PUMA unveiled the new Future Z earlier in January, and now, on the back of the launch of the corresponding Ultra, which completed the ‘Game On’ pack, we spoke with Florian Nemetz Senior Product Line Manager and Lilly Cocks, Developer Teamsport Footwear to get the inside scoop on the story behind the development of the latest instalment in the PUMA setup.

PUMA completed the 'Game On' pack this week with the release of the Ultra 1.2, but it came a little while after the statement drop of the pack – the next generation of the Future. The Future Z represents a big step for the silo, leaving the revolutionary NetFit technology of its predecessor behind and embracing the next chapter, much as its all-new FUZIONFIT+ band embraces the foot, prioritising ultimate fit. And the innovations don’t stop there, with some serious retooling also standing the boot out. Chuck in the introduction of a certain superstar Brazilian footballer as the key face for the launch and you’ve got quite the mix. So how did all of this go towards the story and the development of the boot?

What does the Future Z mean for Puma – how would you describe how radical this moment is?

Florian Nemetz: For us it is quite radical because it has the new upper and the new outsole. It’s a totally new design that we have launched, so it’s really exciting for us to see the product coming to life. Looking back to 2018, when we first launched the Future silo, it was a clear game changer for us in the market. I think that was due to the fact that it was unique. It was also intuitive for our consumers; they could see that NetFit was a true technology, and obviously after three years it was time for us to come up with a new chapter of Future, and that was the reason that we started developing Future Z. And we’re super-happy to see it coming to life and hitting the shelves, so to speak. It’s a really exciting moment.

What does that process look like from a development side of things, from the Future to the Future Z?

FL: In general we do a lot of research, a lot of focus groups, also with a lot of consumerists to really find out what’s the trend in the market place and what will be needed. We had a clear goal from the get-go, and we analysed the game and the players and next to speed I think agility is the key component that is needed in the modern game. So we clearly had the goal to develop a football boot that basically enhanced your playing style and we really wanted to target the agile playmakers. Also, in terms of positioning next to agile I think it’s pretty clear that we have two silos that also target different types of players.

When you mention trends, what were the key aspects that stood out in the design?

FL: I would say that 90 percent of the players that we have asked and also the consumers, mentioned that fit is still key for them, so for them to perform at the highest levels they need to have a shoe that is basically ensuring a perfect fit and feels like a second skin. So that was our starting point and as you can see we have the really visible FUZIONFIT+ technology around the mid foot, and that was the centre of the design for us process.

Fit as a component is maybe seen as a given, but we wanted to bring it to the next level to make sure that it was the ultimate fit along with the agility side.

Lilly Cocks: I think it’s also important to mention that we’ve come from the old NetFit story as well, and this was something that, for 2021, we wanted to move away from.This is where the FUZIONFIT+ band came in and how we developed the technology, because we wanted to move away from NetFit. We feel like this was the next step on, while it still really focuses on the fit of the shoe, which was very important for us.

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We always wanted to target those creative mavericks, the skilful players out there, so seeing Neymar wearing and supporting Future Z is basically a dream that has come true"

It grabs the attention as well. Were you conscious of that in the design process, not only creating the new technology, but also something that’s aesthetically pleasing as well?

FL: For sure, that’s always the goal. In the end I’d say it’s the combination of both developing products that are intuitive for our consumers, but that are also appealing when it comes to the colourways and the blockings, and I think for the yellow and black combination it is, first of all, a really bold colourway that’s also unique, especially with the blocking, where we are highlighting the main technology of Future Z. That’s one of the main reasons that we went with this colour combination. Again here, we did a lot of research internally but also externally, to make sure that this was the right colourway for us to introduce the new chapter of Future Z.

The idea of putting Generation Z into a boot - what were the key things that stood out in the idea phase of design?

FL: So Generation Z is the clear target group, and for us the consumer always comes first – that’s the priority, so we always want to make sure that we develop a shoe that is appealing for these guys, and that’s why, when we had the first sketches ready, we went out to the guys got their input, implemented their feedback. It was an exciting journey. We do focus groups across the globe to make sure that all the needs from those guys are covered in the end.

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Tell us about the journey you've been on to get to this product? How did it differ from creating boots of the past?

LC: The whole journey and process of the Future Z took around two and a half years from start to finish and the whole thing was extremely exciting, but it came with challenges. I think with the FUZIONFIT+ band, this was, personally, something that I was challenged with right from the beginning because creating this technology that gives you the compression-like fit but that also allows some freedom of movement and allows every single player to fit well into the shoe and perform was really a challenge.

But this technology and this concept was focused on right from the beginning, so we really used that two and a half years well, and we worked on the concept, producing multiple different samples, which we then tested. For me as a developer, a large part of my job is to ensure that the shoe is performing well and so with this time that we had we were able to test the upper and the outsole, because the outsole is also new for us, and having such a close contact with those players really allowed us to make those adjustments where needed.

So the journey was a long time and challenging, but overall very exciting and we’re very happy with how it has come out in the end.

Where does the inspiration for something as radical as the FUZIONFIT+ band come from?

