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New Balance pitches DoD on standard-issue shoe for recruits

Aug. 31, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
A view of the New Blance 950v2, an American-made shoe the company hopes could be adopted as standard-issue to recruits.
A view of the New Blance 950v2, an American-made shoe the company hopes could be adopted as standard-issue to recruits. (New Balance)
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New Balance has unveiled a sneaker prototype that could become standard-issue in boot camp and spell an end to the cash allowances that let recruits buy foreign-made shoes.

New details about the shoemaker’s 950v2 sneaker emerged after a visit from lawmakers on Aug. 19 to a New Balance factory inLawrence, Massachusetts.

The prospect of an all-American-made shoe has lawmakers interested, and New Balance is not the only company eyeing a potential military contract. The question is whether prototypes can pass muster with the Defense Department.

“We wanted to make a shoe with the highest technical performance, but also light, and it’s going to be durable enough to withstand any conditions or terrain,” New Balance spokeswoman Caitlin Campbell said.

The sneaker’s aesthetic design is derived from the company’s ultra marathon shoe, the Leadville 1210 but made entirely from U.S.-sourced materials. The original shoe was made with the 100-mile Leadville Trail Marathon in mind.

“The shoe is made from different materials, and it has a different color wave, black and silver, sort of an understated, conservative look,” Campbell said.

The sneakers took center stage at the factory visit. Reps. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., and Mike Turner, R-Ohio, toured the company’s biomechanical research lab, prototype lab and manufacturing floor, before sitting down with executives to discuss the potential of a Pentagon policy change.

Recruits today in the Army, Air Force and Navy can use a one-time $80 allowance to buy foreign-made shoes as an exception to the “Berry Amendment,” a federal law that that requires DoD to buy American-made goods when possible. The Marine Corps only offers a general clothing allowance that does not specifically apply to shoes.

The Berry Amendment has not applied to running shoes in the past because there were no entirely American-made shoes on the market.

But the 950v2 can fit that bill.

“It’s a great opportunity to learn not only how a Berry-compliant shoe is made, but how they are making a shoe that meets the needs of a new recruit,” Tsongas said.

The factory visit comes a few weeks before the Pentagon hosts an industry briefing in September with U.S. shoemakers. For manufacturers, the hope is the meeting will be to announce the Pentagon’s plans and timeline.

Tsongas said there are several companies that could compete to produce a Berry-compliant shoe, including Michigan-based Wolverine Worldwide.

The 950v2 will be offered in widths of narrow to extra-wide and in different varieties for stability and motion control, Campbell said.

“We’re building the shoe so that it can be used by any type of runner, and any body type,” Campbell said, adding later: “It’s certainly not one size fits all or most. There is certainly a range, and we want to be able to meet the need for all different types of runners.”

While DoD prepares for a wear-test, the services were instructed to conduct a joint study of footwear to ensure that recruits’ feet are being properly evaluated and matched with the most appropriate shoe type.

Service members, and the Pentagon at one point, have expressed concern that eliminating allowances would limit choices for service members and could contribute to injuries.

New Balance sees the rule as the closing of a loophole in the law, and a move that benefits U.S. manufactures.

“This is an industry that has gone overseas, and we see this as a way to revitalize the industry and bring jobs back to the U.S.,” Campbell said. “We know our craftsmen and craftswomen here in the U.S. make great products. We think DoD getting behind domestic manufacturing will be a great spark.”

Staff writer Andrew Tilghman contributed to this report.

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