Only a handful of footwear brands make their products in the United States. Among them, New Balance is the only one with a sizeable assortment – and by that, we mean more than half a dozen different models.
Even so, New Balance makes only a small percentage of their total footwear production stateside. Barring a small number of shoes made in the UK and US, the rest are manufactured in Asia.
It helps that New Balance isn’t a listed company. This gives it leeway to do things that would otherwise be frowned upon by public market investors.
There’s another reason why manufacturing in the US suits New Balance’s overall plans well. In our 2014 review of the 1260V4, we discussed the possibility of New Balance supplying made-in-USA shoes to the military based on the Berry Amendment.
And guess what – the Department of Defense awarded New Balance a $17.3 million contract in 2018 to supply shoes to recruits.
We’re not saying that the contract is the reason behind New Balance’s US manufacturing facility, but it turned out to be pretty convenient.
Given how small and high-priced New Balance’s US collection is, it doesn’t make business sense. But it is certainly excellent PR – and any brand could do with that.
Nike’s sourcing was based on an Asian manufacturing model from the beginning, so it never had a strong domestic production foothold to begin with. Only their Air bag cushioning inserts are partially made in their IHM facilities, a division that is also a general supplier of industrial Polyurethane films and sheets.
Saucony was originally a US brand and made shoes locally till the early ’90s. But its ownership has changed hands a few times and they no longer sell US-manufactured shoes. It’s interesting that Saucony’s current owner is Wolverine Worldwide Inc, a company that also owns the Merrell and Wolverine work boot brand.
The Wolverine brand makes a few of their shoes in the US, so if Saucony actually tried, they could come up with a small collection. After all, they did bid for the same US military shoe contract that ultimately went to New Balance.
adidas is interesting. Being a German company, its manufacturing base originated in Europe, followed by outsourcing to Asia. They set up a ‘Speedfactory’ in Georgia – a pilot concept with a focus on automation in footwear production. If you want to know more, this Solereview article will help.
There’s some bad news about the Speedfactory though. It closed as quickly as it opened; the concept production facility was supposedly shut in April 2020.
Some Speedfactory products are still (probably leftovers) in the market, and that’s the reason the adidas makes it to this list. The Speedfactory AM4 products are based on the UltraBoost platform with several variants.
One good thing about the Speedfactory assortment is the negligible retail price premium over the Asia-made versions. For example, all the AM4 products retail for $200 – which is just 12% higher than the UltraBoost’s $180 retail. That said, it helped that adidas chose a $180 shoe to start with.
Speedfactory products won’t be around for long; grab them while you can. One day, they could become a collector’s item.
Before diving into the list, it’s important to clarify the difference between ‘Made in USA’ and ‘Assembled in USA’ footwear. The percentage of local content needs to be at least 70% to qualify as ‘made in USA.’ Else, it’s ‘Assembled in the USA.’
This is only for the US; other countries will have different standards. For example, in Canada, the level of localization needs to be 51% or more.
Besides the country of origin, do US-made running shoes offer any advantage over outsourced ones? Functionally speaking, that is?
No. The manufacturing process of industrial products such as running shoes is highly standardized and documented. The way the uppers are cut and put together is the same, and so is the sole molding and fixing process.
Since US-made and assembled shoes aren’t superior to their Asian versions, buying one should be nothing more than a matter of personal choice. Things like supporting your local economy, that kind of stuff.
This is a straightforward guide – just two brands feature here. We’ll start with the adidas Speedfactory AM4.
1) The adidas Speedfactory AM4
The cushioned and responsive Boost foam midsole looks familiar, but the AM4 uses innovative construction techniques. For example, there’s the glue-free bonding of the upper to the midsole along with the fused midfoot and heel patches.
The AM4 is as legit a running shoe as the UltraBoost. The high-volume Boost midsole is good for easy workouts; the knit upper doesn’t offer a customized fit due to its closed bootie design but is secure enough for low-speed runs.
All AM4 shoes have an NFC (Near Field Communication) chip embedded in their tongue.
Note: adidas groups this color under the ‘Baseball’ category, but the AM4BSBL is a perfect good running shoe. The colors are baseball-inspired, that’s all.
2) New Balance 1540V3
What? Another 15-ounce (14.9, to be exact) stability shoe? By now, we have realized that most US-produced New Balance shoes are either heavy-duty stability or walking shoes. But if you’re are a part of the consumer demographic that prefers stiff and heavy running shoes, rejoice.
The 1540 V3 doesn’t have a humongous medial wedge. Its stability manners come from the wide outsole geometry and the dual-density midsole with a sloped medial post and a TPU ‘rollbar’.
The upper has a conventional cut-stitch-and-assemble design which, honestly, feels out of place on a shoe which retails at $170. While there’s sufficient room upfront, the tongue is short and could do with more padding.
3) New Balance 990V5
The 13.7-ounce 990V5 isn’t your modern ‘running’ shoe. It uses midsole tech that was lost to time during the 1990s – like the Encap PU cassette with a softer EVA core. The upper is made of suede, closed mesh, and molded TPU trims – all relics of a bygone era.
With its cushy Ortholite insole and multi-density midsole, this is a comfortable walking shoe at best; run in the 990 at your peril. In New Balance’s own words, “worn supermodels in London and by dads in Ohio.”
4) New Balance Made in US 993
Nothing about the 993 suggests that it is a modern running shoe. It weighs over 400 grams, has a firm multi-density midsole, and has an upper covered with stitched overlays.
Acres of suede leather are sewn to the spacer mesh, and the outsole has rubber – lots of it. The tongue and heel have a soft and padded lining with a retro hand-feel.
In short, the 993 looks straight out of a sepia-toned 90’s yearbook. An era when ‘online’ shopping meant mail-order catalogs and not the internet.
And yet, the 993 has a couple of things going for it. One, it’s assembled in the US. Secondly, it is a comfortable and stable shoe for low-impact activities such as slow running (aka jogging) and walks.
Also see: The New Balance 992.