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Jul 11, 2024
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Jul 11, 2024

From 'Dad Shoes' to Streetwear Icon: The Rebranding of New Balance

New Balance, a well-loved American footwear brand known for its comfort and functionality, has always been a favourite among athletes and casual shoe wearers. However, in recent years, the brand has undergone an impressive transformation. Embracing its 'dad shoe' status, New Balance has cleverly tapped into streetwear culture, letting its collaborators take the lead. This strategic move has revitalized its image and pushed it to the forefront of contemporary fashion. Tom Henshaw, New Balance's Lifestyle Marketing Director, shares how this innovative approach has turned the brand into one of the hottest names in the industry today.

Photo by Henry & Co. on Unsplash 

Strategic Rebranding: From "Dorky" to Desirable

New Balance has always been loved by a dedicated group of fans, but for many, the brand was often associated with "dorky" dad shoes. Their rebranding journey was far from impulsive; it was a carefully planned strategy to appeal to a broader audience and redefine their market position. Building on their heritage of producing high-quality, performance-oriented products, New Balance decided to revamp their presentation and design approach.

Capitalizing on Trends: The Resurgence of the Dad Shoe

The brand embraced a modern, fashion-forward design while staying true to its commitment to performance. They capitalized on the 'dad shoe' trend by re-releasing classic, chunky silhouettes like the 990 model. This strategy not only aligned with current fashion trends but also honored the brand's heritage.

A Surge in Popularity

New Balance's efforts have truly paid off. According to StockX, the brand saw a remarkable 200 percent trade growth from 2021 to 2022, making it the sixth-fastest-growing sneaker brand on the platform. This surge can be credited to their modern collaborations, but it all started with the dad shoe trend's comeback in 2018. Shoes that were once staples for older men, like the 990v4, suddenly became must-have items for fashion-conscious individuals looking to complete their outfits.

Photo from Complex 

Innovative Collaborations and Celebrity Endorsements

New Balance has significantly shifted its marketing strategy by teaming up with prominent designers and influencers and securing key celebrity endorsements. Collaborations with brands like Aime Leon Dore and high-profile figures such as Jaden Smith and Kawhi Leonard have breathed new life into New Balance’s image, firmly positioning it within the fashion and culture scene. These partnerships have brought fresh energy to the brand, aligning it with cutting-edge trends, luxury, and exclusivity while still being accessible to its loyal customer base.

Brian Lynn, general manager of lifestyle, explains the evolution:

Each partner and project has its own fanbase and narrative. Working with retailers felt like we were selling to the same New Balance fans in every project. Partners like Kith, Bodega, and Concepts are crucial for us, and we will always maintain relationships with them, but it's about achieving a broader mix and balance.

Lynn notes that only a few years ago, there wasn’t even a dedicated team to handle collaborations. It was managed part-time by employees who had connections with retailers. This changed in 2017 when Lynn, along with Joe Grondin, business unit manager of global collaborations and energy, set a new strategy in motion. They decided that collaborations should not just involve applying a theme and adding interesting colours to a sneaker. Instead, everything from the product to the marketing campaigns needed to feel tailored to the collaborators.

This approach, giving more freedom to collaborators, is one that bigger brands like Nike and Adidas have successfully employed. New Balance has now adopted it in its own way, tapping into lesser-known brands and creators, thereby expanding its reach. The product lineup has become more varied, including tech-focused 2000s runners and retro basketball sneakers, allowing New Balance to compete more effectively with its competitors' offerings.

Notable Collaborations

New Balance has always been a staple in the athletic world, but its recent collaborations and innovative designs have propelled the brand to new heights, capturing the urban market's attention. A significant leap came with their 2022 partnership with the renowned streetwear company A BATHING APE®. The "BAPE® x New Balance 'Training Camp' collection" showcased a fresh blend of streetwear and sports fashion, offering a range of stylish items from hats to hoodies and, of course, iconic shoes.

One standout from this collaboration is the 57/40, a shoe that blends streetwear flair with athletic functionality. Inspired by the 650 silhouette and incorporating BAPE®'s classic camo, the 57/40 introduces a unique midsole and a modern twist on the classic 574 construction, infused with '90s tech-inspired details. This innovative design highlights New Balance's commitment to reimagining classic styles and expanding its reach in the fashion industry.

This partnership with BAPE® is just one of many high-profile collaborations that have helped New Balance modernize its image and appeal to urban influencers. Collaborations with Jaden Smith on the Vision Racer collection, Raheem Sterling with the Shadow of My Dreams collection, and New York City's Aimé Leon Dore founder Teddy Santis have further solidified New Balance's presence in the high-end streetwear scene.

Photo by BAPE

The brand's ambitious ventures continued with a remarkable debut at the 2022 Paris Fashion Week, where New Balance collaborated with Miu Miu, catching the eyes of A-list influencers and fashion enthusiasts.

New Balance’s breakthrough into mainstream athletic recognition was cemented in 2019, during the Toronto Raptors' championship-winning NBA season. With Kawhi Leonard, a five-time All-Star known for his viral "fun guy" interview, New Balance signed him on with his slogan, "Board Man Gets Paid." This partnership was pivotal as Leonard's performance and unique personality drove massive interest in New Balance products. His championship win with the Raptors skyrocketed the brand’s credibility and market value, turning any product associated with Leonard into an instant sellout.

Photo from Daily Hive

However, the collaboration didn't end there; New Balance continued to release new products with Leonard and pursued additional trendy collaborations that resonated with their brand. With these strategic collaborations and high-profile endorsements, New Balance has transformed into a formidable contender in the athletic and streetwear industries, standing toe-to-toe with giants like Nike and Under Armour. Their innovative designs and ability to tap into urban culture have redefined the brand, making New Balance a true competitor in both athletic performance and fashion.

Transformative Marketing: From Sneakers to Storytelling

New Balance has undergone a transformative rebranding, moving beyond just altering its product line to fundamentally change how it communicates with its audience. Previously, New Balance's collaborations focused on designs that appealed to traditional sneakerheads but didn't quite capture the interest of new customers. The brand's new strategy addresses this by emphasizing diverse storytelling that highlights each collaborator's unique perspective. Instead of merely focusing on the sneakers, New Balance uses them as a vehicle to share compelling narratives.

Central to this rebrand is the "Fearlessly Independent" campaign, which perfectly embodies the brand's new direction. This campaign celebrates New Balance's independence and unwavering commitment to quality, spotlighting athletes and individuals who resonate with these values. By focusing on storytelling, the brand underscores its heritage, authenticity, and unique positioning as an independently owned and operated company. The campaigns emphasize individuality and nonconformity, setting New Balance apart from its competitors and appealing to a broader audience.

Photo by New Balance 

Commitment to Sustainability

In response to the growing consumer demand for sustainable and ethical practices, New Balance has made significant strides toward environmental responsibility. They have introduced a range of eco-friendly shoes and pledged to eliminate all footwear manufacturing waste by 2025. This commitment to sustainability has not only enhanced its brand image but also attracted a more conscientious consumer base.

New Balance's remarkable transformation showcases the power of strategic rebranding and innovative collaboration. By staying true to its heritage while adapting to contemporary trends, the brand has successfully navigated the evolving landscape of fashion and streetwear. With notable partnerships, high-profile endorsements, and a strong commitment to sustainability, New Balance has revitalized its image and broadened its appeal. This journey is an inspiring example for brands looking to rejuvenate their market presence and connect with a wider audience. As New Balance continues to innovate and grow, it stands poised to remain a dominant force in both the athletic and fashion industries.

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