You all would have seen it by now on our social media accounts and what not, but as part of the Flimby 35th Anniversary celebrations, we attended an event at Flimby which involved some very special collectors, and we're going to take you through exactly what went down!Read More
Over at New Balance Gallery, I took a look at the Made in UK New Balance 577 "The Napes" Pack, and you can check it out here, but I took a few extra shots of the shoe, so I wanted to do a post on here with them all. A big big thanks to NB UK for the kind gift!
Each pair also comes with a really great booklet which provides a look at both the shoes, as well as a history of the Napes Needle.
As part of the global launch for the New Balance Real Ale Pack, we had the opportunity to interview some of the New Balance Team, so of course, we were going to take them up on this. It's not every day that you get the chance to do this, so it was a no brainer.
These guys have an absolute wealth of knowledge and are all but happy to share it with us, so this interview is quite long and in depth, but we thoroughly enjoyed being part of it, and all of the responses to the questions are particularly excellent.
I hope you enjoy reading the interview as much as we did giving it.
Interviewers: TL – Thomas Lindie, AS – Arkadiusz Skolak, and RS – Rob Stewart.
Interviewees: MG – Mark Godfrey, CH – Chris Hodgson, AO – Andy Okolowicz, and TH – Tom Henshaw.
So first of all, who are you, and what are your roles at New Balance?
Mark Godfrey – Senior Footwear Designer
Chris Hodgson – Senior Footwear Developer
Andy Okolowicz – Factory Manager
Tom Henshaw – EMEA Lifestyle Marketing Manager
AS - Could you describe the design process? How long does it roughly take from initial concept to release?
CH – It can be 18 months before the launch.
MG – So all 2016 product is in the can and done, and we’re already moving on. So that’s how far ahead we work because it takes that much time to design it, source everything, commercialise it, and then make it in the factory, market it, everything else.
TH – We’re getting sales samples to the sales team, who then have to go out and sell it, and showcase it, and then take in the orders, and then deal with the orders at the factory level to produce the product. So by the time it’s in the consumers’ hands, can be 18 months to 2 years.
AO – And also, we launch in all markets at the same time where possible, and for us to manufacture in the factory, and get them to Japan, and places like China, so that can sometimes take 7 to 8 weeks.
TH – And we have to ship on boats, occasionally we air freight but we try and avoid it because of the costs of air freighting. In terms of coordinating a release of a collaboration shoe, where we’re trying to hit a few key stores with the same launch date, and then we have to air freight in order to make that happen. Logistics is a huge challenge on those projects.
CH – We actually make the product to launch in order of the furthest distance away first, so basically, if anyone is going to be short of shoes, then it’s actually our UK customer base, because by that time we’ve made all the Japanese shoes, and they’re somewhere en route, all the shoes for China are somewhere between here and China, and the last people who have shoes made are the UK. So, if for any reason we’ve had a large amount of rejects, we have to wait for replacement raw materials to come in from Asia, soles in particular which take 90 days typically between ordering and delivery, and then we have to make them after that. So it’s quite strange that our closest market is the one who most likely will not get all their shoes.
TL – So you guys are doing the hardwork, and then are left at the end of it with nothing to show for it?
TH – But it’s all about the job satisfaction
CH – You have to keep telling yourself that it is all about the job satisfaction, honest.
TL – Do they do the same vice versa? So anything made in Asia, do they account for you guys first, or anyone else first?
AO – I’m not too sure actually.
MG – I think it all ships to the different regions at the same time, the same launch date typically.
AS – Do you remember a shoe that you didn’t like at the project stage, but it was looking great when finally manufactured?
TH – I think it’s always impossible to tell.
CH – We’ve had lots of shoes that look good on paper, then when we make it first time round, they don’t look good, for whatever reason.
AO – I tell you what was good, the veg tan….
CH – You told me you’d sack me if we did that!
AO – We did a veg tan many many years ago, and we had a lot of trouble manufacturing and developing, and we weren’t sure about it all the way through but actually when we made it, it actually was incredibly good.
MG – Even with the Real Ale first protos we did, where we tried to do a coloured edge in a pig skin which we’d never really done before, and it just didn’t really work out, and we were like, “oh is this really gonna work?”, and we ended up changing it for the better I think. But quite often with the first prototype, you kind of want to try something else, you want to try push it a little bit, make it more interesting, and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
CH – Quite often we get a shoe that looks good on paper and looks as though it really ought to turn out well, and then when we make it, you actually make the shoe and then it turns out to be too heavy, and that’s something we run across quite a lot.
TH – That’s also why we’ll never let any collaborator or a project sign off on just a CAD, we need a confirmed prototype when everyone’s seen the sample and signed off on it because we’ve had conversations with collaborators who want to make a last minute change and they say “let’s just do it off the CAD and we’re happy to go into production”, but we won’t sign that off because we just know it’s too much of a risk until you can see a confirmed prototype and we know everyone’s going to be happy with it.