FL: That is, for me as a product manager, the most interesting part, obviously next to the whole development journey. But I think that for us we partnered up with our innovation team but also with the players, with the consumers, with external agencies and even universities to really understand the needs of tomorrow’s game changer. It took some time to develop that concept, but it was basically the idea from the get go; to come up with a football boot that is really focusing on the ultimate fit. Having said that we really wanted to make it visible on the product.

That’s when we looked at the mid foot, because in the end that’s the part of the shoe where we need to have the ultimate fit and the perfect lock in. We had a lot of sample rounds where we analysed the fit, analysed the materials, and that was really exciting to see.

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Overall, based on the feedback that we got from professional players and amateur players, it was really positive what we did for Future Z.

LC: In terms of the design from the initial stage as well, the Future boot is known to be quite unique, to look quite different and to have this new technology. So I mentioned before that after NetFit we needed something else that was even better and that was super-visible. Part of our briefing was also to have this new shape, and that is how the design started, but it also helped with my development, because I had a goal right fro the beginning to create a certain shape and to create a certain fit and that was what helped us focus, right to the end, and that’s what helped us create and develop this technology.

One of the most difficult things that I realised throughout the process is that it’s actually very difficult to create an upper pattern that’s not the same as the last. Everyone asks me if this last is different from this Future and the previous Future and actually they are exactly the same, but we really work on the pattern and the engineering of the materials and the knit to create this different visual effect, and along with that this different feeling as well.

A two and a half year journey, and at the start of that you couldn’t have predicted a ‘Neymar’ coming into the PUMA family. Did that change the goal or the strategy at all?

FL: To be honest, yes, we signed Neymar a couple of months ago, but we always wanted to target those creative mavericks. So the skilful players out there, and obviously he is the perfect example. Back at the beginning we obviously didn’t have the intention or the plan to sign him, but seeing Neymar wearing and supporting Future Z is basically a dream that has come true. But in terms of positioning, it was clear from the get-go that we wanted to target the creative guys, next to our Ultra silo, where we have more of the wingers. With the Future it doesn’t matter if you’re a central defender or a number 10, in general it’s more about the mindset.

When we talk about positioning of our silos, and here we wanted to target the skilful players.

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What was the initial reaction from the players when they were trying out the prototypes?

LC: With pro players, they don’t actually get into the boot until it’s actually signed off, so really towards the end of the development process, but what’s more important for us is all the testing that we have throughout development. What we found is that obviously we were trying to create the perfect fit, and every player’s foot is slightly different, so that came with a challenge. Generally, the feedback at every sample stage and every wear test stage was very positive. Anything that needed to be adjusted, we did. So by the time that it came to the pro players wearing the shoes, their initial feedback – and Neymar himself – it was all positive, and they were super-excited by the design and by the technology in the shoe, so for me as a developer that’s extremely exciting to hear, because I know that then I’m making that performs well, but that also players are happy to wear.

Prototypes are typically blacked out, but with the Future Z we needed to keep those white yarns in the mid foot area, so it was quite interesting to see those pictures being released online, because it does look a little bit different to normal as you have these strange white lines running over the mid foot.

You’ve mentioned research from universities – how important is any influence from outside of football in order to push the game forward?

FL: It’s super-important. Best example was NetFit back then, which wasn’t really developed for football, but we found a way to add it onto a football boot. So there the inspiration was coming from lifestyle basically. So it’s important that we don’t only focus on football as a sport. I think it’s overall more important that we partner with innovation, with external agencies, not only coming from the world of football, but that you take all of the input for different parties that are not used to the development of a normal football shoe.

That was the same with FUZIONFIT+. We had meetings with the medical staff of AC Milan for instance, and also with Newcastle academy players, along with some well-known universities, to really make sure that FUZIONFIT+ was the right technology for us to use.

I think when it comes to the inspiration, the more input you can get from different parties, the better it is.

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We looked at the mid foot, because in the end that’s the part of the shoe where we need to have the ultimate fit and the perfect lock in"

What does this boot do for a player that wears it? How can it positively change their game?

FL: There are different elements. Starting with the FUZIONFIT+ technology you get the ultimate fit. There’s no need to adjust your lacing anymore, you’ll get it from the first second. Then there’s the tooling, which is super-aggressive. It has been developed with the medical staff and academy players and it has been tested and validated and in the end you are more agile – that’s a fact. You are more agile than with the predecessor. So it’s a combination of the perfect fit and ensuring that you will be more agile.

And finally, a little off topic, but Lilly, given that you are a female working at such a big level in what has previously been a very male-oriented field, do you see yourself as something of a role model?

LC: For sure I’d want to be a role model for people that want to do the same thing. I think development in general is something that not a lot of people know about. Even my friends think that I design the football boots! But designing, I can not do that at all; I can not draw! But development is my thing and I think people need to become a bit more aware and educated as to what a developer actually does to be able to realise that females can do that job as well. I think it’s really exciting, and that’s why I’m really happy to be doing interviews like this.

The women’s side of football is also something that we’re also pushing a lot in PUMA as well, and it’s something we’re working on with things to come in the future, so very exciting.

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Pick up the PUMA Future Z at prodirectsoccer.com