Cemented in legacy:
New Balance and the 992 with Sam Pearce
New Balance have always been a brand deeply rooted in their own heritage. The birth of the footwear giants came in 1972 and ever since that day the formation of the future of New Balance has taken a step back, delved into their past and noted what will take them forward onto the next chapter.
New Balance today is renowned for high-quality products and a distinct taste to provide customers with unique shapes and materials that have transcended through the scope of performance into contemporary fashion and sneaker culture. New Balance was and still is ahead of its time, recognising a market for running shoes that soon changed the consumer perspective. The early 1980’s saw a switch of movement, people were starting to wear running shoes as casual items. At the time, New Balance launched the infamous 99x line, pushing the boundaries of the $100 price tag set by the first hi-tech 990 silhouette. This iconic series of sneakers would go on to form generations of new tastes and provide a catalyst into moving New Balance into a whole new dimension.
After a long hiatus, the New Balance team have finally decided to reinstate the 992, giving it the recognition it deserves. Influenced by the introduction of the 991 and 993, the initial conversations for the retro release of the 992 were spawned by Sam Pearce, Creative Design Manager for footwear at New Balance.
SEVENSTORE caught up with Sam to delve into his desire to work for New Balance, his love of the 990 series and the importance of bringing back such a timeless classic that is the New Balance 992.
"The 990 line was actually way ahead of its time; New Balance had recognised people beginning to wear running shoes as a casual item in the late 1970s and were the first to design for that trend. This has remained key for the entire line and the 992 is probably most famous for this crossover visual, the grey suede and clunky sole were far away from the space age runners expected during the 2000’s. Then Steve Jobs stepped on stage in his black roll neck, Levis and NBs to deliver a product that would change popular culture and the way society functions forever. You can’t plan for those kind of moments, every so often the perfect storm comes along and creates an icon."
First of all, can you introduce yourself and what you do?
I’m Sam Pearce, I have been working at New Balance just short of a decade and currently hold the position of Creative Design Manager for footwear based in our European HQ.
People in the sneaker industry have a deep connection with sneakers throughout their early life, was there something that specifically made you want to become a footwear designer?
Like most kids growing up “sport was life” and it was basketball that came most naturally to me, I became obsessed with sneakers as they transcended the game like no other. The 90’s was kind of the “sneaker boom” era, new technologies, endorsement deals and advertising, who wouldn’t want a piece of that? I inherited an ability for drawing from my father and always had an inquisition for how things worked… I had no idea at the time but my career choice seems so obvious now, it’s the perfect marriage of all my early interests.
What attracted you to such a big brand like New Balance?
The funny thing is I got into NB because it wasn’t really a big brand as such… It’s been privately owned by the same family since 1972 and its this unique quality that has been vital in retaining the brands integrity and clear direction over the years. To back domestic manufacturing when the whole industry switched to far east production is a testament to that and it this area that captured my attention. I share that classic British attitude of backing the underdog and this company embodies that.
As a young designer entering New Balance – how did you manage the pressure of working with such a prestigious brand early on in your career?
It was sink or swim situation for sure, I got my head down and kept on task, learning off some of the “lifers” (brand term for long serving employee) at the company. I was hired as a performance designer but very quickly this turned into anything from MIUK collaborations using luxury materials to technical performance running tooling design. It’s very unique to have exposure to both worlds in one role but I was very fortunate and am a better designer because of it.
It is well documented that you have an extensive New Balance collection, have you always been a collector and fan of the brand? Or has this been ignited by working at New Balance?
I grew up in an era without social media, if you turned up in something no one else had you were king. That’s maybe been lost in recent time because of social pressures and the need to fit in, if everyone in my group was wearing 3 stripes I would seek out something else… and so entered New Balance. When I started working here and was looking for inspiration there were really no reference points to use from an historical point of view. So, I found out all my old shoes / sneaker magazines and started to build a platform that I could personally reference, it’s kind of snowballed from there.
New Balance has always been huge, but most recently models like the 990, 991 and the 992 have become hugely popular, why do you think this is?
Everything goes in cycles, especially in the fashion industry. Only a few years ago no one was interested in this look at all… even when those models were released they were often seen as outdated in the market but the dad shoe / chunky trend hit simultaneously and we were obviously right there as the originator’s decades earlier. We were the choice of world influencers in art, film, technology long before endorsement deals were ever in place and it’s great to see this recognition being appreciated by today’s consumer.View Collection
It has been documented that you were part of the team to re-instate the 992 through New Balance’s American team, what was your initial drive to get this sneaker back out into the market and what sort of challenges did you face?
