Creative Soccer Culture

Talking The All-New PUMA King Ultimate With Peter Stappen

The PUMA King Ultimate has arrived, and it’s a reinvention that places the iconic silo right back at the top of the game, where it rightfully belongs. Here, we find out all about the challenge and process of rebooting a legend from PUMA Lead Product Line Manager for Teamsport Footwear, Peter Stappen.

There aren’t many boots in the world that can compare, let alone compete, with the PUMA King; it‘s been a fixture in football for 55 years, featuring on the feet of some of the best players the game has ever seen. Iconic doesn’t even cut it. So the task to reinvent it for the elite level of the modern game was never going to be an easy one, but it’s a challenge that PUMA have more than stepped up to, recreating it right down to its core essence, and yet retaining the essential DNA of the original King. And it’s all been done under the watchful eye of Lead Product Line Manager for Teamsport Footwear, Peter Stappen.

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When you think PUMA King, you think touch, control and comfort, all thanks to the premium K-leather construction – at least that used to be the case anyway. Now, a revolutionary new material has been created to take its place, offering all of the same qualities as leather, only it’s lighter, more durable, and sustainable, and that’s why PUMA refer to it as K-Better. Its one of the key calling cards of the new PUMA King Ultimate, and we were fortunate enough to get to spend some time with Peter ahead of its launch to find out all about this exciting new step in the history of this long reigning monarch.

The PUMA King is rightly hailed as one of the most iconic football boots of all time. Where do you even start with a project like this?

To start with we viewed this as a new era for the King. As you rightly said, this is one of the most iconic and long-lasting boots of all time, with greats such as Pele, Maradona and Cruyff having worn it, so we wanted to bring it back to the top level of the game. We also made the bold decision to move away from K-Leather early on – something that raised some eyebrows when we first mentioned it, as it has always been such an integral component of the boot. But we feel that we have created a material that is every part as good as K-leather, offering all the same qualities, so touch and comfort, anything but the smell of leather! As well as having these qualities, it’s also made from 20 percent recycled materials and is a more sustainable product. That’s why we call it K-Better.

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We have created a material that is every part as good as K-leather, offering all the same qualities, so touch and comfort, but as well as having these qualities, it’s also made from 20 percent recycled materials and is a more sustainable product. That’s why we call it K-Better."

Reinvention, reimagining, reboot… how do you refer to this new King?

Yeah, it’s a new era for the King, one for the modern day. But we didn’t want to lose that heritage and DNA. This brave move away from K-Leather – we’re one of the first in the industry to do this on a touch silo and on such a big scale. We’re phasing out K-leather for this K-Better material because we’re really convinced by it: convinced it’s a better material, and not only that it’s a better material but also it’s better for the planet, it’s sustainable and has recycled components.

Tell us more about the technology of the boot.

Well, as we’ve mentioned, the main focus of the boot is the switch from K-Leather to the K-Better synthetic material. Another positive to come out of this switch was that it significantly cut down the weight of the boot, so it now comes in at just over 200 grams, making it the lightest King ever. This is helped by the all-new soleplate that we crafted for the boot. It’s a new material and features a mid foot spine, classic conical studs, and an external heel counter to keep the foot locked in. The upper is a one-piece construction with a knitted entry collar, ensuring a wrapped feel around the foot, and comfort from the off – no wear in time needed.

The K-Better material allows us to do so many more things than the K-leather – it’s also far more durable. You can see this with some of the aesthetics, so the branding is moulded on top, and you can see the black outline has some shine to it and you can see the printed colour and graphic inside the Form Stripe. It also wraps around the heel and is standing on the medial side there so that's also a kind of a new design feature that we haven't done before.

That raised almost honeycomb-type pattern on the forefoot, can you tell us more about that?

Yeah, so we incorporated that hexagonal pattern to provide the great touch and manipulation of the ball that is synonymous with the King – it’s another advantage of the properties of the K-Better material and our ability to manipulate it. But the actual hexagonal shape comes because we wanted to stick close to the DNA of the King. If you look down the medial side you can see the graphic that looks like a strand of DNA… this is a nod to the heritage of the boot, and we then built that up as we approached the forefoot to give us that hexagonal pattern.

