By Sara Germano
New Balance Athletic Inc. may be the first corporation to get hit by backlash against President-elect Donald Trump.
The privately held sneaker company -- long an opponent of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement -- welcomed the election of Mr. Trump as a reprieve from the policies of President Barack Obama.
"The Obama administration turned a deaf ear to us and frankly, with President-elect Trump, we feel things are going to move in the right direction," Matthew LeBretton, New Balance's vice president of public affairs, said in an interview on Wednesday.
The comments sparked controversy on social media, with hundreds of users posting onTwitter, Facebook and Instagram that they would throw out their sneakers or boycott the brand. Some posted videos setting their shoes on fire. Others uploaded photos of the shoes in the garbage.
"I back your stance on the TPP but to support a hate monger like Donald Trump is disheartening," wrote Instagram user "inasentimentalmood" on the New Balance account. "I believe I've bought my last pair." The comments were posted beneath a statement by New Balance that the company believes "in acting with the utmost integrity and we welcome all walks of life."
Others, meanwhile, expressed support for New Balance and its stance against TPP. On the brand's Facebook page, user Matty Hervey wrote: "I am not a Trump supporter, I didn't vote for him, and I don't like him. Knowing that NB opposes the TPP is a reason to support them and I will buy my athletic shoes from them from now on."
The Boston-based footwear maker, which operates five factories with about 1,400 employees in New England, has opposed the trans-Pacific free-trade agreement for jeopardizing its domestic manufacturing while rewarding rivals that rely more heavily on overseas production.
"As the only major company that still makes athletic shoes in the United States, New Balance has a unique perspective on trade in that we want to make more shoes in the United States, not less," the company said in a statement Thursday. It said it continues to support the trade positions of Mr. Trump as well as those of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
Mr. Trump has been a staunch opponent to free trade agreements, and has said he would use his first days in office to reopen the North American Free Trade Agreement and drop consideration of TPP. President Obama has said he hopes to pursue a long-shot bid at bringing the 12-nation TPP agreement to a congressional vote duringhis final weeks in office.
Free trade has been a contentious issue in sportswear manufacturing. Nike Inc., the world-wide industry leader, has been a very public proponent of TPP and hosted Mr. Obama at company headquarters in 2015 as the president was building support for the deal. Nike depends heavily on overseas factories, and the company stands to benefit from proposed lowered tariffs on imports of footwear. The Beaverton, Ore.-based company has said the passage of TPP would ease its ability to bring 10,000 manufacturing jobs to the U.S.
On Wednesday, Nike reiterated its support for the deal and said in a statement that "the Obama Administration and Congressional leadership will determine the appropriate course of action on TPP."
Write to Sara Germano at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
November 10, 2016 19:26 ET (00:26 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2016 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.