Puma’s taking another stab at phasing out kangaroo leather.
After announcing that it’s working with Rihanna again on a new collaboration, the German sports company came out on Thursday with a redesigned King football boot introducing its new K-Better material.
The Puma King has been worn by football stars including Johan Cryuff, Eusébio, Lothar Matthäus and Pelé who for decades dominated the international scene. Now the King returns with a fully non-animal-based upper material, which contains at least 20 percent recycled material as well.
“The Puma King is Puma’s most iconic franchise in football and has always stood for using the best materials and the latest in innovation,” Pete Stappen, lead product line manager teamsport footwear at Puma, said. “Over the years we have seen the boot evolve and become ingrained in on pitch and off pitch football culture, from the pitches to the terraces. The new King takes the franchise to the next-level and offers a super-soft upper with optimal stretch resistance for ultimate touch and control benefits.”
K-Better has proven to outperform the previous King K-Leather in testing for touch, comfort and durability. Puma will stop producing football boots with kangaroo leather this year in favor of K-Better, which is made with 60 percent recycled nylon from post-industrial waste.
Apart from the redesigned upper, the King also features a new lightweight outsole with an external heel counter, King stability spine and conical studs. The boot includes a lightweight removable sockliner with NanoGrip technology to keep the foot locked in place for stability when changing direction. The women’s edition of the boot combines the latest King technology with the instep height engineered for a woman’s foot.
The K-Better King will debut on pitch with Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka, Ingrid Engen of Primera Division’s Barcelona club, Frauen-Bundesliga club VfL Wolfsburg’s Lena Lattwein and more. La Liga star midfielder Nabil Fekir of Sevilla’s Real Betis Club was also slated to be among the boot’s first wearers before he recently tore his ACL.
Puma said K-Better debuts in the Puma King Supercharge edition online, in stores and at retailers focused on football products.
This isn’t the first time Puma has tried to get away from kangaroo leather.
In 2021, the German company introduced the King Platinum 21 Vegan as its first King football boot made with animal free-materials in the style’s more than 50-year history.
In 2021, U.S. Representatives Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Penn.) introduced the Kangaroo Protection Act, which sought to curb the market for the marsupial’s body parts, especially when brands could easily substitute viable material alternatives without sacrificing performance. Major footwear companies outside of Puma, like Nike and Adidas, have also been known to use kangaroo leather in their soccer cleat offerings.
Adidas spoke out in 2021 regarding its use of kangaroo leather, stating its k-leather comprises “significantly below” 1 percent of its total product material mix. Nike, too, said kangaroo leather made up a “small portion” of its football boots. Puma has previously said k-leather was featured in 0.5 percent of its total leather consumption.
In ditching kangaroo leather, Puma follows in the footsteps of other brands who have turned to alternative materials in the face of a growing market; in January, vegan shoe brand Grounded People acquired $2.5 million in funding. Last September, Allbirds debuted organic cotton and plant leather Pacer. The Degenerate sneaker recently came back in stock after its first drop sold out on strong demand for plastic-free, animal-free alt leather. And in April 2022, California-based startup Blueview launched its Pacific slip-on sneaker made with a proprietary blend of plant-based materials, claiming to be the world’s first fully vegan and biodegradable shoe.
Moving away from animal leather, especially what fashion gets from cows and kangaroos, won’t be cheap or easy, according to analyst Tiffany Hua of Lux Research, a Boston-based advisory.
“The tensile strength, flexibility, and durability of kangaroo leather are known to be even stronger than cowhide leather,” she told Sourcing Journal. “At this time, from a material performance perspective, there are very few materials that can replace kangaroo leather aside from synthetics such as rubber and polyurethane.”
But innovators are starting to level playing, Hua said, pointing to mycelium and fungi-based materials that are “starting to match the tensile strength and elongation of cowhide leather.”
“Specifically, companies like MycoWorks and Polybion are developing leather alternatives that have promising properties that rival cowhide leather, however, these materials are costly, limited, and extremely new to the market,” Hua continued. “They also have not yet existed long enough to compare against the extreme durability of kangaroo and cowhide leather. The bright side is that these emerging material technologies can still be optimized and improved to reach similar properties to k-leather, but will need another 5-10 years for additional development. For now, companies like Puma moving away from k-leather, unfortunately, have limited material replacement options.”
Additional reporting by Jessica Binns.