AS – So they cannot do everything that they want?
CH – Definitely not! For a couple of reasons, one is, quite often the tagline is “we’d really like to do this because it’s never been done before”, and quite often there’s a lot of very good reasons why it’s never been done before, and will still never be done.
MG – Some collaborators, they just change their mind. From round to round, they just change their mind. Shoes can swing massively, so that’s a big one where designs change but I think internally, we try to stick to an idea and try to stay with it if we can because we know it causes problems for the factory otherwise.
TH – But also how Chris put it, I think another conversation we had, Chris said “like anything is possible, as long as you’re prepared to pay the costs”. In theory, you can get anything done to a shoe, as long as you’ve got unlimited funds, or you’re prepared to charge whatever you like for the shoe in order for that to happen, but you have to be realistic about what is the commercial reality. So our collaborations are expensive in the market but they can’t get much more expensive otherwise they just won’t move, so there are a number of considerations.
TL – So in the past when you guys have worked with Ventile, Schoeller, and Harris Tweed, does that not even come onto the radar now?
CH – No, no, technically and practically, there’d be nothing to stop us making more Ventile shoes, because Ventile is a material that’s made in the UK. There’s a restricted palette you can use in terms of colour, so you can’t be as adventurous as you want. The Harris Tweed material wouldn’t be a problem, other than the logistics which would no doubt be exactly the same. We could use Schoeller, we wouldn’t want to use the same material that we used last time for sure, but we could use them as a material, but quite often we’ll take a concept of the material and the look of that material and try develop it so that it achieves the technical element that Mark looks for, like it’s waterproof, and it’s breathable. We may not end up buying it from the original source, we may buy it from a source that we’re more comfortable with in terms of the logistics of supply, but we’ll look as close as possible to what Mark envisions.
MG – We’re always looking out for new materials but we don’t mind going back to some of those existing ones, but at the same time we don’t want to retread the same ground. Since they’ve done as well as they have, then it’s become a thing, so it’s nice to keep it in trend.
TL – I think when hanon were doing the Ventile shoes, they had the two shoes which were released, and there was another sample of theirs, as well as another prototype called the ‘Lancaster’ with the Ventile material, rather than as part of their collaboration?
CH – Correct.
TL – I just think it’s interesting seeing all the different materials used on shoes, and it’s one of the things certainly with the past that people regard with New Balance.
MG – We don’t necessarily always make a story out of it, like you can name these suppliers, but we don’t attempt to name a lot of the suppliers. They might be interesting to you, like some of the suede comes from Scotland for example, but we don’t really make a huge deal about it, but it’s all there in the shoe, we just don’t shout about it as much and let it stand alone and speak for itself a lot of the time.
TL – While we’re on the topic of collaborations, it feels like it’s slowed up quite a bit, certainly in comparison to a few years ago, are there any particular reasons?
TH – The practical reason why we can only do a certain amount of UK Made collaborations is the capacity and the challenge of making it, so realistically we’re limited to 2 or 3 projects a year for a UK Made collaboration, and that’s purely down to what’s achievable and what we can produce.
CH – As a byline to that, the way we do our collaborations is slightly different now. We do collaborations for a global market, rather than just the historical collaboration, which would be for a customer, like hanon for example. If we were to do a collaboration with hanon today, that collaboration would be for somewhere between 1000-1200 pairs for global distribution and hanon would have a quantity up front, and then there would be selected marketing opportunities throughout the world as a one hit. The major reason for that I think, in terms of commerciality is, we’ve got smarter like everybody else, and we’d like to make a little bit of money out of this at the same time. We don’t make a lot, but we don’t lose our shirt, which is what we used to do when we did a one off 72 pair speciality hit for someone like Microzine.
TH – This is also the realities of the way the business is growing as well, so the in-line Made in UK product range is an obligation to our customers that the factory has to fulfill, which obviously means that the possibility to do really special bespoke projects maybe isn’t there the way it was a few years ago, but that’s just the reality.
CH – And the line is bigger.
MG – And we’re right on capacity now, so there’s less room for projects, plus we’re fully aware of how many packs and collaborations now that other brands are doing. It seems crazy, so we’d like to think that we do less of them, but hopefully they have a bit more impact.
TH – I think the challenge for us as a brand is not to necessarily take a direct policy to do fewer collaborations, but how do we ensure that when we do collaborations, they remain special in a market that is arguably over saturated with collaborations. So that’s just an ongoing challenge that we have to face.
TL – It’s probably a smart idea from every point of view anyway to do fewer collaborations with the way things are just now.
