Exploring New Zealand's Sneaker Community With New Balance And The 574S
New Zealand’s sneaker market is hyper localised. The nation’s small size has engendered a community of footwear aficionados as tight-knit as the performance fabrics they lace up in. To explore the scene and celebrate the launch of the brand new 574S silhouette, we linked with New Balance and spoke to key players within the local sneaker community. Collectors, influencers, forum leaders and owners of destination stores were all tapped for insights into how the community has evolved, and how they’ve helped to propel its exciting direction. Here’s what they had to say.
Kevin Downie – New Balance Collector
How did you get into the New Zealand sneaker scene?
I moved over from the UK 13 years ago. I’d been working in a similar industry in the UK, and when I came here I got to know a few of the brands, opened my own stores and then, with my own stores, I saw the shoes evolve.
As a 574 collector, how does the new Sport edition compares to the original?
The original 574 is a classic. It’s a model I believe should always be in New Balance’s range, but the 574 Sport definitely attracts a younger audience – it has a sleeker look and smaller tool box – and the response has been positive, too. There are lots of people who maybe haven’t worn New Balance in the past commenting, ‘Oh, they’re really nice. I would wear these shoes.’ And that’s what we want. We want to convert people because once you get New Balance on your feet, the comfort and quality of the materials are second to none.
You ran the 574 Evolution exhibition at the Loaded launch, do you do similar things for the sneaker community?
I’ve done a few events where I’ve shown some of my collection, and when you do that it shows people there’s actually a wider range of shoes out there. It’s great to show them that there are exciting old styles, and offer a comparison to the modern styles they’re wearing.
What keeps you collecting New Balance after all these years?
I still have very fond memories of the brand from when I was younger. And when you put the quality of New Balance shoes on your feet, you know it’s New Balance straight away. They’re ten times better than other brands, there are no corners cut. I opened the new pair yesterday – 1500s Made in the UK – and when I open them up and feel the materials and the leathers, they still excite me at the age of 46.
Dan Tupara – Sole Central and PAC heat
How does Sole Central contribute to New Zealand’s sneaker scene?
We encourage open discussion and open opinions. Respect is the biggest thing for us and our forums are well policed in that regard. It’s an environment where people can ask questions, talk about and volunteer their opinions without getting hated on.
You’re a member of Pac Heat, too. Do they play a similar role?
Well, Pac Heat started as a group of collectors and enthusiasts looking for an excuse to get together and talk kicks and music. We started doing events with maybe 30 people turning up, but it’s grown to the point where we now have hundreds. We offer the opportunity not just to see sought-after collectibles and sneakers but to actually pick up apparel and sneakers as well, which attracts a wider cross-section of people than the online sneaker community.
How has that cross-section received the new 574S update?
Basically, the 574S is creating stories for the next generation. It gives the young guys coming through something new, versus having to look into the older shapes and older stories. That said, we’ve also got older Team NB members who have the largest collections of historic New Balance in the country, and they’re excited to see what’s going to come from the new shape too.
How have you seen New Zealand’s sneaker community change over the years?
We’ve seen a lot more variation in people’s ages and backgrounds participating in the New Zealand sneaker scene. The conversations have changed and the number of those taking part in it and coming to our events has grown. We’d often talk about it, saying, ‘I wonder when this is going to fall off?’ But we’ve been asking that for years and it hasn’t. It just keeps growing.
Cale Baker – Loaded
How would you describe Loaded’s role in the New Zealand sneaker scene?
We’re a big part of the sneaker community here. We’re looked at as the premium sneaker store, the hub of the industry in terms of sneakers. We look at things differently. We always ask for suggestions from the sneaker community. How would you like the next release to run? How can we do better? The company is hands-on and gets amongst it.
You guys held the 574 Sport launch. How did that go down?
It was massive. Buzz was high throughout the week; we had a great response through Instagram with people wanting to get on the door list to try come and purchase a pair.
