A Brief History of the New Balance 2002R
The New Balance 2002R revival almost never happened. Originally over budget and underappreciated by the masses, the high-end runner left as quickly as it arrived in the 2010s before coming back in 2020 with a fresh new look and accessible status. In 2021, the shoe finally broke into the market via some well-placed collaborations and GRs, and in 2022, it continues its hot streak with dozens of colours on the way. As the model has added plenty to its second chapter in the sneakersphere, it’s time to catch up on the brief life of the 2002R so far as it continues writing its history.
The 2002 arrived in 2010 as the successor to the technically impressive but decidedly ugly 2001. NB’s USA factories assembled an uncompromising package of nubuck, mesh and full-length N-ERGY soles borrowed from the 1906 runner. Ronnie Fieg remarked that the 2002/1906’s ‘midsole is stacked with a suspension system better than most of your cars.’
Of course, this high praise commanded a high price – not that New Balance were strangers to charging handsomely for their products. Almost 30 years after selling running shoes for $100, the 2002 came around and flexed a whopping $250 price tag.
The 2002’s high RRP was lost on the average consumer who didn’t necessarily appreciate the extra level of quality that warranted its premium price. As a result of its price point and subsequent lack of attention – not to say it didn’t have cult fans – the 2002 nearly ended up as an exorbitant footnote in NB’s back catalogue. Once it was discontinued, these ardent followers stopped at nothing to source deadstock pairs in the event their favourite shoe would never be remade.
The ‘Dad Shoe’ movement of the late 2010s kicked in and shone some light on NB’s historically chunky designs. The 860v2 from 2010 came back in 2019, and its modest popularity proved promising.
Fuelled by the potential of their archival styles to turn ironic sneaker style into a serious movement, the brand revived the 2002 – now with an R suffix – under NB’s lifestyle category at a palatable $130 retail. This was a result of its production moving to the Far East, but NB’s reputable QC in the region means it’s a helluva bang for a buck.
Thanks to NB Japan creative director Tetsuya Shono, the 2002R was reborn with the 860v2’s midsole, retaining N-ERGY where needed in the heel, and this hybrid theory sleeked out the silhouette. It was also an appropriate swap, considering the OG 2002 was also dependent on a donor sole.
While the model launched in 2020 with a number of high-profile collaborations, including Salehe Bembury, thisisneverthat and Invincible, among others, the key to its success in 2021 was its strong general releases. Some solid colours and drops have developed their own lore, such as the ‘Protection Pack’ (née ‘Refined Future’).
NB also respected the architect by quietly dropping the 2002’s original 2010 colourway in an early batch of releases. And that self-referencing has continued in 2022 with dozens of heritage homages and original editions. Now, with the 1906R beginning to enter the retro circuit, this could mean the 2002R is approaching its victory lap in what has truly been an unbeaten run of solid colourways. This is how to reissue a shoe.
Wonder how New Balance got so popular? Check out their Best of 2021 recap and it becomes clear.