Made in USA: This is how New Balance sneakers are made!
Anyone who thinks that all leading sneaker brands produce exclusively in the Far East is mistaken. Today, the American label New Balance is the only major sports brand that has many of its sneakers manufactured in its home country: More than 4 million pairs, or about a quarter of its total production, are made each year in the five shoe factories the Boston-based brand operates in the United States. And a sixth is already being planned - because New Balance continues to grow. But how are the sneakers made there, and how much manual labor goes into production?
Lawrence, Massachusetts, is home to one of the last shoe factories in the U.S. - the New Balance Flagship Factory. In a historic brick building on the banks of the Merrimack River, 219 workers produce over 1500 pairs of "Made in USA" sneakers a day. The popular New Balance 990 in particular is produced here, but also other sports shoes and personalized sneakers from the NB1 program. Efficient work is the be-all and end-all here: each employee needs just 22.5 seconds on average for a single work step before the sneaker moves on to the next station. This is the only way the American sneaker factory can keep up with low-cost production in the Far East. Both traditional manufacturing techniques and state-of-the-art technologies are used. But how does a piece of leather become a finished New Balance sneaker?
Depending on the model, around 55 individual steps are necessary. Whether textile, leather or synthetic - every New Balance sneaker begins its career as a raw material. For the production of a classic leather sneaker like the New Balance 990, pre-dyed leather is usually used. First, a worker inspects the material for visual irregularities, which are recorded in the computer. With the help of ten cameras and three lasers, the optimal cutting pattern for the particular piece of leather is created, resulting in as little waste as possible. An NC-controlled cutting machine then cuts the individual components of the outer material from the leather. For cutting the non-leather components, a traditional hydraulic cutting machine is used, which is operated by hand. Over 30 individual parts must now become a finished New Balance sneaker.
First, the upper shoe is assembled layer by layer. To guarantee an absolutely flawless and uniform look, the applications and New Balance logos are mostly sewn on by machine. For example, the famous "N" on the side requires between 70 and 102 needle stitches, depending on the size. Once all the appliqués have been applied, the upper shoe can be sewn to the tongue and the inner foam. This step requires a great deal of sensitivity and is done by hand by experienced seamstresses and sewers. With the help of the matching lasts, the finished upper shoe is given its three-dimensional shape before it can be joined to the sole. Depending on the model and intended use, New Balance uses different types of adhesive. The new 990 uses a heat-activated cement adhesive that is sprayed onto the sole. Once the adhesive is activated, the upper shoe and sole are pressed together in a press and firmly bonded. The result is a brand-new New Balance sneaker! Well, not quite yet: Before the shoe can leave the factory, it is given laces and labels, cleaned and undergoes a final quality check. Only then can the sneaker go on its journey in its shoe box.
The New Balance label can be justifiably proud of its "Made in USA" sneakers. But even an ordinary sports shoe produced in the Far East involves more (manual) work than one might initially suspect. So it's time we looked at our sneakers with different eyes - not as disposable products, but as loyal companions that give us pleasure for more than one season. With their high-quality materials and timeless designs, New Balance sneakers provide us with the best prerequisites for this!
Photos by Piotr Nowak