It was actually something we had planned a few years ago from a made in UK perspective, we were making the 991 and 993 at the time and it would have been a nice lineage to have. The fact this is the only 990 never to have a retro kind of cemented its legacy within the fan base and collectors are still scrambling for the original pairs even now. It was a very complicated and expensive shoe to build, 78 different sizes / widths as well as the introduction of “Abzorb SBS” cushioning technology. The USA team have done an excellent job of recreating the model like for like and after a 10-year hiatus I am very glad to see it back.
Why do you think the New Balance 992 has transcended from its early days go to runner to becoming such a prominent sneaker in contemporary fashion and sneaker culture?
The 990 line was actually way ahead of its time, NB had recognised people beginning to wear running shoes as a casual item in the late 1970s and were the first to design for that trend. This has remained key for the entire line and the 992 is probably most famous for this crossover visual, the grey suede and clunky sole were far away from the space age runners expected during the 2000’s. Then Steve Jobs stepped on stage in his black roll neck, Levis and NBs to deliver a product that would change popular culture and the way society functions forever. You can’t plan for those kind of moments, every so often the perfect storm comes along and creates an icon.
This is obviously the first re-release since 2006 and constantly been a hit in the U.S and worldwide. Never available in the U.K market place. Do you think the appetite for the release was ever evident and realised? & will the demand ever be truly fulfilled?
A model like the 992 has to be treated very carefully, there is a delicate balance between meeting consumer demand and oversaturating the market with stock. Of course, it’s in NB’s interests to recognise and deliver on this but like anything worthwhile in this world you always want to leave people wanting more.
Out of every New Balance silhouette, which is your favourite and why?
Now you’re testing me… There is something very special about the 1300, the original version has only ever been available in that one iconic colour and released in a small number every 5 years. I can’t think of any other model in the entire industry as pure as that, amazing really. New Balance personified.
As of late, New Balance have been re-introducing classic styles to the market. Would there be any sneaker from New Balance you would like to see re-introduced?
With a lot of NBs historic models being completely bypassed by sneaker culture there is a bottomless well of styles that could return in my opinion. NB Japan have a whole series of 90’s exclusives that deserve to be reissued. One of my favourites is the 651 and I have only ever seen one pair in the Tokyo office archive. It has this mad window in the heel where you can see the cushioning working and the upper is like a 998 meets 1300. I have been lobbying for its return for some years now, maybe one day it’ll make it back!
What are your thoughts on modern sneaker culture and collaborations that have been so dominant in recent years?
Looking at things from a design point of view collaborations are kind of the “added upgrade” right at the end of all the hard work. To think that 15 years ago collaborations didn’t really exist (actually NB were one of the first to the game) and now product almost can’t be deemed a success without one is very telling of how sneaker culture has evolved. Footwear is now not just equipment or an expression of yourself it’s a global competition, an art piece, a drug!
If you could have designed any shoe, New Balance or not, what would it have been and why?
Great question! I have hit a few goals in my career so far, my designs have shown up in movies and on Olympic podiums but I guess if I was really thinking about it I would probably select a significant cultural event where your design is etched into history. The lunar landings would have been a good one, first shoe on another planet, yeah, I would like to have that on the resume
Sneaker innovation is always moving forward with new textures, materials and creativity. Does the ever-growing question of sustainability have an effect on the way you design sneakers?
100%. As a designer you have the power to force change and this is a subject I feel very passionately about… With what we are going through in the world at the moment it’s bound to have a knock-on effect for consumerism, hopefully it’s a lightbulb moment where we all realise we can’t carry on as we are. To solve all these issues with one magic concept is unrealistic but if we can make adjustments to improve season by season it’s a start, that’s what we have to strive for.
What is the best piece of advice/lesson you have taken from your from experiences as a footwear designer?
Steven Smith (ex NB, Reebok, Nike and current Yeezy designer) once advised - “tip, saddle, foxing - fuck shit up.”
What does your current sneaker rotation look like?
In a word, old! I wear everything I own that’s not crumbling away, models like the 502 or 713 (which I doubt many people will know) as well as my original 992 from 2006. I currently have a thing for these wild “boa” sandals from a few years ago which are perfect for the WFH lifestyle.
Besides footwear and sport, what else gets your creativity flowing?
I obsess over process with everything, peeling back the layers till I have complete understanding. I have just started to get back into 35mm photography and I also enjoy playing chess, things that challenge me differently from my day to day work.
Do you have anybody or brand you’d love to collaborate with in the future?
Being part of the domestic design team, it would be great to partner with another company that builds product in the UK, maybe one that isn’t directly linked to the garment industry. I think the best collaborations are the ones that have an authentic story and really challenge the status quo.
How do you see the future of footwear?
I expect wearable technology to be the next big wave. There has been amazing advancement in “living materials” in recent years, bacteria-based fibres that can regulate temperature or in some cases actually repair themselves overnight. That’s pretty much science fiction becoming reality, sign me up.Sign Up For Updates