TH – We want people to be excited it. I think a collaboration is too specific, so a New Balance special project, whether that be a collaboration or just a standalone special story. For example, the 1300JP2, I know it’s a US Made shoe but it’s not a collaboration, it’s very special, it’s very restricted in its distribution. It’s really important that those things are still revered, that they sell out, that they’re talking to the connoisseur consumers that really appreciate and understand it, and get it. Those projects still have to have a lot of value there. A big challenge is that everybody wants to do a collaboration, one of my challenges every week is having to have diplomatic conversations with people who want to do collaborations with New Balance, good people who would be a great partner, who have a lot to say, and a lot to contribute, but if we were to do collaborations with everybody that approached us, it would just devalue the whole thing because you’d have so many out there that they’re no longer special, no longer exciting, and it’s a tough decision to figure out who we work with a which projects go ahead and which don’t. Another thing is man power, the designers have to have enough time to be able to devote to a project.
MG – It takes a lot of time and effort on my behalf, on Chris’ behalf, to develop any of these projects, and that’s why we have so few of them.
CH – They are by the very nature of what they are, even more complicated than developing an in-line product, because you’re going off beam onto something that is very different most of the time.
TH – And every single collaborator will have a different approach to the process, so some guys will be very straightforward to work with, some will be a bit more complex to work with, so you can’t apply a formula for how every collaboration works, because every single project will throw up different challenges and you don’t know what they’re going to be until you start the next project.
AS – Are there any plans to open the next New Balance Factory in Europe?
AO – No, we haven’t actually. I think we’ve still got capacity in our current plant in terms of area. You’ve noticed that we’ve expanded to the larger warehouse but we’ve still got some room to grow. Obviously it needs to be very measured in terms of how we grow, and there are discussions every week and every month about how we grow.
MG – I think it would be more a case of you guys (Flimby Factory) expanding before a new factory was to be built, wouldn’t it?
AO – Yeah, definitely.
MG – A new factory is such a huge investment, and there are no workforces in most places that have any sort of former training in footwear so it would take a huge investment.
AO – I think we could probably do another 150,000 pairs out of our current footprint annually, so we’re ok for now.
RS – Relating to capacity, you’re bringing back the 575, so does that have the capacity to run alongside all the other models, or does a model have to be dropped to fit that in?
MG – I think at least for this coming season it’s an addition to the range, it’s not replacing anything else.
TH – Regardless of capacity, every product has a life cycle as well, and products need to be rested in order to be brought back with some energy behind it and great demand behind it, so it’s not just about production capacity, it’s more about giving products time to breathe, sometimes time out from the line, so that then people can appreciate them. There’s only so many stories you can tell in a season, and if you have too many products and too big a product line, then some of them are going to get neglected, and some of them are going to get overlooked, so it’s kind of bad brand management as much as anything. Also, we have to be aware that when you’re making premium product like Made in USA, or Made in UK product, there’s only a certain demand for that market because it’s very premium and very expensive and it’s in our interests to protect that market by not over saturating it and putting too much product into the market.
TL – So when are you guys going to bring back the 860 or the 1300?
TH – You’re going to have to wait and see. I mean, we’re always looking at the archives, we’re always aware of what people like you guys would like to see, we’re always having a discussion internally, but we can’t obviously disclose too much.
TL – Yeah, I know, it was just tongue in cheek, it’s fine.
MG – You can still buy the 1300 from the US.
TL – It’s ok, I prefer the UK one if I'm honest.
MG – It’s pretty much a US model now, isn’t it?
AO – It is.
CH – That’s the other thing that’s happened, the portfolio of product has been divided so basically, there is a portfolio of historical styles, which will only be made in a certain location, particularly the domestic locations. The domestic manufacturing locations produce entirely individual portfolios of products, so if we want to sell 998’s, we have to buy them from the US, and if the US want to sell 1500’s, they have to buy them from us, you know, they don’t make their own.
TH – There’s a lot of equity in those stories for us as a brand, so it doesn’t always make sense to just suddenly shift production of one model that’s became synonymous with UK manufacturing or US manufacturing. I guess guys like you would understand because you’re kind of experts and purists in the brand, but I guess to the average New Balance consumer, it can get quite confusing.
TL – Yeah, well we’re still essentially the minority at the end of the day.
TH – Yup, a very niche minority, but also a very appreciated minority.
MG – However, there is going to be some very exciting new stuff coming, definitely, both new and old.
TH – Yeah, there is a lot of exciting stuff. And also, as much as consumers at your kind of networks, we understand that it’s important to keep engaging with you guys and doing stuff that you guys are going to appreciate because you’re the connoisseurs and it matters what you guys think. So yeah, there are a lot of interesting things coming forward and I think you guys will be stoked.
AS – The custom program in the US is huge, and it attracts a large amount of UK consumers who are let down by not being able to purchase, are there any plans to launch NB custom program at Flimby, or is it just not a viable option?
AO – We’ve got enough on our plate at the moment, so we definitely won’t be. However, never say never about anything.
TL – Would it ever be an option for New Balance to ship to the UK from their custom program in the US?
