US Firms Hail Defense Policy Change

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The new U.S. Department of Defense policy mandating American-manufactured athletic shoes for service members could be a financial windfall in the short term — and a driver of the domestic supply chain in the longer term, brands told Footwear News.

Last week, the DOD announced it would begin requiring that the stipends provided by military branches for their recruits to buy new athletic shoes be used for wholly American-made styles, where they exist. (In categories where no American-made shoe exists, foreign-produced shoes will continue to be offered.)

The decision was hailed by Boston-based New Balance and Rockford, Mich.-based Wolverine World Wide Inc., both of which have U.S. manufacturing capabilities and have been lobbying for the policy to be changed.

Matt LeBretton, VP of public affairs for New Balance, said the brand has been testing its second version of a 950 style meant for running and training, and will begin wear-testing for the military as soon as possible. Product could be available as soon as the first or second quarter of next year. The shoes, in both men’s and women’s versions in multiple widths and platforms, would be made in the brand’s factories in Maine and Massachusetts, he added.

“[The new policy is] important for our factories and job growth, and our No. 1 goal is to increase domestic manufacturing,” LeBretton said. “This will mean more jobs in our factories, and we’ll know this has been a great success when we put out the ‘now hiring’ signs.”

Andrew Fowler, director of operations for Wolverine’s Bates brand, which manufactures government-contract footwear in the company’s Big Rapids, Mich., factory, said that Bates is working with sister brand Saucony to create compliant sneakers that could be ready “much faster” than the standard 18-month product cycle.

And Wolverine company spokesman David Costello noted the effects could resonate even further. 

“This is important not only to the footwear makers, but to a supply chain within the U.S. that builds the soles and leather and laces that go into the footwear bought by the Department of Defense,” he said. “[Saucony] is the first product, but we think what’s going to go on in the supply chain will lead other brands in the portfolio to make product [here]. This is just a starting point of a new platform of domestic manufacturing.”