Shoe giant New Balance freely admits a love for the F word – fashion does indeed play a role when it comes to designing and creating the latest trail shoes, not to mention science, fabric technology, physiology, geometry as well as an understanding of local needs along with a fair bit of inspiration.
“We like to get designer to think outside the box,” says Tom Carleo, VP for Global Running at New Balance.
Listening to him, it’s easy to see that how his lifelong passion for the sport – he was a miler back in the late 1980s – has helped make the American brand, with a UK base in Warrington, such a key player in the running market. Trail shoes, for instance, aren’t just grippy, protective footwear for Tom, instead they reflect local culture, local needs and not least, local geography.
“Trail is our trickiest category to manage,” explains Tom, “because footwear needs to vary by region or in some cases, locally because of trends.” Understanding that has meant New Balance has had great success in Spain and the south when it comes to Europe and with some great looking footwear is now taking on the UK market head on, particularly when it comes to mixing off-road with some road, something most of us contend with on our daily run.
A feel for what’s needed has, in part, evolved from NB’s approach to design. The team are encouraged to head out of the office at least once a year to, as Tom puts it “go somewhere in the world”. And it’s with that loose brief, his design team came back with the hexagon – nature’s use of geometry – and the resulting strength such a shape provides. With hindsight, it sounds simple, but sometimes it takes just a little more to see that.
“Once we had that in our minds, we could then develop Fresh Foam and from there, shoes like the 1080.” Not exactly Newton, his falling apple, and a sudden understanding of gravity, but not exactly a million miles away either.
With the science sorted, Tom is happy to admit that being on-trend also has a role to play, particularly when it comes to apparel. Yes, his teams are focussed on fabrics and how to layer them, or they study moisture management and its properties, but they also realise that if it doesn’t look good, well then nobody will buy it. “We attend fashion shows and that kind of thing,” Tom says. Of course, New Balance also attend other events – this interview took place on the eve of the London Marathon – so they also know what runners love as well.