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How New Balance Shoes Got Co-Opted By Neo-Nazis

The strange saga of the American sneaker company.

Some New Balance trainers (Photo: Flickr user sling@flickr, via)

Last week, people across the world took to social media to lament an American tragedy. A smaller number took their sadness to the streets in peaceful protest. And an even smaller number chose to show their anger at Donald Trump winning the US Presidency by setting fire to their New Balance trainers.

Reason being: on Wednesday last week, New Balance rep Matt LeBretton said that the election of Donald Trump was a "move in the right direction". The company has since clarified that this support is only for Trump's opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership and its negative effect on American industry, and not for all the horrible, racist, hateful stuff he's said.


But despite their best efforts, the hatred continues: an American neo-Nazi who apparently didn't catch the company's statement has since dubbed New Balance "the official shoes of white people". Andrew Anglin, founder of The Daily Stormer – an online publication advocating white supremacy – encouraged its readers to buy the brand to participate in "the Trump revolution" of increased US manufacturing and white power.

Late yesterday, New Balance released a statement promising that it "does not tolerate bigotry or hate in any form. As a 110-year-old company with five factories in the US and thousands of employees worldwide from all races, genders, cultures and sexual orientations, New Balance is a values-driven organisation and culture that believes in humanity, integrity, community and mutual respect for people around the world."

Of course, this whole saga will forever be a footnote on their Wikipedia page, so here's a quick look at the history of New Balance, to help you see how they got from where they were to where they are.

An American Pastoral – The Sweet Beginnings

New Balance was founded in Boston in 1906 by British immigrant, William J Riley. Don't know much about the guy, but he's got a name that smacks of earnestness. You can imagine him standing in the middle of a loud factory floor, screaming about arch support.

(Photo: New Balance)

The Brief Period When Rappers Kind of Liked Them

New Balances were initially worn by people who wanted to do actual sport, like the lanky track runners above whose luscious hair was longer than their short-shorts. But by the 90s Raekwon was rapping about New Balances getting jacked, and A Tribe Called Quest gave them a shout-out in "Buggin' Out". For a brief moment they were a symbol of youth culture – until:

The Dads

The inevitability of the capitalist narrative takes us to New Balance's nadir: the dads. It's always the same: a brand becomes cool, hits a high point and then, all of a sudden, its being worn by old white dudes who are really passionate about garages. In fairness, they are very comfortable shoes, which I'm sure helps when it comes to standing up for extended periods of time inside garages.

New Balance, the dad edition (Photo: Flickr user slgckgc, via)


And With The Dads, The Tourists

When something comfy also comes in a hideously garish colour palate, it is inevitably going to become a tourist mainstay. New Balances worn by European teenagers; New Balances on the wrong side of the escalator; New Balances queuing to get inside a red phone box.

New Balances, Not Cool At All, Suddenly And Inexplicably Become Quite Cool

In 2012, a blogger somewhere post-ironically wore some New Balances. And then more young people started to buy them. And then everyone started to buy them, because everybody else had bought them. New Balance was hip. The company had won capitalism: their products were selling themselves. They couldn't lose!

New Balance – Believing Itself Invincible, Guided by Pride and Blind to Folly – Tumbles From Grace

Like the tulip mania of the Dutch Golden Age, or the US housing bubble of the mid-2000s, New Balance's success was not to be entirely trusted; it took just a mild bit of praise for Donald Trump to inspire people to burn the trainers they'd spent their own hard-earned money on, and for a load of racists to label those people "butthurt cucks" and claim the shoes as a symbol of white supremacy.

And yet, there is hope: the dads will always be there – they can't properly operate Twitter and don't know how to access white supremacy blogs, so are blissfully unaware of the issues besetting their favourite sneaker manufacturers. Plus, you know, the majority of people probably don't give a fuck about any of this and will continue living their lives completely as they were.

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