From The Editor

$170 for New Balance classics – Is ‘Made in USA’ worth the premium?

Over the weekend, I visited the Need Supply flagship in Richmond, Virginia to check out their recent remodel. The verdict: Feels like an Everlane Shoe Park. Neither good nor bad, just an observation. One apt comment overheard from a gentleman perusing the fragrance and magazine section with his girlfriend: “They’ve got an interesting setup up going on…”

Making my way around the corner to the men’s shoe rack, I eyed a pair of New Balance 996 classics. Less bulky than your everyday 574s. Simple, subdued, with an aesthetic point of reference somewhere around the year 1986 or thereabouts. Ideal, in other words. I imagined the perfect getup for these: white polo shirt, khaki shorts, no socks. The perfect setting: a warm spring day, working the clutch in a late ‘80s model BMW 325, sunroof back, windows down, Drake’s new album on repeat. You get the picture.

Remembering the student-friendly prices for the 574s back in college, I turned the shoe over expecting something reasonable, maybe $90. Instead I was hit with sticker shock: $170. Turns out these are “Made in the US”…

What you’d normally expect to pay for a pair of New Balance classics: $65 – $90.

In the grand scheme of things, $170 is not a big deal. But based on what you’d typically expect to pay for New Balance shoes in this category, that’s a heavy, heavy premium. In some cases it’s nearly triple the price.

For the last year or so, Ledbury’s Paul Trible has stressed a particular (smart) theory about the made in America narrative. His prediction: the real future of made in the USA is not about bringing back major factories from the post-war period — we’re too far gone for that; rather it’s about leveraging smaller, individual workshops that brands can harness to produce special offerings separate from the standard line. True to his word, he’s putting that exact model into practice with his new MTM suiting program at the store’s showroom.

His thesis makes sense. But in his case, people are willing to pay a higher price for a Ledbury suit because it’s not a commodity — it’s a specialty item, created just for you. But a New Balance shoe doesn’t offer this level of personalization. In short, it’s a commodity. So my question in relation to New Balance and their made in America product push is this: if you’re essentially getting a standard product — a New Balance classic shoe — for a made in America premium, is that price hike really worth it?

As a New Balance fan, it’s a harsh conclusion, I do realize. But on the basis of Trible’s argument, it does make you think: if this is still a standard shoe model (made in America, yes — but not made just for me), at what point do you stop caring about that initiative? Because really, it’s just a branding play here, not an actual upgrade in features.

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  • Dave

    Very interesting topic! I see it as price vs provenance vs distribution.

    Because this shoe was sold at a 50% plus margin at Need Supply, would it be better to pay a direct price of $90 for a made in USA pair at a New Balance owned shop or website?

    Or do we pay $90 at Need Supply for a pair made in China, etc so we can get the price but pay for the Need Supply experience, but not the provenance story?

    Possibly go further and we pay $45 for the pair made in China at a NB shop/website, instead of paying for the Need Supply experience?

    Does the brand + original provenance + distribution–which equals a higher price–make the purchase more considered and exclusive, and luxurious?

    When the original NB shoe was made in the USA, and then it ends up outsourced in China, does it lose a bit of it’s soul (pun intended). And possibly quality?

    • LeanLuxe

      I see where you’re going with this ;). But in cases like these, for a basic, commoditized New Balance shoe ill take the shoe without the provenance almost every time. Provenance is nice but I don’t think we need everything we buy to have that attached to it. I’d even venture to say that most people don’t care. For something higher end like a suit re: Ledbury, the expectations are different. For a basic on the street product like a pair of NB sneaks? Provenance is nice, but not needed — esp. if it’s way beyond the threshold we typically associate with NB pricing.

      • Dave

        I agree with that point–most (not all) people don’t care. But if half the purchase price–whether $170 or $90–goes to the Need Supply shoe park, I’m not sure it is the answer most people are looking for either.

  • All that talk about the new Need Supply store and no picture?

    • LeanLuxe

      Touché