by Brendan Dunne
Photos by Liz Barclay
Mortgage the house.
That was the order given to anyone aspiring to own a pair of the New Balance 1300 when the sneaker first launched in 1985.
The tongue-in-cheek piece of ad copy was a way for the brand to introduce the $130 shoe (that’s $282 today with inflation taken into account), which New Balance openly admitted “costs more than any running shoe you’ve probably ever owned.” In the ad’s closing arguments, the shoe was billed as, “The very best running shoe ever made.”
Positioning the shoe as a luxury item in comparison to other runners at the time struck a chord. The sneaker earned a cult following in Japan, with demand eventually leading to a re-issue in 1995 known as the New Balance 1300JP.
“Japan was an early adopter of New Balance,” said collector Patrick Judabong, founder of ThoseNBs.com. “The region itself has popularized the release of some serious 580s and 1300s. They recognize fine craftsmanship.”
Since ‘95, the sneaker has been on a quinquennial release plan: 2000, 2005, and 2010. And right on schedule, New Balance will bring back the 1300JP this weekend, with a build that’s closer than it’s ever been to the 1985 original.
But getting the shape, materials, and colors as close as possible to the initial run was no easy task.
“It’s an incredible challenge because of the amount of finesse that goes into this product,” said Steve Gardner, New Balance’s strategic business unit manager for lifestyle product. “There are a lot of nuances that we really work at.”
New Balance Japan's perspectives on the historical significance amongst Japanese collectors was also integral to getting the retro just right. This collaborative process, wherein New Balance Japan is able to vet the work done by American factories and product people, has ensured that releases over the years maintain the integrity of the original. Both the U.S. and Japan Lifestyle teams are able to combine archives of original pairs for reference.
A longtime lead in the process is Shinichi Kubota, New Balance’s general manager for global lifestyle. Kubota was part of the team that put together that first-ever New Balance 1300JP re-issue that released in 1995.
“At the time, we could connect [with] many people who worked on the original 1985 New Balance 1300,” Kubota said. “I talked with the original designer, developer, product manager, and other people to get feedback and ideas about when they originally worked on the style.”
Then there was the original Japanese price, a commanding 39,000 yen in 1985, which Kubota remembers as being the equivalent of $350 to $400 at the time. The high price meant that the shoe was admired by many, but only owned by few.
It was so prized that after its 1985 introduction, deadstock pairs became extremely valuable before its triumphant return in 1995. "You could actually see them at auctions for over $1,000 USD,” Kubota said. “However, in most cases they weren’t wearable due to hydrolysis.”
(Hydrolysis, the process by which molecules breakdown over time due to water, is a common ruiner of vintage sneakers.)
Production of 1300JP retros at New Balance’s stateside factories is carefully scrutinized by the Japanese team that visits the facilities often for quality control. Tetsuya Shono, New Balance Japan’s senior lifestyle category manager, related a story about one of those factory visits that illustrates the dedication to the craft that factory workers here in the U.S. have:
I can share a funny story about the development of the 1300JP in 2010. There is an inner stitch on the “N” logo, and we were stitching the corner of the logo to be purposely rounded to look identical to the 1985 original. I think that specification happened just by coincidence, but we wanted to replicate this rounded stitch and we asked to do that on the development side in the U.S. However, samples came back with a straight lined, acute angle stitch. This happened because the US factory associates are very proud of their techniques and craftsmanship, so they did their best work so that the stitch was very neat. After that, I asked them to stitch the corner to be rounded again, but they couldn’t understand the purpose because they always want to put their best work forward—why make something purposely not good when they can make them perfect with their professional techniques? It took a while to convince them, but the stitch became rounded and it was a good learning in different perceptions of “best.”
The shoe has had missteps along the way though, and Kubota recalls that some people were disappointed about small changes when the shoe came back for the first time in 1995. The bottom’s Vibram outsole, for instance, went missing on that pair and didn’t show up again until 2010.
While the New Balance 1300 is a flagship model for the brand’s Made in USA range, the sneaker’s production hasn’t always been a strictly American affair. There was a Korean version, and Flimby factories in the U.K. produced pairs for some time as well.
Gardner explains that different factories served different geographic locations, which led to a sort of accidental introduction of the idea of regionally exclusive sneaker releases.
“It was easier to have it made locally for the European market and the same for the U.S. market,” Gardner said. “Both factories were originally made so we could serve the local markets much better and faster. Korea at the time was serving Japan too, and in a lot of cases back then, that’s why you would see those shoes come out of each of those regions.”
It’s important to mention that the retro timeline of the New Balance 1300 in general is much busier than the once-every-five-years rate of the New Balance 1300JP. Somewhere around 1996, New Balance introduced the 1300CL, a model that deviated from the original 1300 by replacing the outsole with a kit from the New Balance 577.
This take on the New Balance 1300 is a much more common site on sneaker shelves, so much so that most likely aren’t aware that it’s a hybrid. That still hasn’t hurt the model’s overall standing in the eyes of hardcore collectors, both overseas and in the USA.
Richie Roxas, a Philadelphia-based collector who runs New Balance 365, an account dedicated to shedding light on NB styles year-round, calls the 1300 his favorite New Balance of all time.
He’s been collecting New Balance since 1994, but didn’t learn the legend of the 1300JP until Internet sneaker communities started to spring up in the new millennium. “I didn't see anything about the 1300JP until around 2002. I didn't know any 1300s ever existed outside of the 1300CL until then,” says Roxas.
He spent years coveting the shoe, and eventually tracked down a beat pair of the 1995 New Balance 1300JP. Newer pairs from 2005 and 2010 proved difficult to obtain though thanks to their regional exclusivity.
“It was hard to get them stateside,” Roxas said, “A lot of the Asian sites were hard to translate and it seemed like none of them shipped to the states. I'm not sure if any stores in the states ended up carrying them but I searched high and low and failed.”
Rob Stewart, the man behind New Balance Gallery, describes the sneaker as one that he would “lie, beg, borrow and steal to get [his] hands on.” He had to do a bit of that to track down his pair of the New Balance 1300JP in 2010.
Steward spied a pair on UK-based sneaker shop Crooked Tongues that was on sale for a mere £70. But he didn’t act fast enough. “At £70 I was all in, ready to double up,” Stewart said. “But by the time my morning break came around it was clear to see a number of others had thought the exact same. All gone. Sold out.”
As it turned out, a friend in Stewart’s area had bought a few pairs, even one in his size. But he refused to sell them, saying that he needed to make some extra money via reselling them on eBay. The friend also refused to let Stewart pay him anything over retail for the sneakers.
“Despite my desperate pleas, he flatly refused to sell me the JP at a single penny over what he had paid. ” Stewart explained, “He needed to sell them on eBay to make some extra cash.”
Stewart arranged to have a coworker offer to buy the sneakers via a local meetup, figuring his friend selling the sneakers would take the bait to get around the eBay fees. As soon as they hit eBay, he made the move.
He had the sneakers in his hands by the end of the day. “My plan quickly sprung into life,” says Stewart. “My work colleague offered the friend £180 and asked to meet that same day with the cash. The deal was done, the JP were mine and my friend was (and to this day is) none the wiser.”
Clearly, the New Balance 1300JP is no longer just a Japanese sneaker. Its legend has grown, and the shoe has become a hallmark of the brand’s retro offerings. It’s a testament to the approach of ignoring how bulky a price tag might be in order to ensure that quality is delivered.
The New Balance 1300JP makes its return this weekend. You might need to refinance the house.