The American sneaker manufacturer New Balance has gotten itself into a thorny situation.
In a turn of events the company clearly did not anticipate, a statement it made in support of US president-elect Donald Trump’s policy on an international trade agreement has snowballed into a neo-Nazi blogger declaring New Balance the “official shoes of white people.”
“New Balance is making a gesture to support White people and to support US manufacturing,” Andrew Anglin wrote on his hate site, Daily Stormer, which is popular with the alt-right and has voiced its approval of Trump. “We need to support that.”
New Balance’s statement referred to the company’s stance on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (known as the TPP). New Balance’s VP of public affairs told a Wall Street Journal reporter last week that the company believes “things are going to move in the right direction” under a Trump presidency.
New Balance, which manufactures many of its sneakers in the US, has long opposed the TPP agreement, which would create a free trade zone including the US and several Latin American and Asian nations. Nike, which is New Balance’s biggest competitor and does nearly all its manufacturing overseas, supported the deal, even hosting US president Obama at its Oregon headquarters.
Though New Balance’s comments were restricted to the trade agreement, many saw it as more general support, or at least acceptance, of president-elect Trump, who has a track record of racist, sexist, and xenophobic comments and behavior. In response, some who oppose Trump began burning their New Balance sneakers.
That reaction, however, has sparked those on the right to rally in support of New Balance. In addition to comments such as Langlin’s, numerous pro-Trump threads on Reddit are now promoting buying New Balance sneakers in solidarity.
New Balance, meanwhile, is trying to clarify its own stance. In statements posted to its social media accounts, the company first emphasized its belief in community, and then yesterday issued a stronger comment in response to its co-opting by the extreme right. “New Balance does not tolerate bigotry or hate in any form,” it said, and provided the context of its statement in support of Trump.
The company also reiterated its views on trade in an email to Quartz. “As the only major company that still makes athletic shoes in the United States, New Balance has a unique perspective on trade in that we want to make more shoes in the United States, not less,” it said. “New Balance 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.”
On his site, Anglin dismissed the company’s Twitter statement, alleging (falsely) that New Balance’s account was hacked.
Others have responded with comments on New Balance’s statements. “Now that you made a big mistake you are saying this because you are scared to lose money,” one person wrote on Instagram.
“Great to be an American who wears NB!” another said.
Meanwhile, those who are more interested in New Balance as running sneakers or normcore wardrobe staples may now find themselves forced to choose sides in the debate.