(Really Seriously) Made In The USA: New Balance ‘1978’

How’s that old saying go? If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. Which is why I’ve spent a couple of days kind of spinning my wheels regarding the Nike endorsement of Caperman or whatever his name is. I haven’t owned a set of Nike shoes since maybe the early Nineties. In 1998 I got my first set of USA-made New Balances and I haven’t really looked back since then. So instead of talking about Nike, their overseas production, or their political activism, I’d like to talk about something that just recently became a possibility: the 100% American-made athletic shoe.

New Balance is well known for their Assembled in USA products which contain less than 70% USA-made materials, and for their Made In USA line which contains at least 70% domestic materials. Until recently, however, they had no shoe that was sourced entirely from the United States. That’s changed thanks to a massive infrastructure investment by New Balance. Unfortunately, the reason for that investment has proven to be a false hope.

I’d recommend reading this whole piece at Highsnobiety, but here are the highlights:

New Balance is looking to further their progress in the lifestyle sector with the release of their 1978 silhouette – a product that is 2.5 years in the making and a passion project for Global Design Director for NB Lifestyle, Brad Lacey – which pushes New Balance’s Made in America doctrine to new heights with 100 percent of the shoe made in roughly 190 miles between Norridgewock – where the upper is created – and in Boston where the Vibram soles are constructed…
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The quest for a 100 percent “Made in America” shoe began back in 2012 with the purchase of a IMEVA machine – an other-wordly device that looks like a large dental device that spits out fully formed molds.
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The goal for the IMEVA machine at the time was to begin crafting a new silhouette – the 950 – which would be issued to enlisted soldiers as part of the Berry Act which stipulates that everything a soldier gets for deployment for basic training needs to be 100 percent “Made in America.”
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there was a loophole for many years that allowed soldiers to purchase any brand of athletic footwear via a voucher program. Thus, shoes from brands like Nike and adidas – produced abroad – were often choices that soldiers would make.
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As with anything related to political maneuvering, the wheels of progress spin ever so slow. In turn, the IMEVA machine fell silent as New Balance challenged the Berry Act loophole.
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The New Balance 1978 is what ultimately got the IMEVA machine cranked back up – perfecting a modernized three-piece upper in suede and leather with perforated details on the toe box and N logo; a reflective underlay on the N logo; and a deconstructed leather collar.

I didn’t know any of that when I bought my new set of 1978s; I just knew that they were an extremely minimalist running shoe and I thought they would be good for use on a racetrack. Which they are. They’re also good for walking and they breathe exceptionally well, which makes long airplane trips less unpleasant. They won’t be for everybody, but I’m very happy with mine. I’m also pleased to be keeping that IMEVA machine running until the day that the US military gets their act together and puts the kibosh on sweatshop sneakers.

22 Replies to “(Really Seriously) Made In The USA: New Balance ‘1978’”

  1. gtem

    I was running-show shopping last year and made an effort to find some American made new balances, and was initially very pleasantly surprised to find a moderately priced lower-end model at the local Dick’s that was touted as made in the USA. Unfortunately I realized that apparently for the lower end stuff, it seems that only the “oddballs” like wider models are US made, the size I needed was Vietnamese.

    On a related note, my trip to Russia last month left me very pleasantly surprised at the amount of domestically produced everything you can find there: rubber imbedded cloth work gloves, a well made rain coat, a 100% cotton blanket, toaster oven, wood stoves and water heaters. All Russian made out of good materials and with good craftsmanship, all competitively priced. Not sure if this was the result of the sanctions that halved the value of the ruble in 2014 or if I’m just paying more attention than on previous trips. My mom bought some nice leather shoes made in Belorussia, likewise well made and priced right in the middle of the lower end stuff from overseas.

    Reply
  2. -Nate

    Sounds good to me .

    I’m still looking for a decent pair of wingtip safety shows, they’re N.L.A. anywhere that I can find .

    -Nate

    Reply
  3. rambo furum

    I’m all for the military sourcing domestically. Sadly, these shoes look government issue, but NB seems to deliberately style for ungainly “comfortable” looking shoes. I don’t understand their fixation on suede, and would it kill them to shoot some color into the rubber?

    Reply
  4. Jonathan H.

    Scored a new-without-box pair on Ebay for fifty bucks. If they work out I’ll go full-fair on my first choice of color combination.

    Reply
  5. Robert Harris

    Jack, you say “I thought they would be good for use on a racetrack” – did you try driving in them? I’m in search of a good driving shoe that I can still walk around in.

    Thanks.

    Reply
    • Jack BaruthJack Baruth Post author

      Yes, I drove 52 racetrack laps and spent a day walking desert trails with them. They were very good on both counts.

      Reply
  6. Rick T.

    I made a promise to myself as I broached senior citizenship is never to be seen in gym – do they still call them that? – shoes outside of the gym. I’ve held to that promise so far and these don’t tempt me to break it, although I am glad for the jobs and made in America efforts.

    Reply
  7. Compaq Deskpro

    Not made in USA, volume is too low to justify that, but I love my NB Minimus Trail 10V4 in black and yellow, most comfortable and durable shoes I have ever owned.

    Reply
    • nobody

      The Minimus line is very comfortable. When buying some Minimus 20v3s a few years ago I noted that the 10.5EEs I got were “assembled in USA,” while the standard width pairs were made in Asia. This seems consistent with gtem’s observation that for some models only “oddball” sizes pass through an American factory. I have no idea if this is still the case with new Minimus models.

      Reply
  8. Patrick King

    I grew up a short bike ride from NB’s original factory on North Beacon Street in my home town of Brighton, Massachusetts. Pretty sure all of their shoes were made right there in the seventies when I began wearing them.

    Reply
  9. p10ngl23

    Irony alert: There is a Nike ad showing on this page (for me at least), probably because you wrote the word a couple of times. I’ll send you my screenshot since I can’t post it here.

    Reply
  10. Daniel.J

    I had a few pairs of 990s for jogging but I realized the shoes were too stiff for my supination. I’m a fan of their 880s and 1080s but both are made overseas. I’m really interested in the new Fresh foam beacon.

    Reply
    • -Nate

      Thank you .

      I had a pair of these before, they’re no where as glossy as the ones in the photo but I guess I’ll buy a pair and see how they are now .

      I always appreciate the help and knowledge shared here .

      -Nate

      Reply
  11. COLIN ALTHEN

    I like the idea of US sourced government contracts. But the reality on the ground and how they are worded can create some interesting problems. Costs and lead time being big ones. Also lack of competition for certain contracts. Not sure how you get around that, which is why exceptions are granted. I suppose in the end having the wording there is better then not.

    Reply
  12. Jon

    When I joined the Navy and went to boot camp in 2009 the issued shoes were New Balance, white and grey or something and IIRC they were assembled in the USA.
    I’ll have to see if those are still back at my mom & dad’s house somewhere – I think my dad might have started using them when I left them there because I thought they were very ugly and switched to various other running shoes over the years.

    I am really bothered by the number of “cowboy” boots made in China these days, even in Boot Barn. In 2014 I got a pair of Tony Lama brown roper boots with rubber sole that are made in the USA, recently I was looking for a pair of black boots with a leather sole and the USA-made models are few and far between.

    In Honolulu I saw a pair in a western wear shop but wasn’t inclined at the time to check if they were my size.

    There do seem to be plenty of well-made cowboy boots made in Mexico, though. Well-made working jeans from down there too.

    Reply

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