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Collector Spotlight: Thomas Lindie and the @newbalance_gallery

Collector Spotlight: Thomas Lindie
Via Thomas Lindie

With heritage dating back to 1906, aren’t exactly short of a legacy – but a longstanding history is a hell of a task to document. Enter: Thomas Lindie, alumni and one of the NB heads responsible for running @newbalance_gallery. A collector himself since around 2009, Lindie is more than an archivist, and he was also instrumental in the fight against the dreaded NB toe puff. We caught up with him ahead of this year’s to chat about his collection, the @newbalance_gallery account and some of his craziest NB stories.

So, give us the rundown. What’s your name, where are you from and what’s on foot right now?

My name is Thomas Lindie and I’m from Aberdeen, Scotland. I’m currently wearing the , which is a shoe I’ve been wearing a lot since they released at the end of last year – I’m not actually sure if they’ve been back in their box since I got them.

Which NB model got you hooked and why?

I’d say it was probably the that got me hooked. It was around 2009, I was 16 and I’d just started my first part-time job working at a sports store. One of the guys I worked with would come into work wearing a different pair of trainers before his shift. They were always colourful and not the style you were used to seeing in Aberdeen so I started asking him about them. He then introduced me to the HANON and also the Crooked Tongues Forum.

There was always one pair that he wore repeatedly – the Sneakersnstuff x New Balance M577SNS from the RGB pack. They were bright red and always caught my eye.

From then on, the 577 became a model that I would always gravitate towards, and once I started to learn more about New Balance and their MADE in England collaborations, that’s when it really took off for me.

The 577 is such an iconic silhouette and is usually overshadowed by the 1500, but in my opinion, some of the best-ever collaborations have been on the 577. All you need to do is look at that golden era of – the five years between 2004 and 2009 – where the likes of , HANON, , and were the pioneer collaborators in that space.

Is there a particular pair of NBs that holds the most sentimental value for you, and what’s the story behind them?

This one is easy. Seven years ago, I was part of a group of people who were lucky enough to visit the Flimby Factory in the Lake District in celebration of its 35th anniversary.

Rob Stewart ( @glasgowrob) and I curated the event to a point, mainly having a hand in suggesting who we could try and get along to the factory. Ahead of the event, we had to select the model, design the colourway, as well as a rough material selection, so that when we got to the factory, there was a mix of various materials and colours in our trays, and we just had to select which ones we wanted. This was so that it was a much smoother process for the New Balance team and so that the Flimby factory workers could fit our shoes in on the line.

Following the final decision-making on how our shoes would look, we left them in the capable hands of the Flimby team and were then treated to a factory tour. We went back the next day to see Richie Roxas’s ( @newbalance365) shoes being made, before getting to spend some time in the archive room, and then rounding off our trip with a special dinner setup on the factory floor, and of course, receiving our one-of-ones.

We were lucky enough to share that moment with a really great group of people, and getting a one-of-one was just a dream come true. It was an unforgettable trip.

Have you got a funny, crazy or terrifying sneaker story you could share?

I feel like I should have a lot more of these, especially with the length of time I’ve been involved with sneakers – whether that be buying, queuing, camping, or working in the industry, but there’s only really one funny story that sticks in my mind.

It was back in 2012 when the New Balance 30th Anniversary was releasing, and I headed down to HANON on a very cold December morning to queue for a pair. Now, at the time, this was a pretty niche release in Scotland, and coupled with the high RRP, I wasn’t expecting many people to be there. As expected, there were only a couple of other people, one of them being Rob Stewart, so we ended up basically huddling in a doorway until the store opened at 9am or whenever it was.

I think this was only the second time I’d met Rob in person, the first being for the HANON 1500 ‘Chosen Few’ earlier that year, but what was funny about this release was that the 990v1 had dropped in the US already, and Rob being Rob, he’d already got someone to hook him up with a pair, send it to him, and he was carrying it in his backpack while waiting to grab another. We’re the same size, and he never disclosed this until closer to the store’s opening time when he pulled the pair out of his bag and started showing it off to the few of us who’d braved the dark cold morning for a pair.

Thinking about this question a bit more, maybe this story could be classed as ‘crazy’. It was 2017, the same year we went to Flimby for the 35th anniversary, but in March of that year we flew to Boston, where New Balance HQ is located, and visited a few of their factories, toured the retail outlets, did some sightseeing etc.

