Puma wins over sneakerheads by partnering with Rihanna, Big Sean and other celebs
Killing the cool game one collaboration at a time
Puma is coming back strong. And it’s done it by embracing today’s biggest pop and hip-hop stars.
The German sportswear and sneaker brand has traded places with its American rival, Under Armour, in the race for second place in the global market against behemoth Nike. Profits for the 69-year-old company are soaring and its stock price is up overall, thanks in large part to splashy creative partnerships with celebrities such as Rihanna, Kylie Jenner and Big Sean. Where Nike and Under Armour have always stressed their hardcore performance bona fides as their main selling point, Puma has doubled down in recent years on a fashion-forward athleisure clothing and sneakers aesthetic to capture the millennial market.
The tide began to turn for the brand in 2014 when pop supernova Rihanna left Puma’s historic rival, Adidas, and became creative director of the women’s line. After the splashy 2015 debut (and runaway success) of her thick-soled “creeper” sneakers won Footwear News’ Shoe of the Year in 2016, the eight-time Grammy winner’s Fenty x Puma line became the collection to watch. Puma, formerly known primarily as a soccer brand, made $975 million in the fourth quarter of 2015, thanks to the sales of the Bajan bad girl’s tough/chic casual shoes.
These days, every major sneaker brand has a roster of high-profile celebrities who bring their tens of millions of Instagram and Twitter followers along for the sales and marketing ride. Adidas has scored megawatt sales from collaborations such as Kanye West’s Yeezy sneakers and Pharrell Williams’ limited edition Human Race graphic trainers. Drake partnered with Jordan Brand after Jumpman became a hit. Kendrick Lamar, Future and Cam’ron are brand ambassadors for Reebok. Red-hot producer Metro Boomin’ is a New Balance partner, and Gucci Mane — one of the best-dressed men in the music business — is a spokesman for streetwear cult brand Supreme. Swedish sneaker brand Tretorn recently announced that OutKast’s Andre 3000 will design a capsule collection that will be available in 2018.
Even so, Puma’s current roster of pop culture royalty is exceptional. By working with artists who are genuine fashion influencers, the brand has hit upon a winning marketing strategy that shows little signs of slowing down. Here is a list of Puma’s recent match-ups that have hit a style bull’s-eye.
Fenty University is now in session! The fourth season of the songstress Rihanna’s Fenty x Puma collection, her second to debut in Paris, drew kudos from the international fashion press. The clothes were classic Riri, a breezy co-ed mishmash of sporty, sexy casual gear. And the newly released Rihanna x Puma Fenty Bow sneakers and slides, styled with a satin bow tie, is already a best-seller.
Puma’s newest rapper-as-creative muse is Detroit native Big Sean, who was recently named global ambassador and creative collaborator after five years at Adidas. The “Bounce Back” rapper will front the Puma Classics ad campaign this summer, and the brand will sponsor his forthcoming summer tour to support his fourth album, I Decided. He will design an exclusive collection that will be released in spring 2018.
Last year, Canadian pop star The Weeknd released a video for the brand’s Run the Streets campaign. The black IGNITE Limitless sneaker was released in February, and his PumaXO collection of footwear and clothing is due later this year.
One of the best ad campaigns of 2016 saw Young Thug modeling classic slim-cut tracksuits and Puma Suedes. The Atlanta-born Thugger, who famously donned a couture ball gown on the cover of his 2016 album, Jeffery, is a genuine fan of high fashion. No word yet on whether the gender-fluid rapper will design his own Puma collection.
Photographer Jamel Shabbazz shot the “Black Beatles” duo Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi of Rae Sremmurd for Puma’s fall 2016 retro-styled The Suede campaign. The ’80s-themed shoot was a tribute to B-boy culture with old-school boomboxes, fuzzy Kangols and a classic Cadillac whoopty set against Brooklyn brownstones and a rainy New York City basketball court.
When Puma signed the curvy 20-year-old reality TV star (and burgeoning beauty mogul) Kylie Jenner to a $1 million contract in 2016, it apparently caused a bit of friction in the Kardashian-West clan. Oh, well. Jenner’s latest campaign, which she shared on her Instagram page, showcased Puma’s new Swan Pack collection, a collaboration with the New York City Ballet.