New Balance opened its UK manufacturing facility on 23rd August, 1982. Against the trend, which has seen many of its competitors moving production overseas, the company remains committed to manufacturing in Britain, and has now been rewarded for its creativity, ambition and endeavour with a Queen’s Award for Enterprise.
Currently New Balance, which employs over 210 people at its site in Flimby, Cumbria, and produces over 28,000 pairs of shoes a week, with 90% of all footwear sold going to European markets.
“Everyone at New Balance is delighted and proud that our design and manufacturing innovation and our vital contribution to the sustainable growth of the UK economy has been recognised with such a prestigious and unique accolade,” said Jon Ram, Managing Director for Europe, Middle East and Africa. “The ‘Made in England’ cachet, coupled with product quality and manufacturing flexibility has offered us distinct advantages in certain of our export markets – significant examples being Japan and Italy, where we have achieved considerable market penetration.”
New Balance shoes have been available to the British market since 1979 when they were distributed by Fleetfoot, a company run by Olympic Gold Medallist, Chris Brasher. Once the brand became established in the running market, it was time to develop domestic manufacturing, a key philosophy of New Balance. Thus, in 1982 New Balance’s first factory in the UK opened in the North West of England in the picturesque Lake District. Situated on the coast of Workington, Cumbria, the New Balance production unit initially employed 40 people. Work progressed there throughout the 1980’s and up until 1991 when the factory was relocated to a larger, more modern premise at a nearby town called Maryport.
In 1993 Modular Manufacturing (teamwork) systems were introduced, which meant more efficient production and better quality control. With this, system versatility was improved with associates trained on more than one job in the factory, which meant a more varied day’s work and tighter quality control for the product.
When the factory moved in 1991, production was around 2,000-3,000 pairs a week. Production has steadily increased as demand for New Balance shoes has grown throughout Europe. The factory handcrafts almost all New Balance running shoes and heritage classics, and has recently introduced the technology to begin manufacturing styles from the popular cross training fitness range.
By 1993 the factory was making 4,771 pairs of New Balance shoes a week. This increased to 7,403 by 1996 and to 9,787 by 1998. It is currently making around 28,000 pairs of shoes a week with demand for even more. The factory finally broke the one million pair per year barrier in 2003.
The recent construction of a new 21,500 square foot warehouse enables production to be increased. The UK factory is a real success story, continuing to grow as demand increases. However, there are some things that stay the same – many of the associates! New Balance Europe works hard to keep its associates, and many of those associates have been with NB since 1982 when the first NB manufacturing facility in the UK opened its doors. New Balance Europe (UK) hopes to continue to experience favourable growth in the domestic manufacturing arena, and plans to continue to provide stable employment for the people of Maryport and the surrounding towns.