TH – The challenges there are to do with logistics, and the duties, and costs, so that’s the problem. Obviously ideally, I think, it’s not just a mean spirited conspiracy to just not ship out of the US, I think there’s just a lot of practical challenges. It’s now called NB1 in the US, and it’s marketed globally, that social media is global, and in an ideal world we’d like to make it global but there are practical obstacles to get over before we come to that stage.
MG – The custom program is still new to the US, and they’re still figuring it out in their own territory, let alone trying to export it out yet, but I’m sure they’re discussing it.
TL/AS/RS – Thank you very much guys.
End of interview.
The last Wednesday of July, as NB Gallery, we headed to Cockermouth, a town in Cumbria, England, for the official global launch of the New Balance Real Ale Pack, and boy was it good. The hospitality over the few days that we were there was absolutely faultless, big big shout to all those involved for nailing the event. The plan was to arrive in Cockermouth and check into the Allerdale Court Hotel, easily one of the nicest hotels I've stayed in - rooms, bar, breakfast, and staff all excellent, and in the perfect spot in this lovely Lake District town. Fashionably late, we arrived, checked in, and were greeted by a NB Welcome Pack filled with goodies, such as a pair of the Real Ale CT300's, beer mats, ale, NB USB, and our intinerary for the next few days.
We then made our way up the road to the Trout Hotel, where there was a buffet and drinks laid on in the Derwent Restaurant, and we caught up with old faces, and met plenty of new ones, and talked footwear, and drank beer into the early hours of the morning.
Sucking it up the next morning, with a bottle of water in hand, we passed on the morning run as sport and hangovers don't mix, and instead chilled with some breakfast before being picked up outside our hotel by an amazing vintage styled bus which would take us to the New Balance Flimby Factory. Upon arriving at the Flimby Factory, we were taken to the conference room were the Real Ale Pack was on display, along with some of the team's favourite past NB releases. We watched the Real Ale Pack promotion video, and then were taken on a guided tour of the factory, which will never ever not be amazing.
Upon completion of the factory tour, we were treated to a question and answer session with some of the NB team, again, just one of the amazing things on the intinerary. It's always great to get the opportunity to ask these guys questions, and gain an insight into what they get up to working for NB.
To conclude the morning, a quick jaunt in the factory shop, before hopping back on the bus and heading to the Bitter End Pub in Cockermouth for some lunch!
Treated to fish and chips at the quaint little Bitter End Pub up a tight side street in Cockermouth, we then took the opportunity to grab ourselves one of the allotted times to have some personal one-to-one interview time with the NB team at the Allerdale Court Hotel. Myself and Arek of Suede&Mesh came together for our interview slot, and you can find the full write up of the interview here.
As myself, Rob, and Arek managed to secure the 1500, 576, and CT300, we decided to go explore Cockermouth a little to find some nice spots to take some shots of the pack, and you can see these shots below.
So you're wondering where the Real Ale part of the pack comes in, right? Well, Thursday evening was set aside to head over to Jennings Brewery where we were given a guided tour of the brewery and learned how traditional British ale is brewed. A big shout out has to go to our guide Sharon, who was both extremely knowledgeable and welcoming throughout, awesome job.
What is there to do after a guided tour of a brewery? Well, eat some food and try out the ale that is brewed there, served straight out of the Ale Bar at Jennings.
I must admit, when I first seen the itinerary for the event, one of the things I was looking forward to the most was the NB Pub Quiz. Honestly, I'm not competitive, I swear... After being cheated out (not really) of a 'who can lace the shoe the fastest' competition (mine were perfect, no joke), it was time for our 'NB Gallery' round. In all honesty, our questions were both a little ridiculous and a little hard, but it made for good entertainment anyway. The scores were totalled up, and our team, the 'Chosen Few' were overall winners, with only something like three points separating the teams. We were presented with this lovely engraved tankard, a really neat prize for sure. Big shout to the quiz master Joe who done a solid job!
More beer and laughs followed, and then sadly it was time to depart Jennings Brewery, but we headed back to the Trout Hotel to continue where we left off.
It has to be said, New Balance really know how to put on an event. Some of the best people, plenty of food and drink, too many laughs, and just excellent hospitality all round. Big props to all those involved!
Size? was founded in 2000, and since then, they have become a household name, and have at least one store in every major city you could think of in the UK, along with expanding overseas last year into places such as Amsterdam, Paris, and Milan. With their growth, obviously comes power, and that's not necessarily a bad thing, especially when it sees Size? being at the forefront of working with brands to dive into their archives and bring out retros/reissues of your favourite footwear models. Most people know Size? for the vast amount of footwear, clothing and accessories that they sell in their stores, and on their large online store, however, every now and then, Size? collaborate with brands on all of these things, and in the early 2000's, they developed a pretty special relationship with the UK's own division of New Balance.
This post will take a look into the collaboration history between New Balance and Size?, however, the further back we go, to their first lot of collaborations it's really tough to get good information as there is little to none on the internet, and unless you were around at the time, it's pretty much impossible to source the information and pictures needed.
