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Can New Balance Sneakers Avoid A Narrow Path?

Dec 11, 2012
See what I did with the title there? See that?

It seems that in our relatively short lifespan, almost every major shoe brand out there has at one point tried to sneak in and milk skateboarding's prostate for the coolness that squirts out. Puma, Nike, Adidas, Converse, Reebok, K-Swiss, all these companies have taken a stab (or two or three) at manufacturing skate shoes and marketing them to the skate market. Hell even Kangaroos has given it a couple shots.
I can't even say I blame all those companies. As dumb as the skateboard industry, and a rather large amount of skateboarders are, skateboarding is still the coolest fucking thing that ever existed. That's probably the reason why for the first decade of the 21st century, many skate shoe companies were flourishing on the dollars of the mainstream consumer who wanted to feel like he belonged to such a cool subculture. I'm sure that the impact of this change in choice of footwear for frat boys and high school jocks everywhere must have been felt in the pockets of the major shoe corporations. So it only makes sense that these companies would try and enter the skate shoe market on their own, and take back some of their money. But the problem starts when they start taking some of our money too.

Many within the skate industry have been rallying against the infiltration of major corporation shoe companies for quite some time, while for an equal amount of time the average consumer has been saying "Whatever, they make good shoes. I just buy what I like. It's not like buying a couple shoes from [insert brand here] will put the skate shoe industry out of business." But when enough companies come in, and enough people buy their shoes, it definitely makes a dent. One piranha may be only able to take a couple bites out of you, but if you swim with enough of them, they can strip you bare. And it can be all the more easier for them if the body of water you're swimming in gets smaller and smaller.

Now this post wasn't and isn't meant to be a damnation of every big name shoe brand coming into skating, or anyone who likes to wear the shoes. Anyone who's read the blog for awhile knows I fuck around with the big brands as much as the next guy. Recently it's been weighing on my mind a little more heavily than "Hey I skated Pumas in the 90s, why can't I skate them now?!", but that still wasn't the point I was trying to make. More so the entire first part of this post was leading up to the fact that it seems to be a really strange time for a company like New Balance to announce that they're entering the skate market.  Isn't it the general consensus that the oasis of cash that was the skateboard shoe market is evaporating into a dry riverbed of "tough times"? With eS officially bowing out of the game, and a new rumour sprouting up every week about which shoe company is "almost out of business", is there still enough of the pie left for a company like New Balance to even want to strap on a bib and start nomming?

Even more peculiar than the timing on New Balance's entry into the skate market is the fact that they'll be doing so through a partnership with Jamie Thomas and Black Box. We've seen a lot of skaters (both pros and industry types) leave smaller skater owned shoe companies for the greener pastures of the big corporations, but this has to be the first time a skater who owns one of those companies willingly welcomed one of the big brands into their industry with open arms. According to the press release and interview, Jamie Thomas will be working closely with New Balance in the development and direction of the skate line. It also drops phrases like "licensing deal" and "produced by Black Box" which made me think of shoes made in the Fallen factory, with a big "N" stitched onto the side. And if you can imagine a bitter, chubby Canadian blogger standing there with both his thumbs down making a farting noise with his mouth, then you can imagine what I thought of that idea.

However, after talking to a few people "in the know" I've been assured that the shoes will be produced in New Balance's factory. So what's in it for Jamie? Is he going to be making enough money from this deal that it would be worth risking a loss of sales from Fallen? Is the guy who was one of the pros rallying against the damaging effect of blank/shop boards now selling out his expertise in the skate industry for a quick buck? Or more likely does it seem that this could somehow benefit his own brand as far as some sort of technology sharing deal with New Balance along the lines of the old Savier/Nike arrangement?

I do know that New Balance won't really be going after the same customer as Fallen. Actually maybe I don't know that, because I sure as hell couldn't tell you who the fuck buys Fallens. But from what I've been told the New Balance skate line is going to fall in line with their more classic models; high tech in comfort and peformance, but simple in design. At one point in my life hearing this news would have had the 90s sneaker nerd in me jizzing in my goofy boy pants. Now I'm gonna have to wait to see some samples before I make farting noises with my mouth or not.

But now of course anytime a new company pops up like this, everyone wants to speculate who the team will be. There's a lot of really good skaters right now floating around in sponsorship limbo. There's still guys leftover from the disillusion of eS without sponsors. (I can tell you for sure at least one of them will be involved with the brand in some respect.) There's people who got dropped in the bankruptcy fiasco of DVS still looking for a paycheque. And of course, the recent axing of the entire pointy skate shoe program over at Gravis is leaving a lot of heavy hitters open to the possibility of endorsing a big italicized N. Will New Balance play off of their East Coast heritage and put together a powerhouse of sponsorless rough pavement pushers like Bobby Worrest, Zered Basset, and Jake Johnson? Or will New Balance forgo those that favour the flannel, and opt for the thin scoop neck likes of Dylan Rieder and Arto Saari? Will we see another amazing "Kevin Terpening Welcome To The Team" video, only for the company to go out of business a month later? (Poor guy.)

Will a certain tech god who's had people scratching their heads for years regarding his sponsorless status trade in the Adidas he's been rocking lately and..... okay I'm talking about PJ Ladd, and yeah, PJ will be on New Balance, I can tell you that much for sure.

Without doubt this interesting turn of events in the skate shoe market raises a lot of questions. Will the shoes live up to the highly respected standards of comfort New Balance is known for? If so, if they can create a superior product, do they deserve the skater's dollar? Or are they just gonna be another big brand piranha nipping away at the little guy who already seems to be caught in a feeding frenzy? Furthemore and obviously the most pressing question of this entire development though is:

Why'd they put the hashtag on the wrong side of the logo, bro?


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