One of New Balance's most popular sneakers of 2020 wasn't something entirely new, but it wasn't just a simple relaunch of years past either. He2002R, the added R for the 2020 version, was based on the brand's 2002 sneaker. The original version was a 2010 $250 "Made in USA" lifestyle shoe. At last year's update the shoe's original upper was combined with the sole unit of the 860v2. The 2002R gained popularity last year, thanks in part to a collaboration with former Versace designer Salehe Bembury, as well as projects with Thisisneverthat and Invincible, but the shoe's origins are murky, even for the most die-hard shoe connoisseur.
The original 2002 was touted as a luxury sneaker, footwear designed for those who thought they were boss. It was in line with the brand's line of gray suede running shoes, but was an updated version of the typical dad shoe. Engineered to be the best athletic shoe on the market, the 2002 borrowed its sole from the brand's premier running shoe at the time, the 1906. The price tag made it an ambitious goal. At $250, it cost $100 more than the retro Air Jordans that came out that same year.
In 2010, the 2002 featured a full-length gel cushioning system in the sole, instead of just gel in the heel for the 2020 reissue.
“The 2000 series was so pricey that nothing within our brand could really compete with it at the time,” says Andrew Nyssen, who designed the original New Balance 2002 upper. "I wasn't making as much money then as I am now, so I was like, 'Man, who would spend that kind of money on this shoe?' I couldn't even imagine paying full price for this thing, but there's so much technology and stuff involved that you can see the value it has.
The sneaker caught the eye of some of the brand's biggest fans. Ronnie Fieg, who opened Kith a year later in 2011, received a pair from the brand andgushed about them in a 2010 blog post:"New Balance sent me these crazy Made In The USA 2002s and they are a perfect 10. The color is RF Gray so you know I put them on my feet today. The midsole is equipped with a better suspension system than most of their shoes cars.For $250 this is one of the most comfortable shoes I have ever rocked in.
The shoe stayed dark to a degree, which Nyssen says could be due to its price.
"If that retails for $250, I can't imagine how much will sell wholesale," he says. "And if you had a whole bunch of these in your back room, that's potentially thousands of dollars just for that one model."
Back when I was working at Foot Locker, I never saw the 2002 in the store. We sold the 992 in 2008, but I only remember seeing the 2002 in the brand's mail order catalogues.
Richie Rojas, who works as an assistant manager at the New Balance flagship store in Philadelphia and owns the largest vintage collectionNew Balance sneakersThe world over, he can't remember people wearing that shoe back in Philadelphia, even though the city was a stronghold for the company.
“You couldn't find it online or in a retail store until a year after it was launched. We didn't have any flagship stores back then," he says.
Washington, DC and the DMV area, which includes Maryland and portions of Northern Virginia, has long been recognized as New Balance's cultural capital. Although the brand was born in New England, it was the streets and bustle of this mid-Atlantic region that gave the brand credibility beyond joggers and lawn mower dads. While the 900 series sneakers were DMV favorites, the 2002 also got some shine a decade ago.
"The 990, 991 and 996 have always been our staples," he saysAdrian Carter, a DMV native who now does marketing for Undefeated. "Actually, it was shocking because of the technology and the higher price, which was intriguing to many. The guy with a little more money would do just fine. If he had it, it would cement his status.”
Carter says the 2002 didn't sell to the point where it was no longer commercially available.
The CEO's luxury and lifestyle inspired the 2002 design. Nyssen shared an image early in the shoe's design process, where he photoshopped it on the feet of then-New Balance CEO Rob DeMartini.
"I wanted to design a sneaker for our CEO at the time and I asked myself: 'What would that look like?'" says Nyssen.
The original mood board for the shoe also included Bentley and Hublot watches.
“We looked at Bentleys [when we were working on the shoe]. It's the combination of high-end luxury with high-end performance and being able to have both,” says Nyssen. “The same goes for watches that work but also have the ultimate in luxury and stature. We kept that in mind when designing and building the shoe.”
To create a $250 sneaker for New Balance, there had better be legitimate performance and quality behind the model, as that's what the brand has focused on since its inception in 1906. Fittingly, the sneaker from 1906 inherited many of these characteristics from the 2002.
"We went to the performance racing team and it was like, 'What's the pinnacle of a single unit you're working on right now?'" says Nyssen. "We're going to colorize it so that it doesn't scream performance but has the attributes we want. It seemed to work pretty well.”
Continuing the car's analogy with the 2002, which is a performance model designed for a lifestyle, Nyssen says: "You probably won't take it to the racetrack, but if you want to show off at the lights, you can. "
the world of the runnerwrote about the sneaker 1906, who gave a negative review of its sole, saying: “This shoe concept is based on a series of durable elastomeric pillars designed to cushion the foot by acting as independent shock absorbers. Unfortunately, the resulting cushioning is a little heavy and harsh, particularly in the forefoot, based on our lab testing and wearer tester feedback."
The 2002 was transformed into the 2002R in 2020 thanks to longtime New Balance Japan collaborator and product line manager Tetsuya Shono.
“I used to be a designer before becoming a product manager. So you know every detail of every great American shoe ever released. Especially the bigger releases, shoes like the 2002 and 2040, have had a great run in Japan, says Joe Grondin of Shono, current Director of Collaborations at New Balance.
As mentioned above, the shoe ditched its discontinued sole unit for the current fitment of the 860v2, a shoe New Balance brought back in 2019. The 2002R now has a much slimmer shape and a more functional sole unit. Retailing at $130, it also costs a lot less because the shoe is made in Asia rather than the US.
"This sole is probably even lighter, which I think also improves performance when you lose some weight," says Nyssen. "Visually it's easier on the eyes. It flows better, from heel to toe. It doesn't disrupt the flow of the shoe as much."
Bembury, who was previously head of men's footwear at Versace, had his own job at the 2002R last year. In a year dominated by the 992, it was refreshing to see his take on the new shoe. Replacing the gray suede with a bright orange, he had it debuted by John Mayer and caught the sneaker internet's attention in the process.
“I wanted to work on a classic New Balance model because I've had a few opportunities to work on newer silhouettes. And I wanted to work on something that would express my connection and nostalgia for the brand," Bembury said.in a 2020 interview with Complex's Riley Jones. “Then when I saw the lineup of what was coming out this year, I noticed that there were a lot of 992s, which is obviously like a classic shoe, probably a New Balance fan favorite. But for me it's important to stand out, as this is my first collaboration. So I knew I didn't want to do a 992 and if I went with the 2002R it would feel a bit lonelier.”
Another collaboration that caused a stir with the 2002R was the pair of Taiwanese Invincible, which took a much more subtle approach to the shoe. He kept the shoe's gray motif but mismatched the branding on the tongues, leaving one blank. Text has also been added to the toe box.
“You can never really predict if something is going to be big. But the 2002 update felt right with the anti-hype/dad look,” says Invincible co-founder Michael Vincent. "I felt like it belonged to the moment and could be a possible classic in the future."
Collaboration with Invincible on the 2002R was very limited and only released in Asia, which has resulted in the shoe retaining a high resale value.
The 2002 was a sneaker born in the imagination of an aspiring designer in 2008, released in 2010, forgotten by everyone for almost a decade and then relaunched with much fanfare in 2020. A lifetime for a shoe meant for the upper echelons of society, only to return as a democratic model that captured the hearts and wallets of consumers around the world.
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