Anyway, we were in Boston on a factory tour and Jim Davis (owner and chairman of NB) showed up out of nowhere and walked around with us, chatted with us, posed for photos and couldn't have been friendlier. That was a pretty crazy moment.

Another reason I have special memories of this trip is Gary Warnett. He was someone I really looked up to, someone who inspired me to spend time learning about sneakers and the industry we're in, and ultimately write about sneakers and pursue a career in them.

Unfortunately, he died later that year. I am forever grateful for the time I was able to spend with him over the years, for the opportunity to listen to his stories and learn so much, whether on a six-hour flight to Boston or in a quiet café in London.

How do you store and/or catalogue your collection and do you have a plan for when the soles turn to dust?

I keep everything at home. Most of my MADE in UK New Balance are stored on shelves in my spare room which turned into my office over the last few years. The rest of my New Balance and other shoes are up in the attic, which allows me to have access to the shoes on the shelves rather than there being boxes stacked in front of them.

A good few years ago now, I tried to catalogue my collection on a spreadsheet but I gave up on that. It’s probably something I should go back to but the thought of how much of an effort it would be puts me off.

In a way, I essentially use Instagram as my catalogue as I used to post the pairs I had on there; however, I’ve definitely sold a lot of those and shifted my focus a bit when it comes to sneakers over the years.

I think when you buy the type of New Balance that I’ve been buying over the last 15 years, you pretty quickly have to accept that they will turn to dust at some point and there’s not that much you can do about it. Resoling isn’t very cost-effective so that definitely won’t be on the cards, but I’m not worried about it anyway. Years ago I changed the way I looked at the shoes I had and started viewing them as a collection, which means that I haven’t worn a lot of my MADE in UK shoes that are 10+ years old in a very long time anyway, and instead, wear more recent releases. I only really look at them if someone comes to visit and wants to have a look, or if I need to take some pictures of them for an article like this.

Is there an NB myth you can bust for us?

There was this myth back in the day that only European stores got MADE in UK colabs, and that only US stores got MADE in USA colabs. For the most part that was true, but I think it was more to do with logistics, territories, costs, and all that not-so-fun stuff. However, it was nice to speculate every time there was a new colab on the horizon that the store would bust the myth and come out with a MADE in USA colab or vice versa.

Obviously now, that myth is fully busted as New Balance’s shift towards brand colabs rather than store colabs has seen the likes of have almost no limitations.

Tell us about the notorious NB 'toe puff' circa 2007–2015 and what you did about it?

Ha! The toe puff. This is probably one thing I’ll never shake when it comes to my relationship with New Balance.

Anyway, this is a contentious subject that had been around for a while, probably post-2009ish, where basically, there had been a noticeable difference in the shape of the models coming out of the Flimby Factory in the years following.

Back in 2014, @newbalance_gallery had gained a substantial amount of followers and we’d been using our platform to draw attention to this change which we, along with many other NB fans, believed made the products look bad because of their bulky toebox. We hadn’t really managed to make much headway, so as a last resort to try get attention from the brand, we started a petition that garnered some traction and then someone at a well-known store put us in contact with someone at the brand, and subsequently, we were invited down to discuss this with the designers and developers at the Flimby Factory.

We were treated to a factory tour and a little jaunt in the vault before heading to a meeting room and getting to sit down with some of the designers, the developers, and others, all of whom played a vital part in the running of New Balance Europe. The discussion was mainly focused around the shape of MADE in UK models, and in particular, the . The day had been pretty surreal already, our first visit to Flimby, and now we were sat at the table with everyone who’d made every effort to accommodate us inside of their busy schedules, and then provide a comprehensive history of the NB toe puff. Remember, we were just two fans of the brand making some noise on the internet – they really didn’t have to do what they did.

Essentially, what we found out was that for a lot of the really, really early NB releases, there was no toe puff, and then for releases pre-2009, they did in fact feature a toe puff, however, it was quite different to what was being used post-2009. Back then, rather than using a piece of material, the toe puff was an adhesive that was melted and brushed on in a half-moon shape. This method was very inconsistent, which is why if you look at any number of shoes from this time, none of the toe shapes are the same, they all vary. Unfortunately, this old technique did not meet official global quality control, technical and environmental standards, and no brand anywhere in the world could use it if they wanted to.

