Even though these days Puma is a completely iconic brand associated with hip-hop and street culture, it’s quite surprising that this wasn’t a conscious effort at the beginning. See, back in the 80s, rap and hip-hop were not common on radios or TV, and it was a form of music very much linked to street culture and delinquent youths.
If you were to show today’s charts to fans in the 80s they wouldn’t believe it, but a lot has changed in 30 years.
One thing that has remained the same though is that Puma sneakers and clothing is still one of the most commonly found brands at any hip-hop concert or event. But before I tell you how that happened, let me explain how the company got started.
How An Icon Was Born
The story of Puma could come straight out of a Shakespeare play or rap lyrics about brotherly rivalry. You might not have heard of Adi and Rudolph Dassler, but these brothers started a sporting footwear company in the early 1920s.
After sharing the success for over 20 years, the two brothers fell out over the direction the company should head in. And because they couldn’t settle the battle, they went off and founded competing companies.
Both of these companies are still Germany’s largest sports clothing manufacturers, and they are known as Puma and Adidas. A lot has changed since the 1940s, most of all though the fact that a conservative sports shoe company was adopted by the world of hip-hop.
Influences On Hip-Hop Culture
As far as I can tell, the Beastie Boys compilation album “Solid Gold Hits” was the first one to show off some Puma sneakers on the front cover. The year was 1986, and it was Adidas that was taking the hip-hop scene by storm with Run-DMC, but Pumas were definitely a close second.
All of this was before Nike Air Max and Jordans started to feature as well. Some people think it was down to an even for the time old school look that attracted artists and fans, but there was a little bit more to it.
A Favourite For Break-Dancers
When you’re breakdancing, the last thing you want on your feet is bulky sneakers that are hard and heavy. They will just get in the way and cause a lot of pain with a lot of moves.
The traditional design of Puma sneakers was to add a very thick sole with a very soft and flexible upper. Add to that the very hard wearing nature of the German design and you have the perfect kicks for some dance-offs.
If you search for some old-school breakdance videos on YouTube, you will very like notice a lot of people wearing Puma and Adidas sneakers because they simply allow you to make more moves without hurting your feet.
Even these days at professional competitions you’ll see the iconic Puma logo on a lot of gear, and that has come down to a lot of very clever branding and marketing
Branding Brought To the 21st Century
Most people look at advertising efforts by clothing companies as some scam to get you to buy crap you never wanted in the first place. However, when it comes to Nike, Adidas, and Puma, there are some really cool things going on.
For me, it’s Puma that stands out the most where someone had the brainwave to partner with a hip hop artist and give away an album with every pair of sneakers bought.
Basically, the Meek Mill’s PUMA capsule collection was promoted where everyone who bought a pair at the opening event saw proceeds go to a criminal justice charity and you got a link to download an upcoming album.
This is such a cool idea and further brings an iconic brand together with the hip-hop culture that already loves the styles. Watch out for more promotions like this, as it is bound to make an impact.
Some Of The Most Recognisable Sneakers Ever Made
What I love about Puma sneakers is that the fundamental style has stayed pretty much unchanged, they are still completely slick looking, and designers have mainly focused on using cool new materials and colour combinations.
Here are my 2 personal favourites that are still cooler than anything else out there.
You could argue that the Puma Suedes are not just old-school, but also a bit antique at this stage. The first ones made an appearance in 1967, and they were heavily branded with Olympic athletes in the early days.
If you actually compare some images of the very first ones that were released, with the ones still available today, you’d be wondering whether they have changed at all, and rightly so.
They still have the single waved stripe along the sides of the upper and a small Puma cat logo to go with it.
The only thing that has really changed is the massive selection of colours available now. I know people who have built up collections of over 30 different pairs and are nowhere near even getting all the currently available ones.
Moving on from old-school to the 21st century, and Puma has again relaunched their RS (running system) sneakers which are specifically designed for serious runners. But they are not only designed to provide perfect support and comfort for everything from short distance to marathons.
Their chunky design with some outrageous colour combinations has also caught the eye of the music industry, especially the hip hop world.
There is even an MTV collaboration version available, but this is one that is a bit more difficult to get your hands on.
What stands out the most on these sneakers is that they have a very thick heal and midsole section which provides maximum padding. But it also provides plenty of space to come up with really cool colour designs. Just check out the RS-X Toys if you really want to be noticed in a crowd.