New Balance and Bodega Are Here to Stay

·15 min read

Bodega's New Balance 990v3 'Anniversary' collab. Image via Bodega

Fifteen years is a long time in the regular world. But in the sneaker world, 15 years feels like an eternity. Trends change, brands come and go, new sneakers become hype, old sneakers become irrelevant. If you took a snapshot of this industry all the way back in 2006, it would look very different than it does in 2021.

Fifteen years after its opening, Boston’s own Bodega is still around and focusing the majority of its efforts toward impacting the same city. In celebration of its 15th anniversary, Bodega has teamed up with New Balance for a collaborative colorway of the 990v3 set to release on June 16. Early teasers of the project show an intentionally neutral-colored silhouette marked with the tagline “here to stay.”

Bodega x New Balance 990v3 'Anniversary' Collab
Bodega's New Balance 990v3 collab in its 'Here to Stay' campaign. Image via Bodega

“It’s reliable and it just looks good no matter what,” Bodega’s director of marketing, Matt Zaremba says of the collaboration. “That goes back to our internal mantra of here to stay, which is literally the tagline we’re running with for the shoe as it being the product version of what Bodega’s been doing. Just, it’s consistent, it’s consistently good.”

Bodega is no stranger to collaborating with New Balance. The shop has teamed up with the fellow New England-based brand on a number of occasions. Most notably, Bodega helped NB introduce the reinvented 997S model in 2019 and championed that silhouette as its own in a way.

To be able to partner with a brand that shares the same foundation means a lot to Zaremba, as well as the shop’s lead designer, Drew White.

“Having that regional pride woven into these projects is awesome,” White says. “Bodega started in Boston. Everyone that has worked [at New Balance] and supported the brand has come through the Boston way.”

Bodega has spent the last decade and a half proving why they are “here to stay.” They have proven the ability to adapt to the constantly changing climate of the sneaker industry.

Here, Complex spoke with Zaremba and White about their 990v3, past work with New Balance, as well as Bodega’s 15 years in the industry.

Bodega x New Balance 990v3 'Anniversary' Collab
An on-feet look of Bodega's New Balance 990v3 collab. Image via Bodega

Can you guys take me through the design process of this 990v3 and what it means to you and Bodega as a whole?

Drew White: Yeah. So I think the significant point with this project is we’ve worked with New Balance for years, but this is our first time doing a made in USA model. When you think of New Balance, that’s what comes to mind at first. So I think it’s a significant moment for us, for sure to be offered a model like that. Especially the 990v3, it’s a fan-favorite for the New Balance enthusiasts. I think our relationship up until now, we worked on new models, which has been dope, but we were definitely inclined to take those projects to a different place and be a little bit more bold and out there and with this one, doing something that looks like it’s from their more iconic line.

It was just doing what we know New Balance is known for, which is generally more neutral shoes, obviously the gray and such and this, I think this shoe and it’s very olive and brown based, but it’s almost when you see New Balances at a thrift store or well used, they get this yellowy brown tinge to them, you know what I’m saying? And coming out of the box, and with it being our 15-year anniversary, it’s just certain details I think that just make it ours, like the gum sole on the 990 isn’t something that is really done often.

It seems like all of the comments and early reception for the shoe have been positive. What’s it like to see that with such an important collaboration?

Matt Zaremba: I think the feedback goes back to what Drew was saying where it’s a little bit more of an homage to what makes New Balance last this long and the quality, this is a shoe for New Balance heads and it’s no frills. It veers away from some of the more Bodega funk or like wildcard stuff we’ve been doing with these other models. I expected the feedback to be from people who really appreciate New Balance, appreciate reliable style and would definitely gravitate to this. So seeing that initial reaction definitely vindicated that for sure.

It seems like New Balance is really going to emphasize the 990v3 this year. Can you speak to being one of the first brands to help them bring it back?

