As protests against President-elect Donald Trump ramp up in cities across America, the disconsolate have found a new target for their ire: New Balance. The Boston-based sneaker-maker found itself in the center of roiling anti-Trump sentiment after the Wall Street Journal’s Sara Germano quoted Matt LeBretton, New Balance’s vice president of public affairs, on Twitter saying that President Barack Obama’s administration had “turned a deaf ear” to the company and that things will “move in the right direction” once Trump takes over. Livid customers, who took LeBretton’s statement as an endorsement of the presumptive 45th president, took to social media to denounce the brand. Some even shared photos and videos of New Balance shoes thrown in the trash or being set on fire. “I made a little bonfire tonight,” one wrote. “I will not buy New Balance again ever. … The vile behavior of that man does not get normalized by you,” said another.
New Balance’s animus toward Obama appears to stem from the latter’s support for the Trans Pacific Partnership, a proposed trade agreement among the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim nations to lower tariffs on imports and exports to and from the countries involved.
Because New Balance is one of the few footwear companies that still manufactures its products in the United States, and the TPP would make it easier to import goods from overseas, the TPP could conceivably dull the brand’s competitive edge.
New Balance’s animus toward Obama appears to stem from the latter’s support for the Trans Pacific Partnership.
In reality, the situation is a lot more nuanced. Only about 25 percent of New Balance’s shoes are produced in one of its five New England factories, and not always with domestically sourced materials, according to the Wall Street Journal. In fact, New Balance admitted that only “70 percent of value of its U.S.-made shoes reflects domestic content and labor.”
New Balance defended its statements by telling Buzzfeed that its comments were made “in the context of trade.”
“As the only major company that still makes athletic shoes in the U.S., New Balance has a unique perspective on trade in that we want to make more shoes in the U.S., not less,” LeBretton said in a statement. “New Balance publicly supported the trade positions of Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump prior to election day that focused on American manufacturing job creation and we continue to support them today.”
With the fate of the TPP hanging in the balance, and the odds of Trump making good on his campaign promises an unknown quantity, all this furor could just be much ado over nothing.
We might even call it a tempest in a TPPot.