And on the night, the whole building was lit up with a New Balance projection – it was awesome. The last event we had was the ‘Tassie Tigers’ and you could see that New Balance’s presence had grown even since then.
How about when the shoe launched in-store, what did customers think?
Well the shoe sold out, so I think the hype was well received. It’s a nice-looking shoe and it retains the older 574 style. Something that catches your eye is the colour-blocking, and that was an aspect we got comments on, but when people actually put them on the Fresh Foam blew them away. They liked the box, too. It made the release feel more exclusive.
How do you participate in New Zealand’s sneaker scene?
I’ve been collecting for maybe six years. When I came into it I was the young guy, but now there’s a new wave of new guys getting involved. I guess I’ve just been quite vocal about my passion. I’ve always just posted New Balance, and that used to be quite rare.
Have you noticed any changes over the years?
There are the people who come in and out of the community depending on hype, and then there are those loyal to what they actually like and what they actually wear. I think that group is growing and I’ve seen more and more people getting into New Balance because they love what it stands for.
I think one of the biggest things that really surprised me this year is when the 247 Lux dropped and actually sold out online. I think that’s crazy. Especially in the current climate where everything is so saturated. For a GR to sell out is a massive testament to the state of our community.
How about you – what do you think New Balance stands for?
I love their commitment to producing in the US and the UK, the whole ‘endorsed by no one’ mantra that they have, the fact that they’re still owned by one person, that they just produce quality products. For me, I love 80s runners. That’s my era. And I think that nobody does it better than New Balance.
For me, the 1300 is the epitome of the brand. I think it sums up everything good about New Balance, especially the JP or the JP2.
We’ve heard you’re a big 1300 collector. Are you the biggest?
Definitely in New Zealand. I don’t know about globally. I’m on a mission to collect every 1300 in existence. There are a few older UK ones that I’m still trying to track down, and a few made in the USA ones, but I’ve got every colab. It’s definitely my favourite shoe. If I could just have one shoe in grey – one shoe – it would be a grey pair of 1300s.
How about the 574S? How does it compare to older models?
Obviously the 574 is an icon, and I think the Sport does a good job of representing it. I think New Balance has to keep pushing forward and introducing new technology to market and bringing a shoe that is comfortable, practical, looks good and comes at a great price point. I think New Balance has to do that in order for them to keep producing the stuff that people like me love.
Ruben Bryant – Founder of Good As Gold
How does Good as Gold contribute to New Zealand’s sneaker scene?
We try to present things differently. We’re not about flexing and being this mighty beast – it’s more about being the friendly local with good vibes, good chat, good stuff and less attitude. We’re nurturing a scene that isn’t so macho.
As a clothing boutique, why was it important for Good as Gold to stock sneakers?
I’ve always loved sneakers, and we’ve stocked sneakers since we opened in 2004. There are no rules in our buying. We’re not super trend-driven; we always have something preppy, something fashion, something pretty, something tough. We stock sneakers next to high heels and it doesn’t seem weird to us at all. You know, there are always different vibes. I think that comes out of Wellington and growing up here.
We’ve heard you’re very into fostering a sense of community. How do you go about that?
We’ve always run exhibitions and openings – just parties for the sake of having a party. People always ask, ‘What are you throwing an event for?’ I’m like, ‘Why not?’ There doesn’t have to be a reason to have a good time.
Good as Gold has been a vehicle to do cool shit, and we built a community around that. We always tried to be a place that was welcoming to people from all different walks of life. Not to be a snobby boutique, which is so common. We really try to be a friendly store. Every Friday since 2004 we’ve had beers. People can just come and have a beer, there’s no obligation.
How have you seen New Balance evolve since you’ve stocked the brand?
We helped launch New Balance lifestyle into New Zealand in 2012. It started out with the classic 574; we’d do New Balance events where every single person had NBs on. And it’s happening again with the 574S. The future stuff we’re seeing for next year is looking good too. It’s rad seeing them progress while still embracing their history.
The New Balance 574 Sport is available now from select NB accounts worldwide, as well as their online store.