DW: Those are the situations I think we enjoy the most because we’re able to establish the energy for the months to come or for the calendar that they have following. Obviously the 990 has been around, but not a lot of collabs have happened on it, especially the V3. I’m not even sure how many have, but I know it’s not a lot at all. I think for those reasons, there’s a pressure, but it’s like the pressure that you want. I think we always want to be in the conversation and I think that’s why, again, the significance of this one, it brings us into a different conversation in our relationship with New Balance, because you have other partners that are constantly there to do made in USA product.

Bodega x New Balance 990v3 'Anniversary' Collab
Bodega's New Balance 990v3 'Anniversary' collab. Image via Bodega

You mentioned the history of the 990v3, but I want to switch to the 997S, which was a shoe that did not have much history before you guys worked on it. It kind of seems like Bodega’s shoe in a way. Can you speak to that?

DW: We worked with New Balance on three projects before the 997S, and it was like, there was the first one which never really came out, it was almost a 574 booty, but it never officially released. And then there was the Hypercat, which was a big, significant release. And even at the time of that release, that New Balance project, that was our biggest collab ever. But then in between that, when we had this Mass Transit project, which was super limited, it was 100 pairs, just a custom New Balance, more than a real collaboration. So anyway, all that to say, there was just a long period of time before we came back with something of note with New Balance and they had a focus each year, so they had to focus on the 997. We were down for the new 997 and they presented this 997S, which was a sportier more retro athletic feeling version of the new 997 they were coming with. And we just felt like that was where our head was at, in terms of the design of that shoe to begin with. So it made sense for us to step over and claim that model in a big way, because it was like, you guys could debut this one. I think it’s an invaluable aspect to our relationship and history with New Balance now, because it is something that no one really saw coming. With the first one, it was like a breath of fresh air for the sneaker world.

MZ: I think also it took something that was inherently New Balance, and even from the jump, our take on it was radical for what they were doing. Whether you look at the materials of that first one, the storytelling behind it, the very granular details that we put, basically that shoe came out as a full package from the design through the market campaign, everything was super Bodega, but it was through the canvas of this New Balance silhouette. And so therefore, I’ll go so far to say as, I don’t think anybody could really pull that off that presentation of it as well as we did for it, straight up.

Is it different working with New Balance this time around? Obviously they are having quite the moment right in recent years, arguably as big as any brand out there right now. Is it different now than it was then?

MZ: I mean, I don’t know from the design perspective, Drew can speak on that, but just in general, what their teams… We have a great relationship with them. They give a lot of freedom, creative freedom and they really trust us. So yeah. It’s a real pleasure to work with their team. It’s very low pressure and there’s more room to just explore, especially from the marketing side, whatever we want to do to tell that story. I think they have a lot of trust in our storytelling capability and overall aesthetics. So it’s gone better.

DW: The 997S proved a lot in establishing that trust on a different level I think too, because we did what we did with that project, it was a good case study for them to know what we were capable of. I think if anything, another aspect with New Balance is they’re right in our backyard and people at their company, when we were outside, we would see them in common places. So it’s like, there’s certain people over there that have definitely helped us just get the respect we deserve, too.

MZ: I mean, yeah it’s definitely an organic relationship. And the other thing about New Balance is they really believe in their projects. They get as excited about them as a consumer might. And that’s really infectious. And, when we make any project, we’re excited or else we wouldn’t be taking that risk, per se. So when you’re working with a partner and they’re as excited and they want to hear more about the campaign, they want to hear more ideas that you might have no matter how far-flung they are. That’s cool, that’s empowering because it’s just like, all right, well we just got to keep moving the needle and see what you guys think. So I think having that, it builds up confidence when the people you’re working with, they’re like, “I can’t wait for these to drop.” And you’re like, “Neither can we,” so I think that resonates with the consumer, and our supporters.

Bodega x New Balance 997S 'No Days Off'
Bodega's New Balance 997S 'No Days Off' Collab. Image via Bodega

As you mentioned, New Balance is right in your backyard, headquartered in Boston. Is it special to work with a brand rooted in the same city as you?

