Poor New Balance is embroiled in a political controversy. It all started when Matt LeBretton, the company’s vice president of public affairs, made pro-Trump comments to the Wall Street Journal. That quickly spread over the Internet, as things tend to do these days, and resulted in some consumers burning their New Balance shoes. LeBretton said, “The Obama administration turned a deaf ear to us and frankly, with President-elect Trump, we feel things are going to move in the right direction.” LeBretton was speaking about the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement.
Now New Balance is facing more controversy as the Daily Storm, an alt-right website associated with white supremacy, endorsed the company stating in a blog post: “New Balance just became the official shoes of white people.”
New Balance posted a statement on both Instagram and Facebook declaring it “does not tolerate bigotry or hate in any form.” It further claimed to be a “a values-driven organization and culture that believes in humanity, integrity, community and mutual respect for people around the world.” The company also clarified that one of its “officials was recently asked to comment on a trade policy that was taken out of context.”
On Facebook it garnered numerous comments, ranging from support to staunch criticism. One man said: “I’ve worn NB for about 15 years now. It’s not cheap but I pay more because you care enough to continue making shoes here. As long as that continues and the quality of the shoe is reflected in the price I pay, you’ll continue to have a loyal customer.” Another said: “Say goodbye to another customer. Supporting a bigot just because he opposes TPP doesn’t justify turning a blind eye to his attacks on women, minorities, people of color, and people with different religious beliefs. Goodbye.”
But not everyone is burning their New Balance shoes. In the central Maine town of Norridgewock, where the company has a factory, residents are supporting New Balance. One resident told the Bangor Daily News, “We just don’t make much here anymore, but New Balance stuck around.” Town Manager Richard LaBelle said, “In Norridgewock we don’t see New Balance as a company, we see them as a member of the community — a positive, proactive presence.”
New Balance has long been against the TPP, which would lower tariffs on both importing and exporting goods from countries involved in the trade agreement. It’s a law that doesn’t work in favor of a company like New Balance, which manufactures 70 percent of its shoes in the U.S., although it does import many parts and materials from other countries, including Vietnam, one of the countries involved in the TPP. New Balance is trying to make shoes that are 100 percent American-made and invested in machinery to make that happen.
The tariff on shoes imported from Vietnam will be phased out under the TPP, and in the words of NPR, “That is a huge boost to companies that import their shoes.”
New Balance states on its website that it “always has, and always will be, committed to making shoes in the U.S.” and is “proud to be the only major company to make or assemble more than four million pairs of athletic footwear per year in the USA.” As the company said in its statement on Instagram and Facebook, “We have been and always will be committed to manufacturing in the United States.”
New Balance previously stated that it “publicly supported the trade positions of Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump prior to election day that focused on American manufacturing job creation and we continue to support them today,” CNN Money reported,
Image credit: Flickr/Satoshi Kobayashi