Luckily, if you dig hard enough, there are various pictures around, and these rare pairs pop up on social media now and again which is great to see. Also, I know some pretty great people who have vast amounts of knowledge from this time so they were a huge help.
Anyway, in the early 2000's, this was a time when New Balance collaborations, particularly Made in England pairs, were of a level of quality that will probably never be reached again. There is just such a vast amount of amazing colourways out there that also used some pretty exceptional and unique materials, and this is something that set NB apart from every other brand, and one of the reasons why I take such an interest in the brand.
There's no better example of the excellent work that the Flimby factory do than these early Size? collaborations, and credit to the people at Size? who came up with the colourways and material selections.
2005 - New Balance x Size? 577
This set of 4 pairs of 577 uses some of the best leather and suede around at the time, and comes in four simple, but yet stunning colourways.
The first is the New Balance 577ASZ, and is probably the rarest of the four now, as it never really gets seen these days. It has a predominantly leather burgundy/maroon upper with grey suede accents, and features perforated leather on the toebox.
New Balance 577ASZ -
Image from NetForest
The second pair from the set is the New Balance 577BSZ, which uses various shades of brown leather and suede, again featuring a perforated toebox.
New Balance 577BSZ -
Image from NetForest
Third up is the New Balance 577GSZ, again utilising premium leather on the predominantly green upper, with some clean white perforated leather on the toebox to finish it off.
New Balance 577GSZ -
Image from XMode
Last but not least from this set is the New Balance 577SSZ, and is probably one of the pairs that we see the most from this pack. This pair features a mainly light blue upper with some dark blue and off-white coloured accents, and keeping in with the tradition, it has a perforated toebox but also has a gum outsole, which is something the others don't have.
New Balance 577SSZ -
Image from NetForest
2006 - New Balance x Size? 577 'coup d'eclat'
New Balance was founded in 1906 as ‘New Balance Arch Support Company’ and when 2006 came around, it was time to celebrate New Balance’s 100 year anniversary. For this celebration it was inevitable that NB were to produce a good few limited edition pairs of shoes, and along with the three limited edition trainers to honour it’s three longest serving employees; Audrey Stewart, Ian Byers and Victor Dixon, there were also to be a run of New Balance x Size? collaborations.
Much like the collaboration in 2005, these are some of the best pairs to ever come from Flimby, and Size? excelled in utilising the black midsole, something which has only been done well very few times.
Below is a picture of the 5 shoes taken from the All Gone 2006 book:
All Gone Book 2006
Below is a picture of the invitation that was given out for the special instore launch of the New Balance x Size? 577 release in 2006.
There were 50 pairs which came with a larger special box which housed the standard Made in England New Balance box, and it is pictured below. They also came with miniature versions of the shoes and box, as well as special t-shirts made for the release and these were only available at the instore event at Size? Carnaby Street.
Size? and New Balance created a pretty amazing pack named the 'coup d'eclat' and it was spread over several months throughout 2006. Each pair from the pack was based around a black and orange midsole, which is why these two colours are so prevalent throughout the uppers on each pair.
Each shoe used a mix of vibrant colours and some of the most premium materials available, including suede, mesh, and camo print leather.
As well as the release dates for the shoes being staggered throughout the year, they also had different quantities, which were all extremely limited.
First Release -
The first release was in June of 2006, and it featured 4 colourways; BGO, BGW, BWB, and PGB.
New Balance 577BGO -
Every shoe in the pack stands out on it's own, but the New Balance 577BGO is particularly great because of the camo leather on the upper, and this pair was limited to 120 pairs.
Image from Skit Blog
New Balance 577BGW -
The New Balance 577BGW was meant to be limited to 90 pairs, and was designed by Matt Taylor, but the story goes that when they visited the Flimby factory, they chose some colours that were near the end of their rolls, so fewer pairs were made than planned.
Image from Kicksaholic
New Balance 577BWB -
Thirdly, the New Balance 577BWB seen a release limited to only 70 pairs, and was the second most limited out of both drops.
Image from Kicksaholic
New Balance 577PGB -
Last but not least from the first drop, the New Balance 577PGB designed by John Brotherhood was the most limited of all the drops in 2006 as it was limited to only 60 pairs.
Image from Kicksaholic
Second Release -
Following on from the first drop, the second drop featuring two pairs of 577 was released in November, and both these pairs were limited to 75 pairs each.
New Balance 577WGO -
Image from Kicksaholic
New Balance 577GOW -
Image from Kicksaholic
2007 - New Balance x Size? 577 'Fruity Clerks Pack'
Back again with more 577's, one of the most iconic UK Made models, and this time, this pack features some very fruity designs, with an array of pinks, purples and cyan teamed with a splattered midsole. The shoes feature faux reptile skin on the upper, teamed with lush suede and perforated suede or perforated leather on the toebox.
The shoes were designed with old school fruit machines in mind, think one-arm bandits, bright flashing lights and 3 fruit jackpots of Plums, Strawberries and Bells. The colour scheme is no gamble (excuse the pun), and it was styled by one of the Size? crew from the Birmingham store.
