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19 May 2007


New Balance Road Trip

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This is the story of six sneaker-heads put on a plane - and then another plane and then on a bus for three hours afterwards - to have their trip memory-sticked and photographed to find out what happens when one sneaker company is so generous as to invite them over to create their very own masterpiece.

If there are those among you who work in the production of any given goods, would you please raise your hand? OK, that’s what we thought - an irrelevant number. Except for the few, most of us have no clue about how things are actually manufactured. To us, they just miraculously ‘appear’ in the stores out of nowhere - and no, UPS does not make anything. They only deliver. But where from? We can only speculate, we can only imagine what these places look like and what is going on inside them...

Since the production of sneakers has almost been completely moved from Europe to the Far East, one would literally have to go a long way if one wanted to do on-site research for the subject. ‘Almost’ is the keyword in the preceding sentence - because there are a handful of production facilities still operating within Europe. New Balance is one of them, located in the idyllic town of Flimby, three hours north of Manchester at the coast of the Irish Sea. The setting for our ‘Road Trip - New Balance’.

The assignment came at short notice with only little information given: ‘Go to London, catch a flight to Manchester, meet the crew on the plane, get further instructions, and make your way to New Balance for the final showdown. Six people heeded the call and were accompanied by a NB rep, who kept order and the participants on their feet to carry out their mission. The first included a bus, several cases of beer and only a limited number of in-between stops. The task: to expand the drive to the night quarters at Armathwaite Hall to a maximum, to consume the highest amount of ale possible (driver excluded, of course), with a minimum of loo-stops (failed miserably at that one), and to entertain one another with the most exaggerated ‘sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll’ anecdotes. Two names stood out at this exercise - they took the title easily and there are not enough Xs to define how their stories would have to be rated.

The final test - a six course dinner - had some struggle with the high numbers and difficult arrangement of the silverware but all made it through and found themselves gathered around the fireplace to resume the day’s struggles in the end. While the night passed quick and uneventful, plenty of obstacles and the final round lay ahead of the group the next day. The English breakfast appeared to be the easiest hurdle to take. However, due to the lack of technical skills and flight experience, the crew was unable to shorten the trip by taking advantage of the helicopter parked outside the hotel. This delay would later turn out to have been a costly one - precious time needed for the grand finale...

The arrival of the contestants at the NB headquarters took no-one there by surprise. All arrangements had been made, the instructors were assembled, and all information was prepared to get the team on the way through the NB factory with its numerous production sectors. Memory skills were challenged here for the crew had to gather valuable information and hints regarding shoe production. ‘Name all outer panels of the NB 576 and 1500’, ‘State all areas suitable for embroidery’, ‘How many types of mesh are available?’ and ‘What material is suede?’ - were just some of the questions that had to be answered. With the end of the instructional period, the crew was given only a short break to gear up at the local shop.

Then they were confronted with their last, yet biggest task. They were to apply their freshly acquired knowledge to master the com-plexities of sneaker production, to defy the professionals at NB and succeed at assembling an instant classic. The crew set about picking their own materials, colorways, and choosing the most significant spots for their embroideries. All within a limit of 60 minutes (damned be that helicopter) and using only one’s own imagination to visualise the results.

If these terms don’t sound too demanding, the dozens and dozens of fabric rolls and boxes with hundreds of materials sure do. Six people, one hour, and a million combinations can only make matters worse. Only with the helping hands of the fine people at New Balance, could this onerous task be finally completed.

Six individual pairs of sneakers are currently in production. Thanks to NB in Germany and over in Flimby - you were great sports and your patience and energy is yet to be matched. Cheers!

Jörg Haas

19 May 2007


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