Last week, Democrats took to social media to burn their New Balance trainers after the company appeared to praise Donald Trumps trade plans. But what did the company really mean and should you be burning your kicks?
Whats that you say? Another social media furore surrounding the election? Well, of course. This time, its New Balance trainer fans unhappy that comments from the company seemed to show support for president-elect Donald Trump.
New Balances head of public affairs, Matthew LeBretton, told the Wall Street Journal a day after the election: The Obama administration turned a deaf ear to us, and, frankly, with president-elect Trump, we feel things are going to move in the right direction. Dude, read the room. Or at least, read the room of the millennial, ethnically diverse, liberal-leaning sneaker fans who have seen the companys circa-2010 revival from running purists choice to Hackney stomping-ground staple.
The masses have been taking to Twitter to swear off the brand for life, torching their trainers, as if in a PE version of The Wicker Man. But will this upset throw New Balance off balance?
I ask the company to clarify its statement. LeBrettons comments, a spokesman tells the Guardian, were correct only in the context of the topic of trade, and nothing else. That is to say: no, New Balance does not support Trump. In fact, the company reassures me that it does not tolerate bigotry or hate in any form and is a values-driven organisation and culture that believes in humanity, integrity, community and mutual respect for people around the world. Which doesnt sound very Trumpian.
The topic of trade under discussion is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a potential free-trade deal that would lower tariffs on imports to the US from certain countries, and which New Balance has long opposed. This is because New Balance produces many of its shoes in the US. Competitors, such as Nike, are largely import companies. Accordingly, Nike is a vigorous supporter of TPP.
New Balance does make things in other countries, too (including Asian countries, which would fall under TPP), but is proud of its five factories based in New England, where it has been making shoes since 1906. (The company also has a presence in a tiny Cumbrian town where 20% of output is sold to the UK and Ireland.)
It was blown entirely out of proportion, John Kim, editorial director of the industry website Sneaker News, tells me in an email. The timing and wording of that quote definitely sucked, but to call New Balance a Trump supporter was a reach. New Balances stance on TPP has been clear from the get-go. They were not shy about their stance when President Obama visited the Nike headquarters last May.