New Balance on the defensive after Neo-Nazis claim the brand

The New Balance World Headquarters building in Boston - image courtesy of New Balance.
The New Balance World Headquarters building in Boston - image courtesy of New Balance.

Sports footwear manufacturer, New Balance, has learned the hard way that is generally better for a company to stay out of politics.

New Balance has been forced to issue a statement defending its reputation and trying to convince customers it does not support “bigotry and hate” after its shoes were labelled the “official shoes for white people” by certain Neo-Nazi bloggers.

The statement was released after New Balance vice president of public affairs, Matthew LeBretton, said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, that president-elect Trump’s administration would support US manufacturing more than the outgoing Obama administration. During the interview he said that with President-elect Trump “we feel things are going to move in the right direction.”

LeBretton’s approval for a new Trump administration and how it might positively affect New Balance, the only major athletic company still making shoes in the US,  was specifically related to the company’s negative views on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which was led by Obama but which Trump has said will be quashed on day one of his new administration.

New Balance support for Trump misinterpreted as racism

However, the New Balance support for President Elect Donald Trump prompted the endorsement of the brand by certain neo-Nazi elements and on social media.

The editor of the Daily Stormer website, which espouses white supremacist and anti-Semitic views, declared New Balance as the “Official Shoes of White People” and that fellow Neo-Nazis would be able to “recognize one another by our sportswear.”

One Neo-Nazi blogger on the website declared that the shoes would become his followers “uniform” and that it was time to get on board with New Balance due to their brave actions making them the “official brand of the Trump Revolution”.

New Balance responded to these alarming posts with a statement on it’s Twitter account, stating it “does not tolerate bigotry or hate in any form”.

New Balance stated LeBretton’s comments on the Obama-led trade policy were taken out of context, and defended itself as a values-driven organisation and culture which employs thousands of workers across the world from all races, genders, cultures and sexual orientations.

New Balance also said in its Twitter statement that it “believes in humanity, integrity, community and mutual respect for people around the world”.

The footwear manufacturer also stated that “we have always been and always will be committed to manufacturing in the United States”.

While Neo-Nazi bloggers may have supported LeBretton’s comments regarding the potential positive effect of a Trump administration and how it would benefit New Balance and US manufacturing in general, disapproval from customers was rife on social media with many posting pictures and videos of their shoes being burned, thrown in the bin, destroyed or flushed down the toilet.

Long-time customers have also vowed to boycott New Balance, which will no doubt hurt the last remaining athletic company to still manufacture its shoes in the US.

Reebok Classics offers replacement shoes

Shortly after the controversy hit social media, rival brand Reebook Classics offered free replacement sneakers, via Twitter, to disgruntled New Balance owners that had posted videos of themselves flushing their shoes down the toilet, burning them, or throwing them away.

In one tweet, in response to a video of someone, unsuccessfully, trying to flush their New Balances down the toilet, Reebok Classics posted: ‘Since it looks like your toilet may be clogged, shoot us a DM & we’ll send you some kicks to walk to the closest bathroom.’

Another offer was made to Twitter user @SeniorTeenager.