I came across New Balance shoes in a Kohl’s department store that were marked down to $35. Typically I would think shoes sold at a department store would not be U.S. made, but I was surprised to find a made in USA label on the inside of the shoe–“Made in USA of imported materials. The shoes were New Balance 690 men’s running shoes, and when I looked at the bins of available shoes I noticed the USA flags on about a fifth of the boxes of the same model of shoe. Sure enough, if you opened a box without the flag, the label read made in China. I also found a pair of trail running shoes with the same Made in USA tag. This pair was on sale for $54. The running shoes are extremely comfortable, and I’ve been wearing them for a few weeks and have had no problems—I don’t expect to. I have a pair of New Balance that are over ten years old and still in good shape. I do not do any running, so i cannot attest to that aspect, but I’ve worn them to the gym and biking.
Some past research on the manufacturing of specific shoe lines for New Balance finds the same puzzling question, “Is it made in USA or not.” Even shoes that are denoted as assembled in USA on their website, I’ve found imported samples of the same model, and both models I found at Kohl’s are not listed in either the made in USA or assembled in USA sections of the New Balance website. Their site also states that their domestic facilities make one quarter of all North American products, which correlates similarly to the amount of USA labeled shoes on the shelf. Does New Balance assemble all of its line in partial quantities to attain this level?
As far as its “Made IN USA” product, the company does state on its website, “When possible, we obtain materials from domestic suppliers. At times, due to availability, economic or quality reasons, there is a need to import components from foreign sources. Where the domestic value is at least 70%, we have labeled the shoe “Made in the USA.” Where it falls below 70%, we have qualified the label referencing domestic and imported materials. This determination is based in part on the Federal trade Commission’s survey of consumers.”
Another weird thing was that the “Made in USA of imported materials” section of the tongue label is actually a removable decal. I don’t think these would be knock-offs, especially when they are mixed in with product that is clearly marked as imported, but it must be that the whole tongue assembly is made overseas since the actual label is silk screened onto the tongue. My deduction is that the assembly is minimal on these particular lines of shoe, and perhaps the whole “Assembled in USA” line of shoe. So if you want a truly made in USA make of shoe, go with just that in the New Balance.
See Made IN USA New Balnance-official site.
New Balance offers basically three lines of USA grade shoes. “Made IN USA,” manufactured in the USA with a minimum of 70% domestic value, “Assembled in USA,” made in U.S. factories by U.S. workers using domestic and imported materials, and “USA Military.” New Balance is an official footwear and apparel provider of the United States Military.
Typically their athletic shoes denoted as any of these three USA made lines starts in the upper range of $90. Their website has the New Balance 574, a retro running shoe, as its cheapest offering at $99.99 in the Made In USA section. The 577 walking shoe is the lowest denominator in Assembled in USA at $57, and there is a trail running shoe at $78–New Balance 626, but the rest of the line starts at $99.
So if you are trying to find American made New Balance shoes, you may be able to find them from time to time in a department store, but they won’t be of domestic materials. They will be assembled in USA, same as the ones I bought. You will have to look at the label and the box. If you are looking for the shoes made in USA of domestic content, you can buy online from either New Balance or another reputable distributor with a clear return policy or with a product description that clearly states the manufacturing origin. If shopping in person, sporting good stores and runner’s stores are your best bet and you can check the label yourself.
Bottom line is: “Beggers can‘t be choosy.” If you can’t afford the “Made iN USA,” go with assembled, at least you are making a semi-statement, and keeping some assembly workers on the East coast employed.
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About New Balance
New Balance Athletic Shoe, Inc. (NBAS), is a footwear manufacturer based in Boston, Massachusetts.. It was founded in 1906 as the New Balance Arch Support Company.
New Balance is notable in that it has continued to maintain a manufacturing presence in the United States as well as in the United Kingdom for the European market—in contrast to its competitors in the same market space, such as Nike and Adidas, who design products in the US and Europe but outsource the majority of their footwear and apparel to manufacturers in China, Vietnam, and other developing nations. The result of this corporate decision is that the shoes tend to be more expensive than those of New Balance’s competitors. To offset this pricing discrepancy, New Balance differentiates their products with technical innovations, such as a blend of gel inserts, heel counters, and a greater selection of sizes, particularly for very narrow and/or very wide widths.
New Balance owns five factories in the United States: two in Massachusetts (Boston and Lawrence), and three in Maine (Norridgewock, Skowhegan, and Norway) employing over 1,200 U.S. manufacturing workers. They are the only athletic shoe manufacturer still making shoes in the US. These factories produce one quarter of the approximately 7 million New Balance shoes marketed yearly in North America.