Over the past two years, New Balance has enjoyed a meteoric rise in popularity. What’s equally impressive, however, is how the brand has done so through both collaborations and general releases. On one hand, joint ventures with names like Kith, Joe Freshgoods, and JJJJound have led to plenty of sought-after collaborations. Yet inline releases of models like the 992, 327, and the 2002R are still met with remarkable demand.
One of New Balance’s most recent silhouettes, the 550, is no exception. The basketball sneaker, which was first launched in 1989, was revived for the first time in late 2020. The retro rollout began through a collaboration with Teddy Santis’ Aime Leon Dore and has since seen a steady stream of general release colorways, each of which has all quickly sold out.
SoleSavy recently spoke to Paul Kaseumsouk, product lead for the New Balance 550, who shared how the basketball-forward silhouette was brought back into the spotlight. Kaseumsouk explains in our interview that “there’s a process for bringing a model back” and several factors are taken into consideration.
“I think one, ultimately, we want the model to connect culturally with the consumer,” he says. “We have an extensive back catalog that goes back as far as any other brand. We can bring back a number of shoes but if it doesn’t connect culturally, I think it’s just another shoe in the market.”
“Then also from the timing standpoint, we want to look at what’s happening in the market from a trend perspective: ‘What are kids wearing now? What’s happening on the runway? What’s happening on the street?’”
Another key point for New Balance was showing off their roots in basketball – something that often goes unnoticed given their mainstay success in running. The brand wanted to “flex that other arm from a lifestyle perspective” and bring back something that pays tribute to their hoop heritage.
The project spanned approximately 18 months and Kaseumsouk says that while the team didn’t have a crystal ball, “it just felt like the right moment and the right time to launch the 550.” It was also the only retro silhouette that the brand was considering bringing back at the time.
“Specifically for the 550, the shape, the shoe, everything about the design felt right at the moment,” Kaseumsouk adds. “It wasn’t a trend we were chasing. We just had a gut feeling like, ‘Okay, this is the shoe.’”
Teddy Santis and Aime Leon Dore played a huge role in the model’s popularity as well. Both New Balance and ALD have seen immense success on collaborative efforts such as the 827, the 990v2, and the 1300 – and this release was no different.
“We have a great partnership with ALD and Teddy; it kinda happened organically,” Kaseumsouk says. “When you have a special shoe like the 550 – that unique aesthetic, the shape, the design, everything about the shoe worked. And it made sense to what ALD was doing at the moment as well, it kind of worked with their aesthetic.”
And when it comes to colorways on both the ALD collaborations, as well as general releases, the team at New Balance had plenty of inspiration to dig into.
“This is a fun one when you’re working on a model that has an extensive back catalog. Everyone kinda got together and combed through, looking at some of the colorways,” Kaseumsouk says. “Our first initial launches were exact replicas of some of the colorways that you had seen in 1989 and 1990.”
Other color palettes were inspired by “The Golden Age of Basketball”, with nods to colorways from the late 80s and 90s, as well as famous team rivalries such as the Los Angeles Lakers vs. the Boston Celtics.
“We wanted to stay true to the original as much as possible but at the same time, we wanted to inject some new color as well.”
As far as the future of the 550 goes, Kaseumsouk is confident that the hoop-driven sneaker will stand alongside the brand’s most popular lifestyle silhouettes.
“The 550 is kinda our future icon,” he notes. “It’s gonna help diversify our portfolio and flex that other arm we have. I think it brings a different perspective, a different consumer, a different aesthetic, and we’re proud of that.”
As far as future releases, colorways, and collabs go, fans will just have to keep a close eye on what’s next to come.
“We have a lot of momentum behind the brand and we have a lot of great stuff that’s gonna continue to surprise people – and it even surprises me. Stay tuned, we’re gonna continue down that path.”
Image 1 via Aimé Leon Dore
Image 2, 4, & 5 via New Balance
Image 3 via Aura Lee