New Balance 997GY2

The New Balance 997GY caused a stir when it got reissued back at the start of 2014, you can check out my post for it here, and there was a lot of talk about the midsole colour and how it wasn't representative of the original. However, similar to the original or not, it is still one of my most worn shoes to date, and is undoubtedly a classic. Well a year and a half later, New Balance have went and thrown on a sparkling white midsole and released the 997GY2... which is excellent.

Big thanks to New Balance UK for the gift, and before the release too, awesome. Look out for these releasing worldwide on the 1st of July 2015.

Check out some images of the shoe below, and threw in the 997GY for a little midsole comparison too.

DSC_0156

DSC_0164

DSC_0169

DSC_0175

DSC_0180

DSC_0182

DSC_0186

DSC_0188

 

Flimby Factory Visit

DSC_0776 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!

DSC_0673

DSC_0671

DSC_0672

DSC_0674

DSC_0769

DSC_0675

DSC_0679

DSC_0677

DSC_0680

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.

DSC_0681

DSC_0683

DSC_0684

DSC_0685

DSC_0691

DSC_0690

DSC_0694

DSC_0695

DSC_0696

DSC_0698

DSC_0699

DSC_0700

DSC_0701

DSC_0703

DSC_0705

DSC_0707

DSC_0709

DSC_0712

DSC_0713

DSC_0721

DSC_0724

DSC_0729

DSC_0731

DSC_0732

DSC_0733

DSC_0739

DSC_0741

DSC_0742

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!

DSC_0748

DSC_0750

DSC_0752

DSC_0754

DSC_0755

DSC_0757

DSC_0758

DSC_0759

DSC_0763

DSC_0764

DSC_0767

DSC_0771

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.

DSC_0774

DSC_0772

New Balance x Sneakersnstuff - Collaboration History

Originating in Stockholm, Swedish duo Peter and Erik have been in the business for well over ten years now, and are widely regarded as two of the best in this industry. Due to their popularity and successfulness in Stockholm, in 2005 they opened a second store in Malmo, and subsequently took their business overseas and have recently settled in London. With their success came many opportunities, and Sneakersnstuff have collaborated with many brands over the years, having been named as the 'King of collabs' numerous times. For many years now, New Balance have been collaborating with stores across the globe, but very few have as strong a relationship with New Balance like Swedish heavyweights Sneakersnstuff do. In fact, New Balance were one of the first brands to give Sneakersnstuff the opportunity to do a collaboration.

 

2005

New Balance x Sneakersnstuff "Round 1"

As the title of the collaboration suggests, the first collaboration between New Balance and Sneakersnstuff came in 2005, and it wasn't without drama, that's for sure. However, mistakes sometimes pay off and when it comes down to footwear, it usually makes things a little more interesting.

The Sneakersnstuff pair were invited to the famous Flimby factory in Cumbria, England, and they knew that the visit was mostly about doing a collaboration, but around this time, it was still relatively early days for NB UK on the collaborating front. After receiving a grand tour of the factory, they had very little time to come up with the designs for these shoes, but knew the model that they wanted to work on, and started to hand pick the materials they wanted to use, so that was a good start at least.

There were only 96 pairs of each colourway produced for the "Round 1" pairs, a time when New Balance collaborations were extremely limited, with sub 200 pairs seen very very often.

577SNS1

577sns1

Image from Complex.

The 577SNS1 was designed by Erik and it draws inspiration from the Swedish flag, and also the flag of the Canary Islands as this was the birthplace of Erik's father-in-law. The shoe features blue suede, and yellow leather on the upper, with a white leather perforated toebox, all sat on the traditional Encap 577 sole unit.

577SNS2

577sns2

Image from Size Eleven.

Material options were limited at the Flimby factor, however, they are well known for their premium materials, and we see this on Peter's design, from the leather toe box to the suede heel wrap. A classic design, which was slightly inspired by the classic 577 in navy and the 997 in grey, uses all these colours and a clean white leather toe wrap and perforated toe box with mixes of suede on the rest of the upper.

As I mentioned previously, the first collaboration wasn't without drama, and the SNS guys got a little more than they had originally bargained for.

