Kyle Kuzma's New PUMA Sneakers Are More Important Than You Think
Signature athletes have always been hugely important to the world of sneakers. Whether you’re talking about basketball shoes like Michael Jordan’s iconic Air Jordan signature line from Nike, the legendary Chuck Taylor and his Converse sneaker, the iconic Stan Smith tennis shoe from adidas, or the countless signature skate shoes from the likes of P-Rod or Tony Hawk that keep the next generation kick-pushing forward, brands will always partner with athletes to help make better functioning performance product. So how does Kyle Kuzma and his new signature shoe fit into the storyline of signature sneakers?
The evolution of signature sneakers has been changing rapidly for the past decade. I wrote about this for Complex about 5 years ago when the imaginary barrier was broken down by Kanye West. Back then, Kanye was forcing the footwear industry to rethink what signature sneakers were. It was becoming clear that fashion and influence was capable of creating as much energy and buzz as any superstar athlete could. By most accounts, Yeezy became the first entertainer to have his own self-designed line of footwear with Nike that wasn’t done in partnership with an athlete. Kanye walked away from Nike to find more creative freedom with adidas in 2012, and since then Nike has given collaborations to dozens of designers, and loosened the restraints that held back the creativity of their partnerships.
Kyle Kuzma and RHUDE founder Rhuigi Villaseñor teamed up to work on the new PUMA Clyde All-Pro, taking the next step in evolving the concept of how athletes and designers work together in pushing the boundaries of shoe design. Sure, every athlete has worked with a designer to create signature sneakers before, but this partnership looks (and feels) much different. Rhuigi and his brand are known for their straight from Los Angeles approach to fashion, unrestrained by the corporate rules that often times hold back brand designers from pushing the envelope.
Brand employees will always have to land on the safer side of taking risks when it comes to design, because when they push beyond the comfort zone, they have and will always be met with resistance. You know the story, even Tinker Hatfield got some static from the doubters when he came up with Visible Air cushioning. Even when we have seen a partnership between an athlete like LeBron James and designer like John Elliott, although the Nike LeBron Icon is one of the most beautiful and comfortable sneakers in recent years, it looks and feels like the LeBron 8 Low that came out nearly ten years ago.
The PUMA Clyde All-Pro is not a crazy looking shoe. In fact, it looks like a classic PUMA style. However, the idea that an athlete like Kyle Kuzma can choose a designer from the fashion side of footwear, is a change in the thought process of sneaker design. Rather than the partnership of athlete and designer being paired together by a “check the boxes” process determined by a corporate team of executives, the future of footwear design for signature shoes can now look much different.
Imagine the possibilities of athletes bringing their favorite designer with them to approach brands about their endorsement deals. Of course, existing partnerships always make the first step outside the box a bit more comfortable. RHUDE and PUMA have been working together for a while, but Kuzma bringing performance and fashion together will mean the collabs to follow will have more freedom, and thus, more potential. Not to mention, PUMA recently signed an endorsement deal with LaMelo Ball, whose personal style could also lift PUMA to new levels. With Kuz helping the company open itself to new ideas, the future for young athletes is bright, especially if they’re working with PUMA.