December 10, 2012

Another Shoe Drops

Scan nabbed from Chrome Ball.

One week ago we rounded up the recent chatter about corporate infiltration in skateboarding and today there is this: New Balance will make skateboard shoes, distributed by Black Box Distribution.

Highlights from the link above:

“I have always found the heritage and integrity of New Balance inspirational, therefore it’s truly an honor for Black Box to partner with New Balance on the New Balance Numeric project,” says Jamie Thomas, Black Box company founder and professional skateboarder.
For the creative direction and design of New Balance Numeric, Black Box has partnered with Los Angeles based Westlife Distribution, to ensure the collection will bring a distinct new perspective to the skateboarding market.

“The vision for New Balance Numeric is to bring something unique to skateboarding. We combine the East Coast heritage and supreme workmanship of New Balance with the West Coast lifestyle and culture of Skateboarding,” says Michael Akira West, President & CEO at Westlife Distribution.

Aside from the creepy PR speak, does any of this matter (when a lot of folks around here, yesterday, were praising Alec Majerus and Davis Torgerson, who placed one and two, respectively, at Tampa Am, presented by Nike)?

By all accounts, the skateboard industry has been suffering, Black Box being no exception. Call this a hail mary or a shrewd business move, plenty of companies have been shuttered or re-aligned in the past year, so sometimes any action is good action. Does New Balance deserve credit for entering the skate game through a well respected distribution house? I don't know. Yes, there is the odd involvement of the snowboard clothing distributor but that's probably just to get into more storefronts.

All this is still business, after all.

There's another angle I was vaguely aware of, but didn't have in mind yesterday: New Balance shoes are made in the USA. Neal Boyd, aka @grimcity, posted an email he'd written to New Balance regarding any possible future foray into the skate shoe biz on the Slap Message Board from last month. His prescience is amazing. (Edit: In my exuberance to update this post, I missed that the message board posting is four years old. The crux of what's below is still the same, but consider me blushing. I left my incremental edits of me getting the timeline correct.)

Once again, the main bits. Says Boyd:

A large number of us in the skate community have been feeling a bit disenfranchised by both the large and small skateboard shoe companies out there, in large part because of the fact that every single brand of shoes designed for skateboarding is made outside of the USA... even down to socially conscious and eco-friendly companies such as Simple.
He goes on to detail how some companies have failed and succeeded at getting into skateboard shoes, before concluding:
I've often said that if I could find an American made skate shoe that also happened to be a quality product, I'd pick it up in a heartbeat. I write this as both a skateboarder and informed consumer.
Here's the bulk of New Balance's response from the time:
Thank you for sharing your ideas with us. I don't believe we are considering moving into the skateboarding realm at this time, but I have forwarded your comments to our product managers and developers for their review. We are always looking for ways to improve our product line and meet the needs of the consumer. We do still manufacture shoes in the US, and we are always trying to increase the number of styles we produce here. If we feel that skateboarding shoes are a good fit and an opportunity we feel we should pursue, then we will certainly do so. We appreciate you taking the time to share your passion for skateboarding with us.
The email exchange isn't dated, but it's easy to assume it was fairly recent but according to Boyd it took place four years ago (his prescience has been upgraded to INSANE). Concerns about where skate shoes are manufactured rarely goes beyond the sweatshop discussion and the outsourcing of the manufacture of both decks and shoes is blithely accepted by most as an economic imperative (now's a good time to point out that Send Help is keeping it close to home).

Perhaps Boyd's most important point is, "I write this as both a skateboarder and informed consumer." If the original take-away of this post was to remember there's a very real business side of skateboarding, than the take-away of this update is to remember the consumer side, in which, one way or another, we all participate.


Anonymous said...

There's a storm brewing. With it comes the fall of many corporate outsiders that will face the wrath and apathy of community that's been pushed too far. Self-preservation is a powerful thing.

some washed up old dude said...

You're right, there's not a difference between Nike and New Balance being in skateboarding. Personally that makes me rethink Nike being in skateboarding.

Anonymous said...

I can't wait to see the new balance version of the half cab. All the old timers in the nursing homes are gonna be some cool hipsters too. Im just happy they have a percentage of shoes made in the states. New balance makes quality shoes so I bet they g