If you bought a pair of shoes from PF Flyers between 2019 and 2021, you were buying leftover stock from a dead brand. Although New Balance officially owned PF Flyers, it was actively being phased out — the historic label was left with little to offer. But by July 2021, PF Flyers found new hope in current owner Kassia Davis, daughter of New Balance chairman and majority owner Jim Davis.
The official relaunch came as a surprise to a lot of people — myself included. Because PF Flyers never really disappeared, I wrongly assumed it was still up and operating, albeit under the New Balance umbrella. I never would've guessed that the vulcanized rubber-s0led canvas Center His and Center Los you could buy on Zappos, for example, could've been the last few pairs.
"PF Flyers didn’t disappear because the brand never sold through every piece of inventory that was in the marketplace," Davis explains. "It was, however, inactive for almost 3 years which is why you haven’t seen any new product launches from the brand in a while."
For Davis, those first few months of inactivity was foreshadowing: New Balance planned to sell the storied brand. If she wanted the brand's history to be preserved, and its potential to be realized, she would need to take on ownership herself. So she did.
"New Balance had planned to sell the brand regardless of whether or not I was interested in buying it, so my decision to relaunch PF Flyers had less to do with the timing being right and more to do with a gut feeling that this was an opportunity I needed to capitalize on," she recounts. "I’ve always felt that this brand is iconic. It’s an American classic with so much history and authenticity, and I’m passionate about evolving it into the brand that it has the potential to be. Being owned by an athletic powerhouse like New Balance meant that PF Flyers didn’t get the attention it deserved and often fell to the bottom of the priority list during budget reviews. Under my leadership, growing the PF Flyers brand will be the priority."
Davis plans to leverage the brand's lore — of which there is plenty. PF (short for Posture Foundation) was first invented in 1933 by insole innovator Hyman L. Witman and canvas shoe manufacturer B.F. Goodrich (which eventually left the footwear industry in 1972). Then, they were simply arch-support insoles, not stand alone shoes. But by the 1940s, PF became PF Flyers, a line of signature shoes equipped with the cushioned inserts. They competed with icons like Converse and Keds, and eventually succumbed to industry shakeups at the turn of the 70s. Then a 1993 appearance in The Sandlot stoked public interest in the nostalgic sneaker.
A decade later, New Balance relaunched it after buying its rights in 2001. Although they didn't prioritize the label, new iterations of its most popular silhouettes were released as recently as 2018 — a pair celebrating the 25th anniversary of The Sandlot called the The 1993 and a Made in USA version of the Windjammer, a low-top Vans-like sneaker.
Davis decided to buy PF Flyers because of its timelessness. She feels the simple shoes deserve real estate in the modern sneaker landscape. With consultation from former Jordan brand designer and Pensole Footwear Design Academy founder, D’Wayne Edwards, Davis oversaw the reintroduction of both the Unisex Center Hi and Unisex Center Lo in four colors (red, navy, white and black), plus the all-black Unisex Center Hi: The 1993 (made famous by its appearance in The Sandlot).
"In the six months that I’ve worked with D’Wayne, he’s already taught me so much about the footwear industry and has guided me in building our product strategy," Davis says. "He brings so much knowledge, creativity, diversity and experience to the table. I’m especially excited to be working with some of his students from PENSOLE Footwear Design Academy. Not only will we be offering them a unique and rewarding opportunity to be a part of the re-launch of an already iconic brand, but many of these students embody the PF Flyers' target consumer, so they’ll help us shape the brand vision. We’re very fortunate to be able to tap into this pool of talent."
That target audience is everyone, Davis explains. The initial relaunch release included styles for adults, kids and infants, and a wide range of sizes — from 4-13.5 for men and 5.5-15 for women. By dubbing all of the styles unisex, she hopes to welcome more women into the fold.
"In its past, PF Flyers has been one of those brands that often treats women as an afterthought — designs haven’t been catered to women, in fact, for the most part women have only been offered smaller sizes in men’s styles," she says. "I’ve always been very passionate about women supporting women and I’m so excited to offer women versatile options that can be personalized and worn every day. On a more personal level, my hope is that I can show other females that it’s possible to be a leader in a male-dominated industry."
For audiences both new and old, she hopes to offer equal parts preservation and innovation. There are customers out there who have been wearing PF Flyers since the 60s. It'd be a shame if they suddenly didn't recognize the brand anymore, but Davis knows in order for the brand to grow, she'll have to attract first-timers, too.
"We’re planning to take PF Flyers on a journey of reinvention," she admits. But the purists have no reason to panic. "Aesthetically, they won’t look different, but improvements to fit and quality will be made... We don’t want to lose the heritage and authenticity of the brand, but we’re going to evolve it into a brand that’s more relevant to today’s consumer."