Making of New Balance 1978 – Interview with Global Design Director Brad Lacey

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In our current issue of SNEAKERS, we’re bringing you a detailed feature article about the craftsmanship and story of the New Balance 1978. You can check out the manufacturing of this entirely “Made in the USA” model in our factory tour here. And for some extra insights we sat down for an exclusive interview with New Balance’s Global Design Director Brad Lacey.

Brad, let’s jump right in. Why was the 1978 project special to you?

It was kind of personal to me, true. The whole Made in USA thing was a big reason why I came to New Balance. Yet although having been designing shoes for twenty years, I’ve never got to jump in on an actual running sneaker line. No factory will let you just sit down and start making shoes, but New Balance has this as part of their culture. So my very first time making a shoe myself was kind of spiritual for me.

The factory in Norridgewock is one of the biggest in the US and a true benchmark for quality manufacturing.

One of the catchwords around here is “designer manufacturing”, could you explain that a bit more?

It got me thinking, well, this is so extremely complicated to do, how can we rethink that? So, we started thinking about this, what we call “designer manufacturing” – designing a product specifically for the way we make manufacture today.

The shoe obviously involves a lot of heritage as well. Did you do a lot of research before getting started?

I started this thing called “Origins Project” so I could better understand the company. It took about six months to do and the good thing about New Balance is that a lot of the people that were originally working on these projects are still in the company, like Ken Graham, the original developer of the 990. And I started talking to him and, honestly, he’s a funny guy anyway! But as he would tell the story of working on the shoe, I just got more and more interested in the original 990 and what it was about.

If it’s based on the 990 that came out in 1982, why is it called 1978?

There’s this ad from ’82 – some of you guys have probably seen it before. It says “On a scale of 1,000, New Balance is a 990”. So, it started this story where basically in the spring of 1978 they started working on this shoe and the idea was that there were no limits. They didn’t care what it cost to make; it was just about making the most technically advanced shoe they could make. It took them four years. So I didn’t want to take four years, but I wanted to think like that.

This is the New Balance HQ in Boston’s Brighton neighborhood. The company relocated about 700 employees to the 250,000 square-foot building.

Besides the sole cooperation with Vibram, which we talked about, you also mentioned that you reduced the number of parts …

So, I just started thinking … what could I eliminate? What could I rethink? What could I sort of simplify? And that’s kind of what led to the design, really thinking about how few of the pieces could be put together. It takes a different kind of craftsmanship. Details become super important. Really understanding how the shoe’s cut and the leathers are matched is really important when something’s that simple.

The perforation patterns, any story to why they look like this?

We were looking at this new technology called C&C Cutting and it could do these really intricate patterns. And so the Pattern Engineer and I started playing with that, trying different sizes of patterns. That’s what gave us that shape.

Are you happy with the results?

Absolutely. I think, part of why we’re doing this, was to just learn more about what was possible. The factories at New Balance have been amazing at consistently making the type of shoe we’re known for over such a long period of time. But we wanted to see how far we can stretch into modern constructions.

Thanks for the interview, Brad.

This article is a shortened version. Find the full length original, plus more content from our behind-the-scenes visit at New Balance, in our print issue #34, which you can get in our store. You can also subscribe for a full year of SNEAKERS mag.

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