Call it the Boston Bonfire, social media style. Boston-based New Balance sneakers found itself a symbol of anti-Trump sentiment yesterday after a spokesman told the Wall Street Journal’s Sara Germano it was hopeful the President-elect would kill the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement as he has threatened to do during the campaign. Its sneakers were burned, trashed and vilified.
“The Obama administration turned a deaf ear to us and, frankly, with President-elect Trump, we feel things are going to move in the right direction,” Matthew LeBretton, New Balance’s VP of public affairs, told Germano in an interview Wednesday. The reporter tweeted out that sentiment, igniting the firestorm of protest.
“That didn’t go over well with the public. After all, more than half the electorate didn’t vote for Trump,” reports Kim Bhasin for Bloomberg. “Furious shoppers converged on New Balance’s Facebook page to rail against the brand and call for boycotts. On Twitter, they shared photos and videos of their New Balance sneakers thrown in the trash or tossed in the toilet. Some even lit their kicks on fire.”
“I will not buy New Balance again ever,” one outraged customer wrote. “I am finding as many people as possible to spread this news.”
In an emailed statement to CBS News, New Balance clarified its position, CBS’ Jennifer Earl writes.
“As the only major company that still makes athletic shoes in the United States, New Balance has a unique perspective on trade in that we want to make more shoes in the United States, not less. 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. We believe in community.”
It elaborated on the “local” nature of the “global” community in a tweet.
New Balance’s “LeBretton told NPR earlier this year that New Balance kept quiet about its dislike for TPP because the Obama administration promised to contract the company to make sneakers for the military,” recounts Cam Wolf for Racked about a piece by Robert Smith that aired April 22. “The military is required to buy products made entirely in the U.S. and New Balance’s sneakers met those specifications.”
At least some of them are made entirely in the U.S. And, although China is not a party to the TPP, trade is decidedly a two-way street. Consider this snippet from another NPR story six weeks later that covers both points.
“Most of New Balance's shoes are made in Asia, and Americans love them because they are cheap. It was Chinese factories, in part, that killed New England's once-vibrant shoe industry,” Murray Carpenter reported for “All Things Considered” on June 2. “But some are still made in America, and in a twist on global trade, Chinese consumers, who love the American-made shoes for their high quality, are helping to keep some of New England's last shoe factories afloat. They seek out that ‘Made in USA’ label.”
In any event, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative told NPR in a written statement in April that while they supported New Balance getting a fair shot at a military contract it hadn't made a shoe that meets the military's standards. LeBretton said at the time that the company didn't get a fair shot.
“We couldn't even get in the front door. I mean, they wouldn't even let us in the parking lot,” he told Smith.
There is a zig to every zag, as President Obama pointed out in his post-election speech Wednesday.
“Others, meanwhile, expressed support for New Balance and its stance against TPP,” reports The WSJ’s Germano. “On the brand’s Facebook page, user Matty Hervey wrote: ‘I am not a Trump supporter, I didn’t vote for him, and I don’t like him. Knowing that NB opposes the TPP is a reason to support them and I will buy my athletic shoes from them from now on.’”
It would be nice if those zigs and zags could cross in the middle sometimes.
After I suggested that we start using social media for dialogue rather than one-sided vitriol in a Social Media Insider column yesterday, a thoughtful reader responded: “It's a bit hard to tell whether you are being hopeful or actually optimistic that people will stop talking (mostly about themselves) and start really listening to other voices and other opinions.”
I’m probably being a bit Don Quixote-like, in all honesty.