a state that calls itself "The Spirit of America": Boston.


To reach Boston from Europe, you get to touch the coast of Greenland. From the windows, the landscape transforms from an expanse of ice to an expanse of football, baseball or soccer fields, as they are called on the other side of the Ocean. Even in a nation that values sports highly, Boston is an admirable exception. It's no coincidence that a city of "just" 500,000 has excelled in every major American team sport: from the Bruins to the Red Sox to the Celtics. Yet, as soon as you arrive in the city, it's impossible not to notice that the real city sport is actually running. Thanks to a fairly favorable topographical structure, over the years running has generated a sort of symbiosis between the city and its inhabitants, a relationship that is closely linked to the Boston Marathon, the oldest city marathon in the world. More or less for the same reason that in 1906 William Riley founded in Boston the New Balance Arch Support Company, with the aim of finding the right balance for foot support. From that moment on, the relationship between running, running, and the brand has grown exponentially, until the creation of The Track. Arrival in Boston for the inauguration of the multi-sports center of excellence, designed to accommodate the training of New Balance athletes, the community as well as the development of a research center, the Sports Research Lab, which would allow researchers to be in close contact with "the practice". One of the most significant aspects of the initiative - apart from the technological excellence on which it is based - is the cultural aspect that it promotes: during the opening night, president Joe Preston recalled how 50 years ago Jim Davis and his wife Anna bought the company with the unique goal of making it an excellence in the world of athletics, but also to transform Boston Landing, the area of Boston where both The Track and NB's global HQ are located, into a unique meeting place for the community, a desire that finally came true.

Of all the things that may strike you about the way New Balance's "company culture" has been built over the years, the almost maniacal attention to caring for the community is the most striking. A local community, first and foremost. It is impossible to realize how much the brand permeates the fabric of the city without spending at least one afternoon walking around downton and noticing how that "dads in Ohio" is actually applicable to all generations in Boston. A relationship between brand and city that is probably unparalleled. But that same devotion to community is scalable globally, starting in New York and reaching, say, Liverpool, Porto or Rome. Using its heritage, New Balance was able to change the global perception of its brand first outside the United States and then, almost by osmosis, within it, through targeted activities that met the tastes of a consumer that was changing, in Europe as much as in America.


Just days after the opening of The Track, New Balance and Aimé Leon Dore announced the opening of Masaryk Community Gym. The desire to make things that last, that tell a story and that "serve" for a reason. A giant challenge for a brand of the size of New Balance, but that reflects in an exemplary way the way the brand has chosen to work, for example, the Holy Grail of the modern era: collaborations. All of the collabos put together by the brand in recent years - but even before - have been aimed at creating lasting relationships and building an aesthetic in which it was extremely easy to position New Balance. In this sense, the collabo - which by now can no longer be defined as such - between NB and Aimé Leon Dore is exemplary. From the first release onwards, the two brands have fed off each other's success, gaining global scale and mutual positioning and, most importantly, perpetuating a precise idea of what they wanted to represent. A relationship so visceral that it has led Teddy Santis to lead New Balance's Made in USA division as of this season, visible in part (though unofficially) in the lifestyle collection that parades at the opening of The Track. However, Aimé Leon Dore is only a part: one of the others is, for example, Joe Freshgoods with whom the brand has developed a collaboration and a campaign aimed at promoting black culture, through the rediscovery of ticks and idiosyncrasies recognizable only by insiders. And before that Kith, Bodega, Jaden Smith and Salehe Bembury. A work possible only thanks, and this is the fundamental point of the matter, to the community that New Balance has built.

We often talk about the need for a brand to build a relevant community around itself (understood as a person of interest) that espouses the values of the brand. These speeches may seem vacuous, superfluous and not influential on the perception of a brand or its sales. In reality, the ability to easily identify the figure of influence most akin to a brand is the basis of its positioning and, later, its commercial value. Creating a credible community was the main reason for Nike's success and the reason why everyone wanted to "be like Mike." What is happening, with due proportion and scale, at New Balance is something very similar. The choice of ambassadors in this sense is extremely important for a brand, which is why the signatures of first Kawhi Leonard and then Jack Harlow sum it up perfectly. The rapper from Kentucky - an "OG" fan of New Balance since his first single "What's Poppin" (I got a check from the shoe company / Now I do anything that New Balance say) - is now among the most popular and influential rappers around. He represents a way of understanding rap that is extremely old and extremely new at the same time, but more importantly, he is culturally aligned with what the brand wants to say. And how it wants to say it. Harlow closes the night at The Track, introduced by Storm Reid (MC of the whole night), singing "First Class" for the first time live, supported by an audience that welcomes him as a sort of homeboy hero.

Changing perspective is often fundamental in order to re-learn to look and, in doing so, to be able to understand things that just before seemed mysterious, almost magical. The streetwear industry, as well as the sportswear industry, has often wondered about the reasons for the resounding success of New Balance, how that copy generated a snowball effect that today has brought to the creative direction of the brand someone who could have (and maybe sooner or later...) picked up the creative legacy of Virgil Abloh. But walking around Boston and having the opportunity to talk with the product managers of New Balance Running, listening to how NB has greatly benefited from the expansion of consumers in the world of running, how it is approaching the world of sustainability in a respectful way - through the release of green leaf technology, an NB patent - and how the aesthetics of its components never override the main and original mission of the brand; doing all these things very closely, the New Balance of 2022 does not seem only understandable, it seems almost obvious.