Politics

New Balance, Street Style's Favorite Sneaker, Is (Almost) in the Army Now

If you thought the buyers in the front row at Fashion Week were tough to win over, try the Department of Defense.

The maker of the street-style set's longtime favorite sneaker (we're talking about New Balance, of course), has been lobbying the armed forces to buy more American-made gear for its new recruits. After over five years of talking about outfitting freshly buzzed Marines and soldiers with domestically produced shoes, the military seems close to doing something about it.

A little backstory: Under a 1941 law called the Berry Amendment, the Department of Defense is required to buy certain kinds of equipment from companies that manufacture in the USA—provided they're capable of large-scale production. But until now, the government hasn't been convinced that any American-made shoe companies have the capacity to do the job.

"The Berry Amendment is 100% made in the USA," said Matt LeBretton, New Balance's vice president of public affairs. "If you're going to use wool from a sheep, that sheep has to eat grass on American soil."

While the footwear in New Balance's "Tactical" line is designed for use by servicemen, none of the shoes or boots are standard-issue. LeBretton says New Balance has been working for years to get the Department of Defense to amend this exemption, and according to The Wall Street Journal, companies like Wolverine, Danner Boots, and Capps Shoe have joined in the effort, too. Earlier this year, the DoD (which didn't respond to multiple requests for comment) asked shoe manufacturers to prove they can reliably make the shoes here at home.

New Balance has spent a reported $1 million to produce a model, the NB 950, that's made entirely in the USA. LeBretton said that if the government starts buying the shoe, it would need to hire around 200 people.

"There are also about 30 companies that supply some kind of support for this shoe. It's a positive job flow creation," LeBretton said. "There's a real opportunity for our country to invest in this sector."

But the American-made version of the 950 won't be spotted on civilian sidewalks or runway front rows any time soon. For now, New Balance isn't trying to sell it to anyone but the government.

—Details associate online style editor Justin Fenner.

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Image courtesy of Rob Hart for The Wall Street Journal
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