BOSTON – New Balance thinks the U.S. military is dragging its feet.
Last April, the Department of Defense announced military recruits would start using athletic shoes 100 percent made and manufactured in America, in recognition of a law Congress passed in 1941 requiring the department give preference to American-made goods.
Over a year after the announcement, the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines have still not purchased a single sneaker that meets the exacting standards of the 1941 law, known as the Berry Amendment.
Matthew LeBretton, New Balance’s vice president of public affairs, is convinced the delays are deliberate “payback” for companies like New Balance that have been vocally lobbying for the change for years.
Mark Wright, a spokesman for the Department of Defense, said the department is simply continuing to test Berry-compliant sneakers.
“We’ve moved right along since the new policy went into effect last year,” he said. “I don’t think this is being slow-rolled at all. We’re trying to respond to the needs of our forces.”
To date, one variant of Boston-based New Balance’s proposed 950v2 sneaker has passed the military’s testing, after a previous version failed last year. Two other styles of the same shoe – covering the different foot and gait types that the military requires shoe companies offer – are still being tested.
No other shoe brand appears to be going through the testing; Saucony, another Massachusetts-based footwear company, said it’s developing a sneaker that eventually could be considered for military use.
New Balance and Saucony suggest part of the problem lies in an inefficient testing regimen.
Wright said the process involves an inquiry to assure that all shoe components are sourced, made and assembled in the U.S., followed by a “wear test” that lasts roughly 90 days in which soldiers put them through the paces and then fill out a report on how they felt.
“We know it won’t change overnight,” said David Costello, a spokesman for Wolverine Worldwide, Saucony’s parent company. “The wheels of government tend to move slowly.”
Frank Kendall, an undersecretary of defense, said tests are being done one shoe type at a time because of a limited number of testers. He expects evaluations of New Balance’s shoes to be done by September.
LeBretton said the testing is the most protracted the company, which already provides sneakers for the Navy, has ever been involved in.
The U.S. Coast Guard, he notes, has already moved to comply with the Berry Amendment.
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