577SNS1 "The Secret Colourway"

577sns1_secret

Image from Complex.

As can be seen in the first 577SNS1 posted a couple of pictures above, Erik's Round 1 samples were blue and yellow, they way he designed them, but when they received the pairs, Flimby had changed the blue to more of a mint green and also added some more yellow to the shoe.

It wasn't the shoe Erik designed, but they decided to release them anyway, but rather than releasing pictures of them prior to launch, they had a countdown clock on the Sneakersnstuff website for 'The Secret 577'. Unfortunately, some pictures managed to leak a few minutes before the launch, but the shoe was well received and all 96 pairs sold out.

 

2007

New Balance x Sneakersnstuff "Round 2"

Two years on from their first collaboration, they were back, and once again, revisiting the 577, a model which had quickly became one of their favourites from the New Balance arsenal.

This time, rather than the original 577 sole unit, they wanted to do something different and have an all white sole unit (outsole included), which wasn't exactly received well, but it works, and compliments both colourways extremely well.

Both colourways were produced in 252 pairs each, so there were 504 pairs in total for the set, which was quite a lot at the time of release but unfortunately this had to be the number as it was the minimum for a new sole unit then.

577GSI "Peter"

577gsi

For Peter's colourway, he used the same premium synthetic leather which was used on the original 1500, along with some premium pig skin suede. The yellow New Balance detailing is a nice touch and looks good against the bluey/grey colourway.

577GPI "Erik"

577gpi

Images from Complex.

The 577GPI is arguably one of the best 577's around, that earth tone colourway works perfectly and it has some of the best materials ever used on a New Balance. One unusual touch on this shoe is the pink lining, and unfortunately, this wasn't available at Flimby so Erik had to source the pink silky smooth lining himself.

 

2008

New Balance x Sneakersnstuff "Round 3"

There was a bit of a familiar theme by the time the third round of collaborations came about, I guess that was one of the benefits of having two people behind a store - two shoes each time, and often two very different takes on the colourways.

For the third round of the New Balance x Sneakersnstuff collaborartions, did you really expect them to work on any model other than the 577? Not a chance, it was almost a tradition by this point, but a very good one at that.

Much like "Round 2", Erik and Peter wanted to change up the midsole a little, and now Flimby had the ability to create a midsole that was different to the traditional 577 midsole without having to produce larger quantities of the shoe. This is why "Round 3" has a smaller production run of 150 pairs each, in comparison to the 252 pairs each for the last round.

577SNP "Peter"

577snp

As you might have gathered by now, Peter likes to keep his colourways simple, but always with the most premium of materials, so for "Round 3" he did a black upper with mostly suede, but also some leather and hints of 3M. Similar to an artist signing his work, Peter darkened the 'P' of the 'ENCAP' on the midsole to mark his pair.

577SNE "Erik"

577sne

Images from Complex.

Much like his "Round 1 and 2" colourways (577SNS1 and 577GPI), Erik pulled together something a lot more colourful. The shoe features a lime green, light blue, and navy blue suede upper, along with a purple mesh toe box. Similar to Peter's pair, he also went for the signature touch on the midsole, highlighting the 'E' from the other letters, and also doing the same to all the 'E's' on the tongue.

Make sure you check out this interview via Sneakerfreaker with Erik and Peter regarding the "Round 3" collaborations with New Balance.

 

2009

New Balance x Sneakersnstuff "RGB Pack"

This time, SNS teamed up with New Balance to produce this pack in celebration of their tenth anniversary after they first opened their doors in 1999. The pack duped the RGB Pack (red, green and blue - simply the three colours used to render colours in an electronic display), consisted of three different models; 577, 1500 and 1700 - red, green and blue, respectively.

This was the fourth collaboration with New Balance that Erik and Peter worked on, and if it wasn't already evident that they were the masters of materials, then this pack confirms it. The guys at SNS each worked on a shoe individually; Peter worked the 577, Johan the 1500 and Erik the 1700.

The three shoes were Made in England at the legendary Flimby factory, and all consist of the high-grade premium materials that were consistently used around this time. They also sport the very sought after 'original shape' if you must, which makes them just that little bit more delightful.

