A few days ago, I found myself in an uncomfortable dilemma. I was finally beginning to feel like immersing myself in my family, job, and training would help me alleviate my frustration over the current political turmoil, when a customer asked me if they should burn their beloved (perfectly fitting) New Balance shoes because the Vice President of Communications supports Donald Trump. Uh oh. Could that be true? I’ve been a New Balance fan for years. I love that they maintain some manufacturing jobs in the US, and I just fell in love with a New Balance shoe myself (Fresh Foam Vongo) which has made running without ankle pain possible.
Rather than posting a rant on Facebook with a photo of myself throwing away all of my New Balance shoes, I thought that I should take a few minutes to evaluate the facts first. Running shoes have been the root of my job for the past 5 years, and New Balance is one of the companies that I have dealt with the most. As a buyer, I’ve formed working relationships with their sales representatives and have spent time learning from some of the higher ups in the company. As a sales person, I’ve worked side by side with their technical reps, and in my experience New Balance has exhibited a very positive and respectful culture in the running community. However, I realize that my own positive experiences with New Balance cannot speak for the experiences of everyone else. So, I started researching.
First: what did Matt LeBretton actually say, and in what context?
It looks like his exact words were, “we feel that things are going to move in the right direction” under Donald Trump (ugh I don’t even like typing his name….he shall hereafter be referred to on this blog as Drumpf). The quote was published in the Wall Street Journal. Yikes, this looks bad, what was Mr. LeBretton talking about? Turns out he was specifically talking about trade policy. The TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership) in particular. Mr. LeBretton was not talking about culture or policy outside of a trade context, and both Hillary and Bernie were against the TPP...and.. .and… and… Am I making excuses? What about the vile blogger who called New Balance the “official shoe of white people?”
This is where I think things went off the rails. I will not further hate speech. So while I put quotation marks around the comment at the end of the last paragraph, I won’t give ‘credit’ to its source or elaborate on any more of its message. New Balance would obviously not propose it, and had no control over being endorsed by a hateful person or group. Did they? Well, if the VP of communications hadn’t mentioned Drumpf in a positive way (even “just regarding trade policies”) none of this would have happened. By providing a favorable viewpoint towards Drumpf’s proposed policy regarding the issue of American manufacturing, they are promoting terrible rhetoric, as well as racist, misogynistic, anti-semitic views, and a culture of hatred and prejudice.....Right?
Maybe. But Information taken out of context was used so much in the election campaigns to spread inaccurate and misleading crap that I need to go a little deeper before I boycott one of my favorite companies.
New Balance has five factories in the United states. Like Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, it was not in favor of the TPP because it makes it even harder to compete in their market as the only manufacturer of American-made shoes. Their shoes are not all made in America, in fact very few actually are, but they do employ hundreds of people here in the states for those that are. New Balance also has factories all over the world: “All New Balance apparel is made in contract facilities, primarily in the Americas and Asia, with some production in Europe and the Middle East.”~New Balance Responsible Leadership Report . The more I looked into this the more I felt like I was falling down a rabbit hole. Not because I discovered anything bad about New Balance (other than LeBretton’s comment), in fact they genuinely seem to exhibit fair, environmentally responsible, philanthropic, community building business and manufacturing practices--both here and overseas. Putting the people who work for New Balance out of work because of one comment seems like it will do the opposite of promoting a tolerant and unified community. It seems like one of the reasons that Drumpf was elected was because people whose quality of life was negatively affected by the loss of manufacturing jobs felt ignored and marginalized (and because we have a serious and deep problem with racism in this country). My confusion and sadness is from all the uniformed, hateful and destructive comments that were made by supposedly tolerant, educated, people online.
This is what I know: I love doing my job. My job is to find the best possible fit for people looking for running, walking and athletic shoes. New Balance makes it easier to help people who fall outside the average shape, width, and size of feet. I don’t think their statement on Twitter was enough, but I’m willing to give them a chance to continue to try to make it right. I may be naive, but I believe in the company, its 110 year history and track record, and their intention to avoid promoting anything that would further encourage hate and prejudice. This doesn’t mean I think we should let the comment slide. I think New Balance needs to focus its philanthropic efforts and community building dollars very specifically on projects and organizations that promote unity, diversity and acceptance in the near future and beyond. You can let them know what you think they should do by emailing email@example.com.