So to counter the inability to use this technique, NB had to come up with a new toe puff, and this came in the form of a piece of material from a German company, and it did everything NB needed it to do. It met all global standards, and in fact, it was of a higher construction standard as far as a performance shoe requirement goes. At this time, the 1500 was still regarded as a performance shoe, more so than a lifestyle shoe. However, the general aesthetics of the shoe never appealed to everyone, and the various complaints were starting to be noticed.

You may remember that in 2012, the 1500CHF was released. This was a collaboration between New Balance and HANON and the shoe somehow managed to have a hugely better shape compared to anything released before it. We had always wondered why, and basically, there had been years of trying to redevelop the toe puff behind the scenes. As you can imagine, that was no easy feat, but the CHF featured a different toe puff from the one used after the old adhesive method was ditched, and in actual fact, it was the same toe puff that was used in all models at the time, except the , and any shoe that had a leather tip.

Obviously, using various toe puffs is a bit of a nightmare for the factory when manufacturing the shoes, and in an ideal world, they would use the same toe puff for every shoe, no matter the model, and no matter what material it is made out of. So this led to further research and development of the toe puff for the last couple of years, with many more companies and attempts at nailing down the ‘perfect puff’.

I remember at the time thinking that the amount of research and development that had been ongoing behind the scenes was very surprising to us, and even once research and development is done, there is still testing to be done on all the various materials, and making sure that there are no issues during the manufacturing processes. However, we came back from that trip and were able to let NB fans globally know that things had been moving along very quickly, the toe puff was being worked on, and that sometime in the near future, there were big things to come!

As you would expect from a brand like NB, they stayed true to that and in 2016 (two years later), they released reissues of iconic 1500 colourways, all of which featured a ‘revised’ shape and went down an absolute treat with NB fans globally.

A special shout-out has to go to Chris Hodgson who is sadly no longer with us, and I’m sure would have loved to see the reaction to the UK-made product coming out of Flimby at the time. His encyclopaedic-like knowledge is sorely missed.

I wrote an in-depth article about it here if you’d like to find out more.

Why did you co-found @newbalance_gallery and what's happening with it now?

So, if we’re pedantic, I’m not actually a co-founder of @newbalance_gallery, that was all Rob. He started the page back in January 2013 and at the time, I was studying mechanical engineering at university. I probably should have been focusing more of my energy on studying, but a couple of years into my course, I had realised that it just wasn’t really for me and not a path I wanted to go down.

Over the years since 2009, I’d been getting more and more into sneakers, and in particular NB, fully immersing myself in the culture in the UK. Following the end of forums such as Crooked Tongues and ISS, Instagram took over as the main platform where people shared images and stories about sneakers. I’d also been wanting to take better on-foot pictures so I started to learn photography and would head out with tote bags filled with sneakers to shoot at different locations.

I had met Rob a few times and noticed that he hadn’t really been posting much on the NB Gallery account, and with lots of spare time in between studying, I just dropped him a DM saying that I’d be keen to help out with posting on the page and he happily obliged. The rest, they say, is history.

We’ve been lucky enough to travel all over the world and get some incredible opportunities because of our love for NB and what we were doing with the @newbalance_gallery page, but naturally, as you get older, your priorities change. Rob had his own business, and HANON was taking up nearly all of my time, which meant that posting on the page just kind of fell by the wayside.

Also, I can’t speak for Rob, but from a personal point of view, NB feels like a very different brand now than say four-five years ago, particularly on the lifestyle side and it doesn’t resonate with me as much as it used to.

We feel really proud of what we created with @newbalance_gallery and the impact we had on the NB community globally. Even if we don’t post on the page anymore, it’s a really great resource, so we’re really keen for it to just exist as it is.

Show us three of your rarest pairs.

I’d say that my three rarest pairs are the following:

- Crooked Tongues x Solebox x New Balance 1500BB ‘Bread & Butter’ (2005)

- LFSTL x New Balance 577BGP ‘Kakkerlak’ (2008)

- Unreleased one-of-one Crooked Tongues x New Balance 991 (2006)

How are you celebrating Grey Days this year?

I’d say that I’ll be wearing a pair of grey New Balance, but I pretty much do that most days anyway, so maybe I’ll dig a pair out that I haven’t worn in a while. Probably the 990v1 after talking about that earlier. I think I’ll add that into the rotation for the next few weeks.

Check out more of our collector spotlight series .

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