Both colourways were limited to 250 pairs, and there were also matching New Era caps for both colorways, which were only available instore. The shoes also came with matching keyrings, check them out in the pictures below.
New Balance 577WBP -
New Balance 577WGP -
Images from Kicksaholic
That wasn't all though, along with the release of the 'Fruity Clerks Pack' came another shoe, and probably the most elusive of all Size? collaborations, and maybe even New Balance UK collaborations - the 'Jackpot' 577.
The 'Jackpot' 577 were made exclusively for a competition and limited to only 4 pairs. Along with the 'Jackpot' 577, the first prize winner will take home one of the 2 New Balance Fruit Machines that were installed in Size? Carnaby Street and Covent Garden Stores at the time of release, and the second prize will win a pair of the Jackpot 577 shoes.
Images via Highsnobiety
2010 - New Balance x Size? 577 'Estates Pack'
The New Balance x Size? 577 'Estates Pack' was brought out in 2010 to celebrate the stores 10 years anniversary, and the pack draws inspiration from the gradual transition of practical rural fashion into a modern trend in the city.
The first pair from the pack is the New Balance 577LQ -
This shoe pays tribute to the modern city gents adaptation of traditional rural wear with a premium black leather and suede upper, mixed together with a woven quilter toebox and heel support.
The second pair from the pack is the New Balance 577CW -
Images from Nice Kicks
This pairs comes in a mix of dark green, brown with popping orange accents in a leather and mesh upper, and the shoe is inspired by rural British fashion worn by city dwellers.
Both pairs are sat on a clean white traditional ENCAP midsole, and have a gum outsole. They also have a woven brand tab sewn onto the tongue and it transforms the style number into roman numerals (DLXXVII = 577) with 'shoe maketh the man' in Latin underneath the crest. As always, a shoe isn't really complete without a little bit of 3M, and this comes in the form of the N backer for both pairs. Limited to 250 pairs each.
2012 - New Balance x Staple Design x Size? 577 'Black Pigeon'
Staple Design aren't new to collaborating with New Balance, and neither are Size?, so when these two came together, we expected something special, but we're not exactly sure that these shoes lived up to that expectation.
Nevertheless, both Size? and Staple Design reworked a 577, a model which Size? have became so well known for collaborating on. This Made in England 577 came in a year that was celebrating 30 years of manufacturing at Flimby, and as always, this shoe features only the most premium of materials.
It goes without saying that the New Balance 576 is one of the classics, and in 2008 the shoe turned 20 years old. Since it's inception in 1988, the shoe was produced in the UK, and to celebrate, New Balance produced two pairs of 576 in their vintage original versions;
When we think of New Balance, we think of colours like grey and navy, and materials like suede and mesh, all of which are timeless. The New Balance 576 20th Anniversary pairs came in both navy and grey, paired with the original sole unit from 1988 to give it that original feel.
Both the New Balance 576NGA and 576SGA are a must in any collection, those colourways are just perfect. The soft mesh, lush suede, luxurious leather lining, pebbled style heel tab, original style sole unit, and that faded heel counter all come together to make two excellent pairs of shoes.
It seems like every week there are at least 5+ collaborations releasing, and I'm sure you'll agree, it's pretty hard to keep up, but Made in UK New Balance collaborations are few and far between these days, so when one of them come along, there's always quite a bit of excitement surrounding it. Then when you throw in UK heavyweights Footpatrol from London, the anticipation for this collaboration was only ever going to increase! Before I get into the private preview of the shoe, let's take a look at the Footpatrol images of the New Balance 1500FPK, along with some details about the collaboration.
The release has been dubbed 'Encyclopaedia', and the tagline 'Knowledge is Key' has accompanied the collaboration since the first few teaser images were released. Footpatrol have came together with New Balance UK to pay homage to arguably the most informative and detailed reference source - the Britannica Encyclopaedia.
The Britannica Encyclopaedia was first published in 1768, and was produced in fifteen editions until it's present physical volume in 2012, and this shoe uses this source of knowledge as it's inspiration. If you look at the shoe, and then look at the Britannica Encyclopaedia pictured, it's clear that the people of Footpatrol and New Balance have worked extremely hard to execute this concept to the highest of standards.
The New Balance 1500FPK has a screams premium at first glance, with it's predominantly black upper, decked out in only the best materials, with plush suede on the toe wrap and ankle sections, complimented by some smooth black leather across the toe box, side panels and tongue. Some contrast gold detailing comes in the form of the embroidery on the tongue, heel logo and of course the traditional small single embroidered 'N' logo on the lateral side. The heel logo on the medial side features a blacked out double embroidered 'N' logo, which is a really nice touch. There is also an embroidered tab on the rear of the tongue, which features an illustration of a book with the tagline 'Knowledge is Key', while the insole takes elements from some of the content found in the Encyclopaedia, in an off white colour with an anatomical illustration of the human foot. It doesn't end there though, as no shoe is complete without some reflectiveness in my opinion, and this comes in the form of the reflective piping around the ankle collar.
