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Higher, farther and faster

The sportswear hype is burgeoning and sneakers have been the top item in footwear for several seasons. Brands such as Nike and Adidas are riding the wave of success-in terms of style and image. But what’s up with Puma? A certain quietness has settled around the feline predator. That is supposed to change now.

What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word puma? What comes to mind for me is an image of my favorite bag-a fire-engine red handle, a big fat Puma logo in red letters on baby-blue nylon material. The only problem: That was back in 1997. Since then Adidas and Nike have set up camp in my shoe and clothing wardrobe. And if you have a look around the major fashion centers such as Copenhagen, Paris or New York, you quickly see what sneaker brands rule the streets-with Puma not among them.

What exactly is Puma’s problem? Not modern enough? Too set in its ways? Too retro? “What caused this was reinvestment in classic performance happening too late- the success of lifestyle was enjoyed for too long,” explains Matthias Baumer, general manager DACH Puma SE. Baumer is openly acknowledging that at the end of the day neither retailers nor consumers understood what the brand really stands for. “Now we would like to focus on our four categories teamsport, running, training and lifestyle and apply our resources in a targeted way to reach our target groups.

Despite this, Puma is still relevant in the fitness and training domain and has also not fallen off the radar in the lifestyle area. The Herzogenaurach-based company is working hard on making structural changes to the brand. In sportswear Puma is still one of the top three global players. By 2015 the whole collection (lifestyle and performance) is to be reduced by over 30%. “We want to be relevant and faster and ensure that sport inspiration regains traction in the Select area,” says Torsten Hochstetter, global creative director Puma SE, in charge of design and development for the sport lifestyle collection as well as for the sports performance collection since mid-2013.

The partnership with French streetwear label BWGH first started in late 2013 was very positively received at retailers internationally and will continue next season. “There were solid order levels for BWGH; we got very positive feedback, especially at Seek and Bright,” says Hochstetter. With Solange Knowles as creative inspiration, Puma designed a new edition of the cult Puma Disc Model last year. Almost every day Knowles posts pictures of herself in perfectly styled outfits from her favorite New York designer William Okpo on her Instagram profile “Saintrecords,” followed by a whopping half million viewers. The matching shoes? Pumas. The marketing value of a #Puma posts with on average more than 20,000 likes and around 500 comments? It is beyond any number for the company. And in the summer of 2015 Puma will make a splash with its forthcoming collaboration. With almost 30 pieces, the next collection has been designed in collaboration with Vashtie Kola, creative director of Icecream Girl, designer, video director and downtown sweetheart of the New York party scene. In addition to varsity and track jackets, mesh tank tops and t-shirts with 1990s styling, the versatile Brooklyn native has also given design impetus to the Puma Trinomic, Suede and Sky Sneaker models.

Further collaborations with McQ, House of Hackney, Mihara Yasuhiro and Alife will be presented for the 2015 summer season. Puma is convincing when it comes to the quality and authentic selection of the artists and designers it works with and its cleaner look with Puma Select distances itself from its loud lifestyle image. Hochstetter says, “We have a much clearer focus when it comes to the lifestyle segment. We have a strategic ‘pillar’ based on Trinomic-running – plus one based on basketball, and one on tennis. The collaborations are the salt in the soup and give the Select line-up that certain something.” Hochstetter adds that these three strategic design pillars are somewhat variable. Even a World Cup tournament can provide inspiration, for example in connection with tooling. Hochstetter sees the trends in the sneaker segment centering more on bulky, wider sneaker silhouettes: “The bulky silhouette shown by the Trinomic will be a trend. What is important is to get more depth into the material. However, if we streamline, we have to make sure the material is interesting. In lifestyle, for example, we use very high quality leather, resulting in a compelling shoe right from the basic construction.

Expressed in specialized fashion language that means: At the latest when John and Jane Doe discover their love for Stan Smith and Nike Roshe Run, it is time for Harry Hipster to look around for a new kind of sneaker, and that certainly won’t be all too long from now.

I love sneakers

Harold Arandia, footwear designer for Onitsuka Tiger, talks about sneaker trends and how he seeks inspiration from cured fish and fried gluten bread for sneaker designs.

How did you come to design for Onitsuka Tiger?

I had a colleague that I used to work with at Adidas in Portland, who was now working at Asics for Onitsuka Tiger. I had been taking a break from footwear for three years but I always kept in touch with her and we reconnected at a good time. I love sneakers and it was just the right time for me to come back after exercising my brain on other creative ventures. Onitsuka Tiger reset the brand in 2011 and they were looking for a footwear designer specifically in their European office in the Netherlands. It was one of those times where the right things came together at the right time. I am the only non-Japanese designer at Onitsuka Tiger. So it’s an honor to me that they have accepted me into the family.

