Now You Know: Yue Wu

"An undisputed cultural symbol for our times," that's what writer Naomi Braithwaite called the sneaker. "Once the symbol of athleticism," she writes, "it has transcended its primary function to become commercial and fashionable objects of desire." Braithwaite is not wrong. And that is why, with the global sneaker market predicted to reach $120 billion by 2026, it's surprising that sneaker designers still need help to get their flowers. So often, people like Steven Smith and Tinker Hatfield, responsible for this once underground, now thriving culture, are secluded and virtually unknown in the shadows. 

We're in an interesting phase of sneaker design: brands are emphasizing the re-release of retros and failing to introduce that 'new-new.' Making it more challenging for new designers to "make their mark in the industry." However, not all is lost, with brands such as Salomon, adidas, and New Balance slowly introducing new designs into their repertoires. 

New Balance, in particular, has been exciting to watch. If any brand has had many a millennial's bank account in a chokehold, it would have to be this one. With one of the most prolific catalogue releases, the brand has quickly risen in popularity over the last few years, from collaborations with the likes of Aime Leon Dore and Joe Fresh Goods to its general releases of 9060 and 2002r. 

New talent can be attributed to much of the brand's recent success, for example, Charlotte Lee, who designed the 327 and possibly the most stand-out designer in recent times, Yue Wu. 

Designer Yue Wu. Image via LinkedIn

Born and raised in China, Yue Wu later relocated to the United States and built a name for himself as one of our generation's most influential sneaker designers. His confederates are talents such as Daniel Bailey (adidas frequent collaborator) and even Safa Sahin (Balmain, head of shoe design), amongst others. 

One of New Balance's front-line soldiers, Wu was instrumental to the brand's 2022 success almost accidentally when one of New Balance's general release sneakers (the 2002r) became one of the most hyped lifestyle shoes of the year, and 2021 Sneaker Of The Year, according to Highsnobiety. One thing led to another, and Yue Wu's iteration of the silhouette gave birth to the Protection Pack, catapulting the 2002r from a run-of-the-mill New Balance GR to a prized possession with a resale value of close to R10 000. 

2002r Protection Pack aside, Wu has also worked with TokyoDesignStudio on one of New Balance's most impressive collaborations to date, earlier in 2021, also contributing to the New Balance x Stone Island collaboration which birthed the RC Elite. For now, however, we can look forward to the highly anticipated New Balance 2002r mule and the New Balance and Donald Clover collaborative release on the ND F&F RC30.

With no sign of stopping any time soon, Yue Wu continues to enforce his design language into the industry with New Balance as the vehicle. With just five years of designing for the company and contributing to its lateral climb, he is one of the designers to look out for and somebody we hope to position next to the greats.