You'd think we'd be finished by now on the detailing front, right? But no, adding to the already class details, the shoe is sat on top of an off-white midsole, and has everyone's favourite gum coloured outsole. As a little reminder as to who the brains are behind this collaboration, the famous Footpatrol gas mask comes in a black and gold swing tag. Finally the vibrant Red New Balance logo situated on the heel and the outsole is a nod to both the bookmarker found in the reference book and the flagship colour used on the NB logo.
With the release set for Saturday 24th January, Footpatrol and New Balance personally selected a small number of people, mainly press and loyal customers to join them for a special preview of the Footpatrol Encyclopaedia 'Knowledge is Key' 1500. The event took place at the stunning Library on St. Martin's Lane, an exclusive private members club just off London's famous Leicester Square, and this is where the original shots featured above were taken.
Here we would also be treated to a personal Q+A with the New Balance team - Tom Henshaw, Andy Okolowicz, Chris Hodgson, and Jamie Metcalfe, as well as an insight into the Footpatrol shoe, while being able to indulge in some fine food and drink. It's quite rare to be treated to events of this form, as usually it's just a case of a venue with some music and lots and lots of beer, but the efforts that both NB and Team FP went to organise this classy event fits in with the whole theme of the collaboration perfectly.
When we talk about New Balance, and discuss things online, a lot of the information is taken from various websites, or stuff you've picked up through the years, but to be sat down with people like Chris and Andy, and be able to tap into their comprehensive knowledge of all things NB, whether it's creative or technical, it really is quite something. Hats off to Jimmy and the rest of Team Footpatrol too, who were more than happy to discuss any aspect of their great project, and obviously like us who were just grateful to be in the room, they were grateful to be one of the very few who are given the opportunity to work with New Balance UK and produce such a stunning shoe.
When you think about this project in more depth, and as was pointed out by Jimmy of Footpatrol, the use of the Encyclopaedia Britannica as inspiration for a Made in UK New Balance is very appropriate, especially since the Encyclopaedia has a long standing tie to British heritage - it even has a thistle for it's logo! The Encyclopaedia is high quality to touch, and craftmanship is something that New Balance pride themselves on, especially when it comes down to materials, with only the finest being used on this project. One particular interesting fact mentioned by Chris Hodgson in relation to materials was that the leather used throughout the shoe, is in fact, waterproof, and it was sourced from English tanneries.
The New Balance 1500FPK sees a production run of around 1320 pairs, which doesn't seem like all that many, but be sure to keep your eyes open for a worldwide release soon, but in the mean time, check out some pictures below from the event.
New Balance no longer produce the 860, which is a shame really as it's one of the great Made in England models from yesteryear. The majority of them seem to pop up on eBay now and again for dirt cheap, so it's always worth a search.
I think these may be from around 2007 or similar, not sure on an exact date. The 860 also lacks a heel counter which is pretty unusual, some people aren't big fans of this but I quite like it. I love this pair mainly because of the gold coloured N, it reminds me of great era of UK Made New Balance, but you can never really go wrong with a navy suede and mesh shoe, particularly when the quality and shape is as good as this!
I had always wondered why there was no heel counter on the 860, so when I got the chance, I asked someone at Flimby, and their answer was basically cost, as the 860 was brought in as a cheap/budget model.
So, I had known for a little while that I would be heading down to Flimby to visit the New Balance Factory, but it never really hit home until a couple of nights before, it felt like Christmas was coming early. Anyway, the whole visit came around following a petition that was started with regards to the shape of UK Made models, in particular the 1500, and we were invited down to discuss this with the designers and developers, but I'll address that further down.
We were staying at nearby Cockermouth, but left there in the morning and headed to Flimby to be there for around 9am, a nice early start. Flimby is a small coastal village in Cumbria, England, and there isn't much there, except of course the New Balance Factory, a huge power plant, and loads of wind turbines!
Upon arriving at the factory, I had a little bit of an idea what to expect, and from the outside it doesn't look like much, but as soon as we stepped onto the factory floor for our tour, all expectations were surpassed. The sheer size of the factory inside was breathtaking, then throw into that all the hundreds of machines, workers, materials, etc, and it blows everything you could ever have imagined out the water.
New Balance haven't always resided in Flimby, back in 1982 they began manufacturing shoes in an old K-Shoes factory in Workington, but in 1991, they made the short move to Flimby, and as the old saying goes, the rest is history. Over the years, the factory has grown in size, and the workforce too, with now over 250 people working there and producing around a million pairs of trainers a year.
The factory prides itself on it's 'Made in England' tag line, which means that all the shoes with this tag have been made from scratch at Flimby, and the volume of shoes produced this way is set to increase next year. Along with the Made in England pairs, the factory also produces performance shoes which include uppers and sole units which are only assembled there.
