New Balance Real Ale Pack | The Drop Date

New Balance Real Ale Pack – Launch & Behind The Scenes Interview

2015-08-30T15:03:33

New Balance Real Ale Pack

The NEW BALANCE REAL ALE PACK sets the standard in themed footwear packs: from start to finish, these three models – the 576 ‘YE OLD FLIMBY PRIME’, the 1500 ‘THE CUMBRIAN RED’ and the CT300 ‘CHICKEN FOOT IPA’ from the MADE IN UK collection – showcase the skills of the NB design team and show off the high quality construction of their releases. Each silhouette offers a pigskin upper with perforated details, a ‘Real Ale Pack’ insignia on the tongue label and ale-branded inserts. Each model is named after a fictional beer which has been inspired by popular types of British ‘real ale’: cask-conditioned beer that is served traditionally, without additional gas pressure.

To celebrate the launch and get a closer look at the work and craftsmanship that goes into creating such an impressive release, New Balance invited us up to their UK headquarters in Flimby. We were taken on a tour through the NB factory, giving us an unparalleled insight into the production process, and then spent time with the New Balance design team to find out a little more about operations at one of our most-loved brands.

The day was rounded off with a visit to the local brewery, Jennings, to learn about the brewing process and test out some of their specialist ales that have been brewed in honour of the Real Ale Pack.

New Balance Real Ale Pack - Factory

New Balance Real Ale Pack - bus

New Balance Real Ale Pack - press

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New Balance Real Ale Pack - design team

New Balance Real Ale Pack - group

New Balance Real Ale Pack - interview

 

Welcome guys and thank you for taking the time to sit with us today. To kick off with, please could you introduce yourselves and tell us a little about your role at New Balance UK?

Mark: My name is Mark Godfrey and I’m the senior footwear designer for New Balance Europe. I design and develop the majority of product that goes through the factory and have done for the last four or five years. I also manage a small team that creates in-line developments for Europe and I help out on collaborations and liaise with the US team on developments. I work on a lot of Asia-made product too, such as the newer Deconstructed product as well. A wide range of things!

Chris: I’m Chris Hodgson and I am the lead lifestyle developer based at Flimby. I’m responsible for the sourcing and development of all the materials that go into all the lifestyle product. I’m probably the World’s leading authority on Northern domestically manufactured sports footwear… because we’re the only people that do it!

Andy: I’m Andy Okolowicz and I’m the Factory Manager of the Flimby factory. I joined the company on January 2nd, 1997 – I remember the day well! I’ve been in the footwear industry for 39 years and I love it: the people, the craftsmanship and the pride and dedication that everyone brings every day of the week.

Tom: I’m Tom Henshaw and I’m the lifestyle marketing manager for New Balance Europe. I look after lifestyle marketing, strategy and execution for Europe.

Educating the consumers – and ourselves – is very much part of what we do at The Drop Date. New Balance is one of our favourite brands to report on, as everything has a story or reason behind it: you’re one of the only brands who could credibly release something like the Real Ale Pack. When it comes to crafting something like this, how does the process work? What sort of timescale is there from concept through to seeing the final product in-store?

Andy: For every season, we try to come up with some new themes. And this is done within a six-month development window: my product manager will brief in the styles that she wants to use and then it’s up to me to come up with some concepts that I can go out and research. I’m sort-of an authority on Cumbria Northernism: Three Peaks, local folklore or whatever it happens to be. I like to keep the themes British-specific, as that is a big part of the appeal to the Flimby footwear. We talked about the Pub Pack from 2010 being a huge inspiration behind this Real Ale Pack: we’re all au fait with British ale culture and it was nice to go and research this topic further. We went to Jennings – a local brewery – and took some inspiration from the different ales they have on offer. We like to use the most premium materials we can find – top grade leather and the beer towel lining, which links directly back to the Pub Pack. We tried to use some different silhouettes this time as well. Once that’s all decided, I work on the design and then approach Chris with the specifications and then he’ll develop my ideas into shoes. From there, we go into two rounds of prototyping until we get a confirmation sample that we’re all happy with. Along the way, we receive feedback from various markets, so we can get the best possible product overall that appeals to everyone.

Would you have found fabrics that you’ve purposely held aside for projects like this? Or is it more spontaneous?

Chris: We have a pretty substantial archive library of material that we use. We divide it between what we know that works and can be played with… I’ve been here 31 years and I’ve developed a substantial series of supply partners who understand what we need to make our shoes work in our factory, which is the overall, overriding factory beyond all else. We can make you ONE of absolutely anything… but the art is being able to make you 5000 of them.

New Balance Real Ale Pack - material preparation

NEW BALANCE REAL ALE PACK

New Balance Real Ale Pack - 576 stack

New Balance Real Ale Pack - production goal

 

Is that where time production scales come in? I saw some pretty intense schedules and targets in the factory, where one part had to be completed within an exact time.

Chris: It’s not so much the time production scale, because we have guys who work on ‘critical path’ who work out how long we’re going to stitch this part on this machine before we move it on. We have to have a material at the starting point that satisfies all of our requirements in terms of things like chemical composition. We have our own restrictive substances testing regime for all our materials, which follows the EU Restrictive Substances Directive and then all the materials are dip tested at a third party laboratory.

Mark: New Balance testing standards for materials are incredibly high: much higher than any other brand out there. You get a much better product for your money with those testing standards being applied.

