• U.S.

Puma: Sole Survivor

2 minute read
James Scully

When Rudi and Adi Dassler began hand making athletic-training shoes in 1924 in their family’s laundry room in Herzogenaurach, Germany, they had no idea their efforts would someday lead to a full-fledged factory, Dassler Brothers Sports Shoe, producing more than 30 styles for 11 sports, including the first tennis sneaker. By 1936 the brothers were driving suitcases full of their coveted shoes to the Berlin Olympics, where they would persuade American Jesse Owens to sport their product. (He eventually won four gold medals wearing Dassler shoes.) Business boomed, and by the start of World War II, the Dasslers were producing 200,000 pairs of shoes a year. But success brought problems, and the brothers feuded, splitting in 1948 to create two separate companies—Rudi incorporating his as Puma and Adi opening a new factory across town and starting a rival shoe company called Adidas.

Puma found success with such star athletes as Joe Namath and soccer king Pelé, who led the brand to superstardom in major arenas. Athletes such as Walt Frazier, Oscar de la Hoya, Martina Navratilova and Serena Williams followed suit, and Puma further revolutionized the category with the introduction of Velcro fasteners. Not content to stay in the stadium, Puma branched out, marrying sports with fashion in 1998 with a collection of Jil Sander–designed sneakers. Lines for Christy Turlington’s Nuala brand followed, as did Evisu’s True Love Never Dies jeans and collaborations with Philippe Starck and Alexander McQueen.

While creating the world’s best sports shoes remains the brand’s mission, Puma has become a global powerhouse, leaving footprints on everything from denim to DJ bags and proving to be a cat with more than nine lives.

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