The 574 is, perhaps, New Balance’s most iconic and referenced shoe.
Globally recognized, especially to those not particularly interested in sneakers, it is usually the first NB that comes to mind for your average person.
To sneaker aficionados, the 574 is instantly acknowledged and revered. Its popularity in the 1990s and 2000s, from American urban settings to hip Tokyo streets, has solidified the 574 as an all-time great. Countless collabs with the 574 over the past 20 years or so have helped to keep the model current, relevant, and respected to this day.
Many sneaker fans don’t realize the obscure and mysterious history of the 574.
The road-running boom of the 1970s was in full swing and brands were constantly coming out with new models. By the time the 80s hit, the economy was bustling, materials and technology were progressing, and athletic companies were pumping out better and better product. Running was becoming more popular not only on paved streets, but also on trails and country paths.
NB’s 500 series addressed this new wave of the active, luxury consumer. The 500 series was built of durable suede, breathable mesh, and aggressive outsoles to help handle sticks and rocks. The 575 was released in 1986 and its updated version, the 576, came out in 1988.
Shortly after, a prototype of the 574 (featuring “C-Cap,” a cushioned midsole) was born. It was a hybrid of both the 575 and the 576 and utilized features from both. It was designed to be a versatile and more accessible version of the 576.
The final version of the 574, with the company’s new “Encap” midsole, was never actually produced for retail until 1990 or so. Exact dates and years have always been up for debate.
“Encap” is short for “encapsulated” and is a soft piece of EVA surrounded by a hard plastic ring for stability. The Encap unit is located under the heel and inside of the midsole; it cannot be seen from the outside. To this very day, many New Balances still use Encap technology.
The 574 was stripped down, straight-to-the point, and well-rounded. It was built for all types of terrain and was an instant hit which sold very well. It was so successful that it did not change for many years to come.
The success of the 574 might be considered a “happy accident” of sorts. While its initial design and function served its purpose and received praise in the running circuit, it wasn’t until the mid-90s where the 574 picked up steam in a lifestyle fashion mindset. The model could be seen on the feet of rappers such as Phife Dawg (RIP), Raekwon, and Mos Def.
Over in Tokyo, the 574 (and New Balance in general), was rocked for style and became a hit amongst the cool and fashion-forward. NB began pumping out mad colorways of the 574 and presented region-specific releases.
The 574s in Japan were different from 574s in Europe, which were different from 574s in the U.S. For collectors like myself, it was literally impossible to collect them all, as there were simply too many colorways and variants out there to keep track of. This wasn’t quite the global economy that we know of today and many places did not ship abroad. You literally had to see and buy them in person.
The model’s popularity continued to grow into the 2000s. As the years went by, so did the colorways and materials. Store shelves were stocking 574s decked out in camo, covered in stars, lined with wool, and tricked out in crazy colors.
There were 2006 Centennial Anniversary editions to celebrate the company’s 100th birthday. There were ones where the pieces were sonic welded. There were ones made specifically for the golf course. There were hybrids updated with Fresh Foam midsoles. Collabs with UNDFTD, Haze, Atmos, and many others further escalated the 574’s status. Made in USA 574s would also return, constructed of premium suede and showing fine craftsmanship.
My favorite collection from this era is the “Clips Pack.” This consisted of four colorways (blue, green, orange, and burgundy) of USA-made 574s and each pair came with a Polaroid photograph. Each colorway was limited to 120 pairs, totalling 480 pairs, and sold through only a handful of sneaker store accounts.
There was an interactive website featuring 480 little video clips which corresponded with each pair and Polaroid. You could click through and find your pair and watch a little video of your exact pair. You were also able to “claim” your pair and add your name with a special code.
In 2012, NB introduced the NB1 customization program, which enabled you to customize 574s and have them hand-crafted in New England. For a brief period, there was a Made in UK version of the 574.
There was also the 574 Sport, which was outfitted in a chunky, modern midsole and would see collabs with Kith, New Era, Mita, and several others. There’s the Reengineered 574, a minimalistic version with perforated synthetics. NB’s skateboarding line, NB Numeric, also made a few 574s with a cupsole for skate purposes. For someone to catalog every 574 is most likely impossible at this point and would be a full-time job in itself!
In 2018 New Balance launched “Grey Day,” which celebrates and pays homage to the 574 and NB’s signature color of grey. Around this time, New Balance re-introduced the 574 in its classic shape. There have been numerous special events and releases for “Grey Day,” including 574s in the original 1300 and 990v1 colorways. A little known secret…there was a sample made of a 574 in the original 1500 colorway but was never produced and I might just have a pair here in my stash! Who knows what NB has in-store for its next Grey Day?
More recently, the 574 could be seen on the feet of Rihanna, Leonardo DiCaprio, Pharrell Williams, Kendrick Lamar and a host of other notable names.
The most recent iteration is the 57/40, which has a futuristic look and is perhaps the 574’s furthest departure from its original DNA. The sole is modern and the panels are applied in turnt angles. Upcoming collabs for the 57/40 include N.Hoolywood, Whiz, and Atmos.
The plethora of 574 variations, colorways, and collabs is numerous and deep. The model has come a long way since its inception more than 30 years ago. The 574’s legacy lives on and will continue to do so.
Add some historic heat to your rotation with the New Balance 574, a perfect pair of kicks for any occasion. Available now at jdsports.com.
Richie Roxas has the world’s biggest New Balance collection. He works two jobs and freelances as a writer and brand consultant to enable his sneaker addiction. Not limited to sneakers, he also collects guitars, amps, synths, movies, books, records, tapes, CDs, Lacoste, and Helly Hansen. Find him on Instagram at @newbalance365.
(Images by Manuel Dominguez Jr.)