Chris: What we’ve done over many years is consolidated our European supply base for premium materials with a number of suppliers who now fully understand what we want. You could make a shoe today that would be perfect right now, but if you walk in them for three months, flexing them across the fore part of your foot and the oil within the tannage will migrate to the surface of the leather and it’ll break the bond with the adhesive. You wouldn’t know that until you’ve completed all the material testing first.

Mark: If I have a concept, I’ll say to Chris, ‘I’m looking for something like this’ and his knowledge from the past 30 years means that he might know someone who might be able to give him something that fits the bill.

NEW BALANCE REAL ALE PACK

New Balance Real Ale Pack machine

New Balance Real Ale Pack boxing

 

So, once you have the design sorted, how do you prepare the factory to produce the shoe? Does working on a limited or collaboration project affect the daily production schedule?

Andy: For sure. You learn a lot through the process of development. On a typical day, the team know that they should be producing a shoe every 38 seconds, but during the first two weeks of a new design this is ramped down to allow people to build up that knowledge and skill. In fairness, some elements are very similar from style to style but we do break the shoe down into clear operating procedures before we begin manufacturing it.

Chris: Initially all the prototypes will be hand stitched using instruction tickets: they won’t go anywhere else until we’ve finalised the pattern. If anything happens during this process, people write on the tickets so that next time we create a prototype, we can refer to the notes. This process happens with every round and then we make 120 pairs of bulk sale samples. Once those are made, we have a meeting with all the factory team leaders and say, ‘OK. Here’s the line guys – pick it to bits! Is anything the matter with any of this?’.

Does that happen often?

Chris: All the time! Not so that you would know, but we sometimes have to make changes to make things happen more easily in the factory.

NEW BALANCE REAL ALE PACK

 

So with the Real Ale Pack, is this a limited release?

Mark: It’s not going to be as limited as a collaboration project might be, as it’s a general release.

Tom: It’s a general release, but all our Made in UK product is capped to protect the top tier market. So all our distributors are given an allocation of UK product every season and it’s up to them how they use that allocation but there is a ceiling on what we make.

Does that make your job difficult when you come to market the product? I can imagine that some releases would sell endlessly if they were in continuous production!

Tom: One thing that our distributors are very good at is understanding our tiering and strategy. It’s very rare that we’d see a distributor mishandling or mis-selling a product, because the guidelines are in place and they work very closely with us. They know what we means when we say this is a top tier product for certain kinds of retailers.

How does something that very UK-centric, such as the Real Ale Pack, translate in a global market? You have people all over the globe interested in your product.

Mark: It varies from pack to pack. Real ale is a good example, as real ale and craft beer is a huge cultural trend now across the globe. You see it everywhere from the far reaches of America through to Japan, so we feel it’s a concept that people will understand everywhere. This is one of those packs which is quite easy to associate with it, I think. Other packs can be more difficult, such as the Three Peaks pack – some people didn’t know what Three Peaks is, so that becomes more difficult, but that’s been a learning curve for us.

Tom: But there’s still value in having things like that. Just because something’s not immediately commercially viable, it doesn’t mean that it’s not of intrinsic value to the brand. Sometimes a good niche story adds real equity to the brand. Not everything is about being as accessible as possible: certainly there’s a balance to get right. One of our challenges is to sell in the Made in UK story to a wider global market.

NEW BALANCE REAL ALE PACK

 

When we first visited the factory back in 2003, when we worked on the first Crooked Tongues collaboration, everyone seemed to be a lot more cautious, especially as it was the first collaboration project with New Balance UK. Things seem to have changed considerably since then.

Mark: I think packs and collaborations are something that was totally trailblazed by New Balance. I think a lot of other brands decided to follow suit.

Chris: The advantage that we have over everyone else is that historically, as we have this genuine heritage and because we’ve been around for so long, all our distributors and final customers get it. They genuinely get it and understand the ethos of what we’re trying to do – and that’s a big deal for us.

The way that you guys communicate and market things is amazing. For us to be invited to join you like this and to be given the full factory tour and Flimby experience is unique: having a direct discussion with you all here gives us a really good insight into the brand. You can’t help but buy into the product when you see how much care and craftsmanship goes into everything.

Tom: I don’t think we could do that if all our product was made in Asia. We have great product coming out of Asia, including some very high end product, but in terms of culture for the European market to be able to come and meet the guys directly is not really something that our competitors can do. It’s a pretty unique story. New Balance isn’t a multinational corporation in the way that our largest competitors are. When you come to Flimby and meet these guys, people are a little less guarded and a little less corporate.

When you walk around and meet everyone, you can’t help but have real respect and appreciation for their work in creating the footwear. It’s such an intense job but the end product speaks for itself in terms of quality.

Andy: We’re still a family business, pretty much. We’ve still got five of the original staff members working here. That fact alone speaks volumes about the company.

The NEW BALANCE REAL ALE PACK comprises of three models – the 576 YE OLD FLIMBY PRIME, the 1500 THE CUMBRIAN RED and the CT300 CHICKEN FOOT IPA – and is set to release on WEDNESDAY 9 SEPTEMBER. Check back with us closer to the time for the full details to help you secure your pairs.

NEW BALANCE REAL ALE PACK 1500

NEW BALANCE REAL ALE PACK CT300

NEW BALANCE REAL ALE PACK 576

New Balance Real Ale Pack - sign

New Balance Real Ale Pack

New Balance Real Ale Pack

New Balance Real Ale Pack - beer mats

New Balance Real Ale Pack - beer pump

New Balance Real Ale Pack - trio

Thanks to all at New Balance for the generous invitation and kind hospitality.

All additional images courtesy of Thomas Lindie at NEW BALANCE GALLERY.

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