Where do you get the inspiration for your footwear designs?

Our inspiration always comes from our history and what we have done in our past as a starting point. From a silhouette standpoint running is the key style for our brand. We have history with the Tiger Corsair, an iconic runningshoe for us. The Corsair would later emerge in another brand as the start of the Nike Cortez. For summer 2014 we have several concepts like concrete jungle with unique camo influences, where we see a return to nature and materials inspired by our surroundings. I personally think inspiration comes from doing work not sitting around waiting for a lightning bolt to hit you. I travel and do a lot of research on what is modern Japan and what it means to me. But I am only a small part of a bigger, smarter team.

What does this kind of research you are doing look like?

My last trip to Japan took me to a muse- um in midtown Tokyo where they had an amazing exhibit focusing on Japanese handcrafted items. The exhibition dealt with artisan made products from one specific town. It was everything from traditional weaving processes and hand forged products to the process of making traditional Japanese foods like special pickled and cured fishes, fried gluten breads and uniquely packaged sweets.

So this gives you the inspiration for shoe design?

Yes, I love these types of exhibits because they reflect on a certain kind of Japanese artistic care and craft. It is this attention to details that is used in their items around the garden, home, food and even follows through to how it is packaged. This creates a texture of what Japan really is at its core. You have the dichotomy of modern Japan as technology, slicked up computers and then you have this very traditional side, this handcraft, methodical and rooted in history. Japan can be simple and clean vs. highly technological and detailed. All of this goes directly in the shoedesign whether it is the shapes, colors, laces, patterns or materials.

Who is really driving the trends at the moment when it comes to lifestyle sneakers?

As far as trends I think you have brands that are really strong right now like Nike, Adidas even New Balance. Our advantage is we are opening up at the right time. People want an alternative to the established brands and I think we offer something different regarding our product with its unique history. People are always looking for alternatives in everything now; we can see it in everyday items such as food. Everybody knows in America what a hamburger is but now you’re having these new expressions of fusion foods that have created new food items and culture to go along with it. This is happening across different industries and products; this is why I think this is a really good time for us. We are not an unknown brand but in some ways we are new and fresh but still have a very real history. I think this gives us an advantage to bring out our new products and introduce them to people that may not know us yet so they can have a chance to fall in love with our brand.

What kind of target groups do you aim at?

We aim at consumers 15 to 24 years old. But we already have a loyal following and group of customers. With the newer models we are trying to bring in some freshness whether in shapes or colors and expand upon what we have offered before. With some of the new models like the Shaw Runner or the Harandia we are offering something that is going to appeal to younger customers but also appeal to our current loyal consumer by giving them a more running-based lifestyle feel.

There is a really big sneaker hype still going on. Do you have an explanation for that?

I think this kind of interest in sneakers has always been around but definitely right now people want to be more comfortable. Times are different now; we are not dressing the same way that we used to. I don’t have to wear a suit and tie to work; you don’t have to wear a dress all the time. We are able to express lifestyle and ourselves and that trend goes from everything from phones to cars. I think sneakers are just a way of doing that too. People want to be comfortable and fashionable at the same time. Today people wear sneakers and are mixing it up with more formalwear and are having fun blurring the line between formal and casual looks.

So you think the lines between formalwear and streetwear will become increasingly clouded?

Yes, this is already happening and I don’t think this is a trend that is necessarily going to stop. If I look at blogs everywhere people are mixing sportswear with high fashion brands. And I see it when I go to Japan to places like Comme des Garcons. You have fashion labels that are playing around with athletic materials. I think we are in this place where things are not so defined anymore, kind of intermingling or inspired by each other era. Runway is inspired by the street and vise versa and you see that everywhere. In music you have artists like A$AP Rocky that become high fashion icons but in another side he is still an urban street performer. The market is not as defined as it was before.

Is there a sneaker trend to much more simplicity?

There is a trend of going simpler visually but it is also a contrasting technique or trend, because the way you go simpler is by getting more advanced in technology.

How important are function and techniques for Onitsuka Tiger?

We have the advantage that we have a sports heritage, so sports is always something that we are inspired from. That means we are able to use some of the technologies in a more lifestyle interpretation whether from a comfort level or to being able to execute and create a shoe in a different way. A good example of this is when we talk about technologies is the SUV, an off-road vehicle. Coming from LA I know that there are a lot of people that drive SUVs but their car has never seen mud at all, it has rims, leather seats, movie screens, etc. and this is a lifestyle interpretation of what originated as a technical performance off-road vehicle. I think in terms of shoes, people also want these functions but they are adjusted to their lifestyle. People want to have these technical functions but at the same time the lifestyle aspect is very important too.

What other trends will become important for sneakers in 2014?