It's extremely rare for any brand, never mind a brand the size of New Balance to have not packed up and moved their manufacturing elsewhere to the likes of Asia, like many footwear brands before them have done. Of course, New Balance is a US brand, and they have a number of factories in the US, along with Asia, but for a workforce and factory this size to still be making shoes in the UK, it really is a testament to the Flimby factory and those who who work there day in day out.
If you follow the brand, names like Audrey Stewart, Ian Byers, Victor Dixon, Andy Mandle, Billy Edgar, and Roy Bell may ring a bell to you because of the shoes that they have had their name put to over the years, but those six, along with others such as Chris Hodgson, Mike Middlehurst, Andy Okolowicz, and every other member of the workforce, really are the un-sung heroes of the footwear world.
Following the tour of the factory, we visited Chris and Mike's office which houses the 'vault', a fancy name for a room in darkness at the far end, but housed with loads of gems that have been produced at the Flimby factory over the years, along with future releases, prototypes, you name it, that room had it! When you see all those shoes together in one place, it's easy to see why there are so many people who love the brand and share the same passion for it.
With the factory tour and a little jaunt in the vault over, it was time to head back to the meeting room and sit down with some of the designers, the developers, and others, all of who play a vital part in the running of New Balance Europe. The discussion, as previously mentioned, was mainly focussed around the shape of Made in UK models, and in particular, the 1500, and if ever we were looking for answers to questions, this was bound to be the time we would get them. Anyway, as if the day hadn't already been surreal enough, being sat at the table with everyone, after all the effort they had made to accommodate us inside of their busy schedules, and then provide their comprehensive history of the NB toe-puff, well, it was the cherry on top, and educational for all involved.
So you're probably curious as to what was said, right? Like ourselves, there were many looking for answers as to what had happened to the shape over the years, so hopefully the following information can clear some things up. As you can understand, there is a lot of information which cannot be repeated, especially not on to somewhere as public as the internet, but the information provided below should definitely be adequate enough to answer the questions.
If we were to revisit a few years back when we would regard the shape of the UK models as excellent, with that sharp toe shape, then we can do this by simply taking a bunch shoes released from this time, whether they're GRs or collabs it doesn't matter. Then if we look at the toe, we'll notice that it's for some of the very early releases, there isn't really any form of toe puff, and then the more recent releases pre-2009 feature do in fact feature a toe puff, but it is nowhere near the same as what is in the shoes currently. Back then, rather than using a piece of material, the toe puff was an adhesive which was melted and brushed on in a half moon shape, and this method was very inconsistent, which is why if you look at any number of shoes from this time, none of the toe shapes are the same, they all vary. Unfortunately, this old technique does not now meet official global quality control, technical and environment standards, and no brand anywhere in the world could use it if they wanted to.
To counter the inability to use this technique, NB had to come up with a new toe puff, and this came in the form of a piece of material from a German company, and it done everything NB needed it to do, it met all global standards, and in fact, it was of a higher construction standard as far as a performance shoe requirement goes, and at this time, the 1500 was still regarded as a performance shoe, more so than a lifestyle shoe. However, the general aesthetics of the shoe never appealed to everyone, and the various complaints were starting to be noticed.
You may remember that in 2012, the 1500CHF was released, a collaboration between New Balance UK and hanon shop of Aberdeen, and this shoe somehow managed to have a hugely better shape in comparison to anything released before it. Like yourselves, we have always wondered why, and we finally got an answer to this question. Basically, there has been years of trying to redevelop the toe puff behind the scenes, and as you can imagine, this is no easy feat, but the CHF features a different toe puff from the one used after the old adhesive method was ditched, and in actual fact, it is the same toe puff that is used in all models currently, except the 991, and any shoe that has a leather tip.
Obviously, using various toe puffs is a bit of a nightmare for the factory when manufacturing the shoes, and in an ideal world, they would use the same toe puff for every shoe, no matter the model, and no matter what material it is made out of. So this has lead to further research and development of the toe puff for the last couple of years, with many more companies and attempts at nailing down the 'perfect puff'.
The amount of research and development that has been ongoing for a number of years now behind the scenes was certainly surprising to us. Even once research and development is done, there is still testing to be done on all the various materials, and making sure that there are no issues during the manufacturing processes, but what we can say is that things have been moving along very quickly, it's being worked on, and sometime in the near future, there are big things to come!
We were lucky enough to watch two models being made, the first was a 1500, and the pictures below should hopefully go through the processes almost step by step, from putting the panels together, to joining the midsole to the upper.
After checking out the 1500 being made, we followed around a 576 line, and the processes are the same, but as the opportunity to visit the factory is so rare, we weren't going to say no, that was for sure!
Along with the factory, there is also a factory shop which can be a bit of a hit and miss, but always well worth a look with plenty of shoes on discount, and a nice range of New Balance aparell to boot.