Classic New Balance sneakers and the Porsche 911 are similar in a lot of ways. Both are instantly recognizable and known by their numbers. While the overall design of both has remained incredibly consistent over the years, functional and creative tweaks are added all the time. Those changes have the ability to transform the sneaker and the sports car, but it never goes so far that you see it and go, “What the F is that?”
Operating within that framework takes a lot of creativity and discipline. So when New Balance decides to add a new number to its collection of kicks, it’s a big deal. It’s a lot more difficult to make a model that feels new and like a member of a family than it is to design an “out there” sneaker that exists more as a one-off and doesn’t bring a lot of historical DNA to the table.
With the recently released New Balance 247, the task of walking that design tightrope fell to Mark Godfrey and Joe Walsh. Both have a lot of experience with the brand and its legacy and wanted to create a sneaker that paid homage to that. They also wanted a sneaker that felt modern and fresh, so that 20 years from now, sneakerheads might look at the 247 in the same way that today’s fans look at a model like the 998.
We spoke with Godfrey and Walsh to find out how they did it, their favorite parts of the shoe, and the size of their own personal sneaker collections.
What was the original design brief for the shoe?
Godfrey: The global product team said they wanted to create a style specifically for the modern consumer that encompassed the traditional design language that New Balance is known for, but with a more contemporary look. They wanted to build upon what we’d already done with the Re-engineered program by bringing something totally new to the line that would appeal to a different consumer of our classic range.
What were your thoughts when you heard you would be working on it?
Godfrey: We were happy to be working on a new shoe, but at the initiation phase it wasn’t our intention to create a shoe that has become as big as this has for us. We just knew that we wanted to create something very modern and totally different for the brand.
Walsh: The 247 feels like a big step for the brand, so it was exciting to work on it from a design perspective. Despite the shoe being totally new, it was always our intention to embrace the history and heritage of the brand. Those thoughts were there from the beginning of the project.
How did you get into sneaker design?
Godfrey: I studied footwear design and technology at university in England, and I have been working in the industry ever since I graduated back in 2001. New Balance was always a dream job for me, and I was lucky enough to start here back in 2010.
Walsh: I started out as a graphic designer with a heavy focus on logo design and typography, before moving into the footwear industry when I joined New Balance in early 2013.
What are some of the other models you’ve worked on previously?
Godfrey: I work on a lot of the “Made in England” products and packs like the “Surplus” pack and the Epic-TR. Walsh: I work on our classic lifestyle product, styles such as the 420 and 373, along with heritage court styles like the CT288.
What were some aspects you wanted this shoe to have that previous models did not?
Walsh: The idea behind this shoe was to take elements of some of our most iconic styles and combine them with more modern features, such as the stretch booty construction, the single piece toe-box and the lightweight Revlite midsole.
What is involved in coming up with a new number for a shoe? Why did this one have such a clever hook?
Godfrey: As a brand we are known by our model numbers, so when we came to naming the 247 we wanted a number that stood apart from some of our iconic heritage models like the 900 series and 1000 series. While the 247 does take inspiration from a number of these styles, we wanted to firmly position this as something completely new. The 247 worked well because it talks to the versatility and comfort of the shoe for the modern on-the-go lifestyle .
What is your personal favorite aspect of the shoe?
Godfrey: I like the perforated toe on the Luxe pack. I think it makes the shoe look totally unique.
Walsh: My favorite aspect is the way that the classic New Balance “saddle” has evolved on this shoe, the way it loops over the foot with the laces becoming integrated to the shape.
Is there anything about the 247 that people might not notice immediately?
Walsh: The asymmetric line that separates the toe-box from the stretch body. It’s a subtle nod to our classic 1300 silhouette.
New Balance has a very clear design language. How do you innovate within that framework?
Godfrey: I think the framework gives you focus and helps challenge you. It is easy to create a shoe that is wild and crazy but it’s very difficult to create something new, innovative and commercial all within existing parameters. Our approach was to take the best elements of our classic shoes and combine that with modern technology and style.
Do you have a favorite colorway?
Godfrey: That’s difficult, probably the black option from the Luxe pack. The leather is beautiful, It was a lot of fun putting those materials and colors together. I also like the vivid orange color from the Sport pack a lot. It’s a real statement look and the technical materials really offer something unique.
Walsh: My favourite is the off-white pair from the Luxe pack. The tan leather details really work well on that shoe.
How many pairs of sneakers do you have?
Godfrey: Too many! My favorites are some of the unreleased “Made in UK” 1500 colorways that I have. I like keeping the 1-of-1’s.
Walsh: I have no idea. My collection takes up way too much space! I tend to keep a lot of unreleased samples–the early 247 prototypes are definitely up there with the best.