I think court models are starting to emerge more in the market as well as basketball silhouettes. Right now we see all the heat on running silhouettes. From a technical standpoint it will be bigger silhouettes in general as well as bootinspired sneakers.

Do you also see a certain decade that is coming back?

At the moment everyone is trying to create a history for their brand. You have fashion brands creating fashion-sneaker styles with no real history or heritage behind them. They take inspiration from us or other sneaker brands, so when it comes to decades I think we have an advantage that some models that we have are known for a certain time period but I think it varies as to what is in the “moment” now. I think there is always a certain underlying heritage trend that you will see out in the world.

How many sneakers do you have?

Really I have too many and I am constantly getting rid of shoes.

Are we talking about a couple of hundreds?

I stopped counting. I am a shoe designer I keep the shoes that I have worked on in the past, different versions and prototypes. I like to keep products that inspire me and I can possibly use down the road to express an idea or concept. When I moved to Germany I lived on the fifth floor of the building and had no lift. One of the last things the mover brought up was this old heavy chest I had and after he lugged it up to my new flat he asked if he could see what was inside. I said sure, so he opened it and it filled with shoes. He looked at me and said: “You know we have shoes in Germany?” And I said: “But I am a footwear designer, that’s my nature.”

The Clarks Originals Desert Boot continues to be a perennial favorite

The British shoe label Clarks from the small village of Street in the English county of Somerset is nearly 200 years old. Compared to that, a 65-year-old shoe is really just a spring chicken. Nathan Clark designed the classic model in 1949 and based it on a British Army shoe for the desert he discovered at a Cairo bazaar. The Desert Boot, with its clean, simple design and unmistakable crepe sole, truly became cult footwear among musicians and artists in the scene. It has been an iconic style of shoe ever since.

But the label is not about to rest on its laurels. After all, there are two things to celebrate: the 65th birthday of the Originals and 65 years of partnership with the English leather manufacturer Charles F. Stead. Starting in spring/summer 2015, the classic shoe model will be highlighted as a Made in England limited edition model. “There will only be 1,950 pairs of shoes produced for this edition internationally,” explains Rolf Huigen, director of Central and Eastern Europe at Clarks. Nathan Clark’s “Original” is featured in the special edition in a new style: Charles F. Stead’s signature sand colored Bronto suede with the unmistakable orange thread seam and leather soles.

The special edition is modeled after the original bazaar pair which also had leather soles. Only later was the trademark crepe sole added. As Huigen explains, “The shoe costs 220 Euro and will be supplied one season long to select large-city stores around the world.” In addition, starting in spring/summer 2015, all Clarks Originals Desert Boots in Stead suede or smooth leather will sport the Stead leather tannery logo on the insole to commemorate the shared legacy of both firms.

There is no lack of creativity at the British company when it comes to staging the Desert Boot well. In July, Clarks worked with the Canadian backpack manufacturer Herschel Supply Co. and gave the Originals a new outdoor twist: For this collaboration, the Desert Boot features blue premium quality leather, denim patches on the heels, red- and white-striped inner lining and leather laces.

The timeless Clarks silhouette and the Canadian specialist for backpacks, bags and accessories are a perfect match,” said Auke van Alberda, head of marketing, Europe, at the presentation in the Walls Gallery in Amsterdam. The limited edition of 600 pairs was shipped to select retailers and quickly sold out. Another partner is also getting involved for the introduction of a new Clarks Originals sport collection for the spring/summer campaign.

The Desert Boot will continue to be at the heart of the Clarks shoe family, which has over 1,000 models and launches two collections a year for women, men and kids. Many types of shoes from the collection are modeled after the purist jubilee shoe. There is the classic version, but also spin-offs with snake prints, a metallic look, the heels open, with a heel, a pointed toe, with eye catching flats or a Japanese motif. The special thing about Clarks shoes is the distinctive handcrafted precision. And nobody wants to change this, either-since its inception, Clarks has successfully combined style, excellent craftsmanship, quality and design. “Comfort is, however, the most important technical quality we are known for,” says Huigen.


  • Founded in 1825 by the brothers Cyrus and James Clark in Street, Somerset County, England
  • 1950 Nathan Clark designs the first Clarks Originals Desert Boot
  • Headquarters: C&J Clarks International Ltd, 40 High Street, Street, Somerset, with branch offices in all key countries
  • Sales in over 150 countries
  • 800 of its own retail shops around the world with store openings planned in Benelux, France, Spain and Germany
  • With around 52 million pairs of shoes sold, Clarks is one of the world’s largest brown shoe manufacturers
  • It has two collections a year of more than 1,000 models for women, men and children
  • Stock availability: 5 million pairs of shoes
  • A total of 15,000 full-time employees at all Locations