577sns_1

The 577 is decked out red suede and leather, has a pigskin perforated suede toebox and some 3M flashes for good measure, and of course, represents the "red" of the "RGB Pack".

1500sns_1

The 1500 has some plush leather on the tongue, and a mainly suede upper in green and grey, with a deep white mesh toe box and some 3M piping, and represents the "green" of the "RGB Pack".

1700sns_1

The 1700 comes in a couple of shades of blue with some yellow, and features to the ripstop upper and faux nubuck but the man-made materials are completely vegan, so a perfect shoe if you're into that and/or appreciate the diversity. This pair represents the "blue" of the "RGB Pack".

Check out the below image from EU Kicks of the full New Balance x Sneakersnstuff "RGB Pack".

rgb pack

2012

New Balance x Sneakersnstuff x Milkcrate Athletics

For Sneakersnstuff's fifth collaboration with New Balance, they revisited the 577, which they are particularly well known for using in their earlier collaborations, a favourite model of theirs indeed.  This time they partnered up with Aaron LaCrate of Milkcrate Athletics, and Baltimore meets Stockholm to produce two 577 make-ups.

The collaboration comes about through friendship and also a mutual love for footwear, and both sides agreed to have two separate colourways, one of which represented Milkcrate Athletics, and the other represents Sneakersnstuff Stockholm.

577SN1 -

577sn1

The New Balance 577SN1 is "Easter egg-colourful" and if you were to hazard a guess, 99% of you would probably work out that this was the pair put together by Aaron of Milkcrate. Aaron's refreshing and vibrant personality and style shines through on this pair, decked out in pastel coloured suede, and some white perforated leather.

577SN2 -

577sn2

Images from Sneakersnstuff.

The SNS side of the collaboration comes correct with a subtle grey colourway, very traditional of New Balance as a brand itself. Lush suede and white perforated leather is also used on this pair, mirroring the 577SN1 except for the colourway.

Check out the following video for the collaboration with a little insight into the relationship of Milkcrate and SNS, and also some details about the 577's.

http://vimeo.com/38786555

Gary Warnett of Crooked Tongues interviewed both Erik and Peter of Sneakersnstuff, and also Aaron of Milkcrate Athletics, ahead of the release of this shoe, so be sure to check it out here, as it makes for a very interesting read.

 

2014

New Balance CT300PSN x SNS "1999"

So, this collaboration with New Balance is a little bit different from all the previous ones, because instead of working on an archive running model, NB proposed the CT300, a Made in UK tennis shoe which was first released in 1979.

This collaboration would come as a part of a set of 4, alongside make-ups from hanon shop, Firmament and 24 Kilates. The CT300 features an extremely lightweight upper, which consists of closed mesh and suede overlays. It is also built with superior cushioning and the unique sole unit of polyurethane and encapsulated gum rubber provides great durability.

Diving into the archives and bringing back a piece of history seemed like a good opportunity for the SNS guys to revisit how their Stockholm store first looked in 1999. When the Stockholm store was first opened in 1999, the walls were painted grey, a colour more subtle than white, and one which would distract attention away from the products. The store wasn't exactly the largest space, so to make it feel bigger, the ceiling was painted white, and a burgundy border was added at the top of the walls. So that's the inspiration behind the colourway, and add in the premium materials, which are typical of the Flimby factory, and you have a great shoe.

ct300psn

Image from Sneakernews.

Be sure to check out the below video for the New Balance CT300 collaborations.

http://vimeo.com/98823188

 

So the most recent New Balance CT300 collaboration rounds up the Sneakersnstuff collaboration set, but I'm sure that this isn't going to be the last with New Balance, maybe we'll even see them revisit the 577?

A lot of brands and stores try to bring out shoes that are inspired by a storyline, or some sort of inspiration, but excluding a couple, it's nice to see people just designing shoes based on what they like. Also, Round 1 to 3 are probably some of the strongest pairs of New Balance, and the way that Erik and Peter work independently on the uppers and then try to tie together the sole units works perfectly, and gives some amazing results.

Here's to more collaborations and success from the Sneakersnstuff team!