DW: Yeah. I think for us, we were lucky that a lot of, or I think what works to Bodega’s advantage is that so many of the major footwear companies are rooted in New England in a way, if you really look at it, there’s so many out here. So it has definitely helped build relationships with each of these brands that go a little deeper. Having that regional pride woven into these projects is awesome. Bodega started in Boston. Everyone that has worked there and supported the brand has come through the Boston way. Obviously LA’s been huge recently, but just to be able to reinforce that, I feel like there’s so much influence in the region as far as style, what is New England’s style and all this stuff. And that’s the thing that I’m personally very connected to, and I love to do those types of projects that emphasize what we’re about out here because I feel like it’s so open-ended. But I think the New Balance partnership is a testament to all that, of the type of a product we strive to create. They’ve obviously been doing it for years, but it’s us staying connected to the heritage and tradition of footwear in the region.

MZ: I think it’s also interesting in terms of product design in general, because they are from this region and we all know how we utilize gear in this region and the complex nature of the seasons and terrain. So there’s always just an inherent underlying idea behind how this functions and I think our industry focuses a lot on New York and LA, but our team, even though we’re bi-coastal we’re always thinking Boston, Providence, you know what I mean? Places like that, very New England. And I think a lot of the things that were influenced by apparel that’s even outside of our industry per se, is very New England based. So it’s a familial thing to have, people who are also aware of just those factors, whether it ranges from the weather and terrain to just evergreen heritage and stuff, or the lineage of product coming out of this region that we always harken back to.

This shoe is meant to celebrate 15 years of Bodega. What is it like to be able to say you’ve had your stamp on this industry for that long?

DW: I feel like time has flown. My connection to Boston in college, I came into Bodega as an intern and such, and that was 10 solid years ago. So I did that for 10 years and it has just flown by. I feel like just seeing how the team has grown and how we have been able to open a store in LA and establish a presence out there that carries the same energy over, because I do feel that being based in Boston and such, we were out on a limb I felt like in the retail landscape out there, so there needed to be a real support system to get it to this point. And it is there and it’s alive and well, and it shows, with the store being able to stick around and remain relevant this long. Because when I think about stores that were in the conversation that have come and gone in the same span, it really puts it into perspective how significant making it to 15 years and doing the same type of thing the whole way through is.

MZ: Fifteen years equates to a few things, it equates to A, having a strong vision, it equates to being consistent, and we always have that mantra internally of it’s not a sprinter, it’s a marathon. And then it also, like Drew was alluding to, has a lot to do with our community. And I think because we did give a home for style and innovation in New England where again, so much of the industry was focused elsewhere. The scene itself helps amplify and build up Bodega, which then became a voice, a global voice to a degree for a very regional scene. So now that’s affecting the global scene, which is cool. But yeah, I think 15 years is a testament of the community we’ve helped support and build up that’s interested in fashion and creativity, et cetera, all pillars of our ethos.

What is it specifically about this v3 that it says 15 years to you guys?

DW: I would say it’s the whole idea of the timelessness of it and the design and it does what New Balance does well, but it also injects some of what Bodega is known for and it’s in the color palette. Even though the color palette is more muted overall, there’s slight variation throughout it where there are still 10-plus colors on the shoe. I think with the iconic nature of the v3 in itself, and our aim to make it the day in, day out shoe. The model is one thing, but then our interpretation of the model, just builds on top of it to create something that’s unique. And I guess this whole idea of timelessness, we wanted to create something that in… You ever see shoes that were done at a certain point, like a collab and you’re like, “Holy shit, I can tell that’s from 2008,” just because they overdid it or whatever, there are certain colors and elements? But with this, it was just the idea of, in 20 years from now, you could see the shoe and it would still be a good looking shoe. No matter which way you slice it. So we had these two ideas. This idea of 15 years in the making is what this project represents. And then the idea of here to stay with Bodega, more just speaking to Bodega’s legacy, the years of establishing ourselves in the industry. So those are the two main themes behind it.

MZ: Like I said earlier, it’s like a sneakerhead sneaker. It’s reliable and it just looks good no matter what. So Drew hit the nail on the head talking about the timelessness of it. It’s going to look good down the road. And again that goes back to our internal mantra of here to stay, which is literally the tagline we’re running with for the shoe as it being the product version of what Bodega’s been doing. Just, it’s consistent, it’s consistently good.

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