How New Balance went from dad shoe to cool

New Balance lifestyle marketing director Tom Henshaw explains how the sportswear maker embraced its dad shoe status to become one of the hottest brands of the moment

“For a long time, if you went to Middle America, the only people you’d see wearing New Balance were middle-aged dads,” says Tom Henshaw. The lifestyle marketing director’s frank admission is even more potent when you consider that most of New Balance’s sportswear brand rivals – including the big two, Nike and adidas – have ­historically been puritanical about appealing to the youth demographic.

Fast-forward to 2022, however, and the typical New Balance wearer couldn’t look more different, with a roll call of famous faces including actor Timothée Chalamet, musician and businesswoman Rihanna, and supermodel Bella Hadid rivalling diehard dads in the Midwest. The brand’s surprisingly broad church appeal is by no means lost on the team behind it, who even paid homage to its OG dad shoe status in a 2019 campaign for its classic 990v5 trainers. In a nod to the editorial-style campaigns it became known for in the 80s, the print ads were emblazoned with a series of grabby taglines including: ‘Worn by ­supermodels in London and dads in Ohio.’

Photograph of a grey New Balance 990v5 trainer
Top: Promotion for Jaden Smith’s vegan trainer, Vision Racer, created in collaboration with the brand; Above: A 2019 campaign for the 990v5 trainer

While Henshaw admits the revitalisation of New Balance’s dad-approved ­aesthetic is down to a lot of street-level adoption by consumers, he also believes the brand’s authenticity has played a big part in its renaissance. “That’s not necessarily all been engineered by us as a brand and as marketers, [but] I think being self-referential, not taking ourselves too seriously, and understanding the consumer [means] we know how we’re perceived,” he says.