When you arrive at the New Balance’s UK factory, you’re welcomed by a serene view of the beach and towering wind farms. Considering the sheer size and popularity of the brand, it might be surprising that so many sneakers are produced from such a peaceful spot – and you might have presumed that they’re made overseas.
But New Balance has been manufacturing in the UK for 40 years, and they’re very proud of it. To celebrate, the brand held a two-day programme around the factory, which is located on the edge of the Cumbrian town of Flimby. THE FACE joined key stockists, streetwear journalists and footwear lovers from across Europe to get a glimpse of the production process, take a hike and have a bit of a knees-up in the factory.
In 1982, New Balance commenced production at their original UK factory in Lillyhall, Cumbria, before moving about eight miles up the road to Flimby in 1991. For their 40 years celebrations, New Balance hosted guests in luxury yurts set up right outside the factory, giving the event the feel of a mini music festival. After settling into the site, on the first night a shuttle bus took us to the cosy pub The Bitter End in Cockermouth, a nearby town which is also home to some of the New Balance UK factory employees.
The next day, we’re handed protective goggles and shown around the factory, to see how around 250 workers sculpt the shoes from raw materials every day. The staff recently worked on the 40th anniversary ‘Catalogue Pack’, which consists of five silhouettes – the 991, 773, 1500, 670 and 920 – all of which have ‘1982 – 2022 Made in the UK’ emblazoned inside the tongues. After the factory tour, we’re taken to a proper countryside pub called The Swinside Inn (think low ceilings, steamed-up windows and fish finger sandwiches) for lunch and a few sneaky pints before heading out on a guided hike in the hills which is, without exaggeration, absolutely stunning.
In keeping with the themes of the weekend, the line-up for the party in the factory reflected the “past, present and future of dance music” as well as the deep roots of club culture in the North West of England. The line-up included veteran Manchester DJs Luke Una and former Haçienda resident DJ Paulette, as well as Gina Breeze, who is a stalwart of Manny’s queer clubbing scene, and NTS resident Tarza.
But before the party shifted into club-oriented music, the event warmed up with two very local acts: a performance by the Flimby Male Voice Choir and a DJ set by Roy, a former factory employee and Northern soul enthusiast, who recently retired after working there for 38 years. Despite New Balance’s huge global impact over the last 40 years, it seems they’ve never lost their love for this nice little spot on the outskirts of a Cumbrian coastal town.