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What Puma’s Revamped Performance Running Line Is ‘Doing Differently’

Though Puma is no stranger to the world of running—after all, it sponsors Olympic champion Usain Bolt—it hasn’t necessarily been known for its running shoes.

The German footwear brand plans to change that. Bolstered by several years of strong growth and momentum, Puma’s global director of running and training Erin Longin said the company set out on a mission “to become a well-known running brand.”

“We’ve always had a significant commitment to the world of track and field, which is of course an elite piece of the greater world of running,” Longin said. “So, we definitely felt the time was right to start to expand our brand presence to include both distance and road running.”

After years of research, Puma will jumpstart its running category with the debut of five new silhouettes early next month. The company expects to further build out the segment in the back half of the year with designs targeting other needs and preferences, such as winter running.

Part of what differentiates Puma’s new running range from many sneakers out there today is its focus on women. Todd Falker, the company’s product line manager, running footwear, said the brand has seen that, as of 18 months to two years ago, more women than men have been finishing races of all distances, from 5Ks to marathons. Despite this, he noted, women have often been a second thought from a product development standpoint.

“What we’re doing differently at Puma Performance Running is really starting with women from the first step in our process,” Falker said. This includes using a separate last for the range’s women’s sizes that provides a narrowed heel, lower in-step, and sculpted arch shape. “Women aren’t just smaller men, right?” Falker added. “They’re different biomechanically.”

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Longin said Puma not only plans to cater to women’s needs as it builds and tests its products, but also to elevate female athletes, such as Molly Seidel, who ran the 10th fastest U.S. half marathon time earlier this month wearing the new Deviate Elite silhouette. “We plan to really prioritize women as we work to become a desirable and credible running brand,” Longin added.

The most notable design feature of the new Puma running range is the brand’s Nitro foam. The new material, to be used in all Puma’s performance running offerings moving forward, uses a higher-grade raw material and supercritical nitrogen to create a foam that is about 50 percent lighter than traditional EVA foam while maintaining the same responsiveness, Falker said.

Another hallmark of the new range is its use of the brand’s Puma Grip technology. “It’s a new compound that’s proprietary and what’s different about it is we found the perfect mix of durability with slip resistance,” Falker said. Compared to the heavy performance rubber Puma had used previously, he added, the new material is 31 percent more slip resistant. Like the Nitro foam, the Puma Grip technology will feature in all the brand’s performance running shoes going forward.

Two of the five new silhouettes—the Deviate and Deviate Elite—include a material that has become increasingly common in performance running footwear: carbon fiber. Falker highlighted two design features of Puma’s “Innoplate” carbon fiber plates. First, its curved shape allows the foot and shoe to act as a lever for better propulsion and improved running economy. “You’re going to be able to run with less effort at the same pace,” he said.

The plate also includes a split in the forefoot. “If you’re neutral, that doesn’t much matter but if you do happen to over pronate, or supinate, the little bit of flexibility does offer a more comfortable ride for everyone,” Falker said.

The range’s Eternity silhouette does not include a carbon fiber plate, but it does feature a new technology from Puma that it calls “RunGuide.” Like the Deviate and Deviate Ultra, the shoe confronts the problem of over-pronation and supination. But rather than using a split carbon fiber plate, the Eternity employs 360-degree support around the outside of the shoe to help keep the wearer’s foot centered.

The five styles in Puma’s new running selection, launching March 4 internationally and March 9 in the United States, range in price from $110 to $200.

Falker described the Deviate as the “key model” in Puma’s performance running relaunch. It includes a carbon fiber plate between two layers of Nitro foam, all on top of a Puma Grip outsole. “The Deviate is really aimed at the runner that wants cushioning, but a little bit of propulsion maybe for tempo days, but definitely works in an excellent way as an everyday trainer,” Falker said.

Engineered for improved speed on race day, the Deviate Elite replicates many of the features of the Deviate, but cuts out 70 grams in weight. It too sandwiches a carbon fiber plate between two layers of Nitro foam. However, the plate, 100 percent carbon fiber rather than carbon composite, cuts down on the size and weight seen on the Deviate. A thinner variation of the brand’s Puma Grip material also lightens the silhouette’s load.

For runners who simply want to get in shape, Falker said the Velocity is the “perfect shoe to start with.” It includes a layer of Nitro foam on top of a second layer of foam with more bending stiffness and durability. “It’s a road running shoe but it works really well on all surfaces in all conditions, even if you’re on light gravel or some trails,” Falker added.

The Eternity, with Puma’s RunGuide technology, offers runners more support. “This shoe has a little bit more volume, a little bit more total wiggle room in the upper, but we do have OptiFit that locks down your midfoot,” Falker said.

The Liberate rounds out the collection. The lightest shoe of the collection, it features a single layer of Nitro foam “and rubber just where you need it,” Falker said. “All in all, this package comes in at 179 grams or 6.3 ounces and really is a great everyday training, lightweight shoe.”

Puma takes on sustainable packaging

Puma’s senior head of central operations, Gunjit Chopra, discussed the footwear brand’s approach to sustainable packaging at Motif’s ReWire: Sustainability 2021 An Intervention for Fashion event Thursday.

Chopra said one of the important qualities of Puma’s packaging scheme is that it has multiple options in place, whether that’s recycled polybags, paper or biodegradable options. “There [are] different aspects of the science having caught up or not but these are the different options that we try,” Chopra said.

“We also see, right now, different projects going on with paper packaging, for example, how can we explore that, how can we scale that,” Chopra continued. “But also, when we still have the polybags, how can we make them recycled? Are there initiatives which we can do where we reduce the thickness of the polybags, make them have a recycled element to it.”

One aspect of sustainability that has gained particular ground is traceability. “It’s only, I think, gaining more importance, getting more traction,” Chopra said. At Puma, this push has seen the brand reach more than 90 percent Forest Stewardship Council-certified paper, with a new goal to hit 100 percent.

Chopra identified scalability as another important factor. “You can do multiple pilots around biodegradable, recycled, whatever it is, but if it’s not scalable… at the end of the day, the benefit is not going to come through,” he said. Beyond simply keeping scalability in the back of mind, he said Puma actively communicates with its partners to let them know what it’s working on and that it could become a norm in the near future.