NB Gallery @ SoleBloc

For the SoleBloc event in Glasgow on August 1st 2015, with New Balance Gallery being official sponsors, we decided to create a showcase of New Balance footwear, along with various pieces of New Balance memorabilia.

Our aim was to have something for everyone, covering all things New Balance, with 250+ pairs, from vintage models, to collaborations, to the most recent releases. There was to be many shoes on display from some of New Balance’s most well know collaboration partners, such as the complete set of Hanon Shop shoes, and shoes from Solebox, SNS, and Crooked Tongues, as well as never before seen samples.

We never anticipated that our exhibit would turn out the way it did when we started setting up on Friday, but we are extremely happy with the outcome, and with the reaction of those who attended the event.

Continue reading NB Gallery @ SoleBloc

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New Balance x hanon shop samples

Following on from the NB Gallery exhibition at SoleBloc, we were lucky enough to have a full collection of hanon shop’s collaborations with New Balance, which also included a number of samples which never had been seen before by people outside of hanon and NB.

This opportunity was too good to waste, so I have taken a number of images, which also includes comparison shots with the released pairs, and detailed shots of some differences.

A huge thanks to Ed @ hanon, for lending me the samples for the exhibition.

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New Balance 577NIO Sample vs Released Comparison –

The differences between the Night Owl sample and the released pair are:

  • Perforated ‘N’ on sample pair.
  • Contrast stitching on sample pair.
  • C-Cap midsole on sample pair rather than Encap midsole.

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New Balance 990HSN1 Sample vs 990HSN Released –

There is only one difference between these two pairs, and that’s the use of the golden colour on the sample, rather than the orange used on the released.

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New Balance 670 Ventile Sample –

Now, this shoe is my favourite sample from the lot, and it might actually be one of my favourite shoes I’ve ever had in hand. It is unreal, even these images don’t do it justice.

As you know, hanon release two Ventile shoes as part of the ‘Flying Club Pack’, and this pair was a sample from that run, but as you can see, it has a number of differences, such as the big grey suede ‘N’, the use of nubuck on the upper, and grey midsole.

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New Balance 576 Bionic Prototypes –

New Balance and hanon came together with Eschler to create two shoes as part of the ‘Bionic Majors’, but if these samples are anything to go by, it seems like they had a lot of messing around before arriving at the released pairs. Some unusual materials, and colourways here, but pretty cool and unique in their own way.

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New Balance 1500CHF Samples vs Released Pair –

The grand finale, so to speak. The New Balance 1500CHF is probably the biggest New Balance collaboration to release in the last three years, and for the first time, we get to check out hanon’s thought process on their way to releasing the final pair.

Every single one of these shoes are great, and I tried to cover all bases for each sample to be able to see the differences.

M1500 V1 –

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M1500 V2a –

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M1500 V2b –

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And of course, here is a round up of the three CHF samples along with the released 1500CHF.

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New Balance 997DOL

I was just going to do a WOMFT post for this shoe, but my girlfriend decided to take some off-foot shots of them, so I figured I’d add some text, rather than just the 3 or 4 pictures.

Anyway, the New Balance 997DOL from the ‘Distinct Weekender Pack’ for Spring/Summer 2015, another one of the many 997’s which have released recently. I’m definitely not tired of the model, but I must admit, I am getting tired of the amount of colourways there are, New Balance need to slow it down a bit, especially with the high retail price that these hold, our money trees won’t allow 2/3 pairs of these every few months.

The ‘Distinct Weekender’ Pack is said to evoke memories of iconic waxed canvas bags overflowing with weekend essentials. Fair enough, if this shoe somehow evokes those memories for you then cool. I just think it’s a great colourway on a great model.

The DOL features a powder blue suede upper, with tan leather and a lovely blue canvas material on the toe and heel. The brick red outsole then adds a perfect contrast against the white midsole on this 997. The also have a waxed style lace set which were an absolute nightmare to lace up in comparison to NB’s normal laces but that’s minor.

These are getting put away for summer, banging shoe.

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WOMFT – New Balance 1500NO2 x Norse Projects

Norse Projects are one of my favourite brands. If you see me, there’s a good chance at least one item of clothing I’m wearing will be from the Danish heavyweights. So when they come together with my favourite footwear brand, it’s always going to be a winner in my eyes.

Anyway, we headed out last night for a wander through some woods, while trying to avoid being attacked by cows, and it felt fitting to wear the second shoe from this pack as it has some nice earthy brown tones. Hope you like.

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Flimby Factory Visit

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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