Why hypebeasts are lining up for former New Balances

Good luck finding a pair of New Balances in a 7 1/2. It’s the size of Rob Stewart – and the Glasgowian is almost sure to be the tallest New balance collection of sneakers worldwide, with a harvest of “anywhere between” 900 and 1,200 pairs. “I’m not big on journaling,” Stewart says of the “Aladdin’s cave” in which he keeps every pair of shoes.

Founded in Boston in 1906, New Balance’s “dad shoes” have usually been the shoes of an older, less fashion-conscious customer. “The New Balance shopper wasn’t the coolest person,” says Simon “Woody” Wood, founder of sneaker freaker magazine, of the gradual evolution of the brand. “He was the slightly introverted guy who didn’t brag about how many shoes he had – a different mentality from Nike [collectors]. The classic New Balance nerd – and I use that term positively – is obsessed with detail and quality.

New Balance x Aimé Leon Dore 550 “Evergreen”, from around £350, goat.com © eBay

In addition, its models are often slightly more expensive than those of other brands and, exceptionally, New Balance has continued to manufacture partially in the United States and the United Kingdom. Stewart, who visited its Cumbria factory, says he and many other collectors are drawn to the brand’s commitment to domestic production.

Stewart, 42, bought her first New Balances in 2004. Her all-time favorite silhouette is the 991, a “busy” design with a thick base that was first released in 1982 and was favored by Steve Jobs. He will find pairs on eBay, Depop, Yahoo! Japan, Etsy, Instagram and Facebook Marketplace, rarely spending more than £50. Yet over the past two years, he and other longtime collectors – including a large fan base in Japan – have faced increased competition as the big “N” has grown in popularity in the fashion.

New Balance x STAUD unisex 57/40, £120, newbalance.co.uk
New Balance x STAUD unisex 57/40, £120, newbalance.co.uk

The streak was arguably sparked at the end of 2020 when the New York menswear brand Aimé Leon Dore revisits the 550, releasing £120 versions accented in red or forest green that sold out within minutes. (ALD founder Teddy Santis is now creative director of New Balance’s Made in the USA line.) Salehe Bembury and fresh produce joe monitoring. Now, Timothée Chalamet, Harry Styles, Rihanna and Kanye West are all fans. The fact that some of its most popular models were released in limited numbers also fueled consumer frenzy.

New Balance is now appearing on the resale market, where sneakerheads are bidding on models that are sold out at the retail level. Prior to 2021, it was not available on platforms such as the UK kick game; it is now its second seller after Nike. Top models include Styles 550, 992 and 2002R, and the 2002R Protection Pack Rain Cloud 992 and Joe Freshgoods “No Emotions Are Emotions” have increased in value by 100-200% over the past year, says Jesse Einhorn , senior economist at StockX, with special releases up to $5,000.

New Balance for men

New Balance Men’s “Made in USA” 990v3, £200

New Balance 992 WTAPS, sold for £1,274 on Stockx.com

New Balance 992 WTAPS, sold for £1,274 on Stockx.com

It’s part of a growing trend of collecting sneakers as safe investments “like Rolexes or wine,” says Kick Game founder Robert Franks. Sotheby’s recently sold a single piece 550created in partnership with Netflix and featuring meteorite shards, for £10,000 in less than a minute.

Sums of over £2,000 are not uncommon for special editions from 10 years ago, such as the New Balance 999 Concepts “The Kennedy”. Meanwhile, ’80s models are the most popular vintage, with sales increasing “by double digits in the first to second half of 2021,” says Garry Thaniel, eBay’s general manager of sneakers. Hong Kong collector Wai Cheung loves the electric color combinations – lime green and purple, hot pink and yellow – of styles 2000-10; Stewart prefers mid-2000s runners that are amalgams of mesh, gel inserts and waterproof panels.

Jaden Smith in New Balance in New York
Jaden Smith wearing New Balances in New York | © Odette Martin / Shutterstock

The hype can be a headache. “I didn’t have to camp [to buy] front shoes – it’s almost a must now if I want something limited,” says Philadelphia-based Richie Roxas. He’s been accumulating New Balances since the mid-1990s and owns 600 pairs. He says the two hours he spends browsing thrift stores and scrolling through apps in search of snappy kicks are as intrinsic to his daily routine as “brushing his teeth.” His best find? A pair signed by the Clintons for a fundraiser in the 1990s and bagged on eBay for $250.

The 1990s New Balances of Richie Roxas signed by the Clintons

The 1990s New Balances of Richie Roxas signed by the Clintons © Richie Roxas

New Balance x Netflix

New Balance x Netflix “Dibiasky” 550 (containing a meteorite) sold for £10,000 by Sotheby’s © Sotheby’s/Matthew Seed Photography

Roxas regards his collection, which fills his room, as “a small museum.” He carries about a quarter of his stock; most of the others are “too old or rare” and stored in their original boxes. Stewart is more pragmatic: he buys each pair with the intention of lacing them. One of his most precious models, a 992 collaboration with the Japanese brand WTAPS, currently costs £970 on StockX. Would he be tempted to resell them and make a nice profit? “Not at all,” he said, barely able to hide his contempt. He still intends to wear them.