Getting To Know: Joe Grondin – New Balance

Continuing our ‘Getting To Know’ series at HIP – we took time to speak to Boston based Joe Grondin – Business Unit Manager – Collaborations & Energy at New Balance. A key player in the rise of New Balance – Joe has also been responsible for bringing to life some of the most memorable and influential footwear collaborations of the last few years.

What were your first experiences of New Balance?

My brother’s been a designer at New Balance for 16-17 years now. I got into the brand really early through him. When I was in middle school, going into high school, I was into nerdy New Balance models and was wearing stuff that people had never seen. And in high school, I was kind of known as the kid that was wearing New Balance because no one was wearing it at the time. I definitely got clowned a decent amount for wearing New Balance, especially in high school when kids could only see Nike and Adidas since that what was athletes were wearing. It’s been a 15 year mission to make New Balance cool for me!

How did you start your career?

I did an internship with Warrior Sports, which is a lacrosse/hockey brand that New Balance owns. So that was an interesting role. At the time, the cleated product from Warrior was coming from the same team that was doing New Balance baseball. It was a really cool start in footwear because I learned so much about product creation and product testing. I did that for a year and a half and then my boss at the time came over to New Balance to start what was called “sport style”, which was more of that contemporary lifestyle product. It was when the whole athleisure thing started happening. It was really the first time we started making lifestyle product that wasn’t retro classics. I was on that team for a while, but obviously we have taken over the collaboration space, that wasn’t previously a business, over the past 3-4 years. There was no strategy behind collaborations, and it was always something that I was very into and knew that we needed to get ahead of because we were just behind everyone in the industry. When I moved to Tokyo for six months, our VP at the time was Japanese, and he was the only VP in the New Balance brand that wasn’t in Boston, so he had a very different perspective. I pitched a new collaboration strategy to him he was just like, “yeah, you can do it”.

Did you know you wanted to go into a product management space?

I started in a marketing internship, which transitioned into a product management role. A product manager can really empower design. If you have a good eye for product, you can get good design through the company and into the market. That idea was pretty attractive to me

An integral part of that is knowing what’s going on from a trend perspective, how did you stay connected? How did the context of COVID affect this?

Yeah, for sure. When I started travelling internationally for New Balance is when I learned everything. When you’re just sitting in an office on the internet, you can only learn so much. Getting to spend time in Japan and seeing how people dress and act and what speaks to them from a product perspective, then going to events like Paris Fashion Week twice a year – that type of stuff really helps you out.

Meeting certain people in those places that you can rely on has been really key for me, especially during COVID when we couldn’t really travel and we’re pretty much discovering trends through Instagram. It’s a huge part of it obviously, but for me it’s been key having people in those tastemaker cities that you can just call or text to ask, “is this cool?”.

Are those relationships something that you had before your New Balance role? Or is that something you’ve built in this role over time?

I feel like it came through New Balance. I mean, you can only meet so many people when you’re in Boston, right? I started to get into the whole space through Bodega – that was probably like my first introduction to sneaker culture and what that creative landscape looks like because they kind of run it here in terms of putting on parties or events or just representing diversity and culture in the city.

Do you brief with a specific consumer in mind? Or is it just stuff you vibe with on a personal level and put it out and hope it’s going to resonate in the market?

Sometimes you’re going to make stuff that consumers don’t know about yet but hope that they are inspired by, and that’s important. Especially with collaborations, I felt that I’ve kind of embodied the New Balance look and feel, how I saw things and how I wore the brand. So a lot of the partners that we’ve worked with are brands that I liked personally, to be honest.

How did you rebuild the collaboration strategy and why do you think New Balance has such an affinity with people?

I think the ‘Endorsed By No One’ slogan from back in the day was super bold and speaks to New Balance, because it was against the grain and opposite of what everyone else was doing at the time. Influential artists and fashion people don’t always want to be told, “this is cool”. They’d rather adopt a look that they’ve discovered through various subcultures and make it their own.

What is the process of collaborations like?

From a general planning perspective, we lay out the entire year. What are our key models? What are our secondary stories? What are the topics that we’re trying to cover? And now we have a roster of partners we like – a lot of different aesthetics that we can play with. But before when we didn’t have anyone really besides retailers on the list, it was definitely more difficult. So yeah, it’s really flipped on its head. We’re not really reaching out to too many people anymore, the opportunities are coming to us. We try to define the sections of the fashion space and then get the best representation in that space for New Balance – pick one, build a like a nice relationship with them and keep evolving that.

Quick fire questions: Top 3 New Balance models?

990 v3, probably 580 from a style standpoint as that’s what I used to wear in high school. Probably 992 as well.

Most inspiring place?


Favourite movie?

Want to say something that’s not like cliche. Shawshank Redemption. Is that too obvious?

Follow Joe here.

Explore New Balance at HIPonline and in Leeds.