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You’ve mentioned some of the greats to have played in the King in the past – is it intimidating to work on a silo as iconic and important as this?

It’s an honour and comes along with big responsibility. So, yes you do feel a certain weight on your shoulders at the beginning of the process, with all the history and legacy – the King’s been an ever-present in the game for 55 years now. But that nervousness soon transforms into excitement as the project progresses. It’s an honor to be able to work on something as iconic as the PUMA King, and we have a great team, so it was a privilege to work on this project.

What challenges did moving away from leather present for you?

Obviously, it was a complete mindset shift because for decades leather has been synonymous for King.  The most important part was trying to replicate the qualities of the leather. Once we managed that it became a matter of where we wanted to go with it. Rather than challenges it became more about where the limitations of leather were, as there is so much more we can do with this new material compared to a natural leather.

What type of player in the modern game do you see wearing the King?

We already have the Future and the Ultra firmly in place, and the King is now returning to the pitch, with it being mainly used by modern midfielders. So, from the off we have Granit Xhaka for Arsenal set to switch into it on launch, as well as Nabil Fekir in La Liga and Ritsu Doan, the Japanese international. And there will be more to come.

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The switch to K-Better has also significantly cut down the weight of the boot, so it now comes in at just over 200 grams, making it the lightest King ever."

Let’s talk aesthetics – How did you settle on the launch colourway?

This launch look is part of the ‘Supercharge Pack’, with that beautiful white base execution then tying into the seasonal colours that we are also using on the Future and Ultra, so the blue and the nice detailed pop of orange, similar to what you also see on the Ultra and Future.

It just felt that as a launch colourway, this perfectly fit the King boot. We really wanted to launch it with a fresh, yet still elegant colourway and we didn't want to go too crazy with colours so we felt the white colourway was the best for this.

What’s the ultimate mark of success for you with the launch of a new boot?

You can measure success in many ways right, so you can look at it from a business point of view, so how many units were sold, you can look at it from a marketing or social media point of view, so how much buzz you are creating, which also has a massive impact, but ultimately it's also about because as I said this is the footballers boot so if the players that are wearing it are happy with it I think that’s – at least for the product team, so people I work with and myself – that’s the biggest measurement of success. If people are loving the fit or loving the boot – because it's a football boot, right, you play football with it – then if the fit is right and everybody is feeling great, then that's personally for me the biggest success.

What's the feedback been like from from pro players testing it?

It’s been absolutely amazing. Players can't wear wait to wear it on pitch finally, and also people that have tried it there’s a lot of excitement. Feedback has been so positive, praising the fit and how it doesn’t really even feel like you’re wearing a boot.

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How does it feel when you see players scoring goals in the boots you’ve created?

It actually makes you feel very proud. Every time again you're launching and we're launching a new boot that you worked on it just makes you feel proud. Proud and happy and excited and all those things that come together.

Until the product launches and finally hits the market there's a lot of work so we started this project almost two years ago, really kicking it off because it was a completely new development including the new outsole and of course it takes a lot of testing and trailing and feedback and so it takes a lot of time and then once it's finally out there on the market that is always a great moment.

What’s your favourite part of the whole design process?

I would say it's when you get direct feedback from customers and consumers right so also early in the process we are in contact with football specialist accounts to get their feedback because they are the experts in the market but also young players. We do a lot of focus groups and in very early stages we show those kids stuff to get their reaction because ultimately it's for them, right, is for people that are actively playing football that are enjoying the game and then seeing their reaction and getting their input and incorporating it, that’s a fun thing to do.

Finally then, which player, alive or dead, would you most like to see playing in your new King and why?

Probably the three players I mentioned earlier on, so it’s those absolute PUMA King legends, Johan Cruyff, Pele, and Maradona. Unfortunately they all passed away but it would be phenomenal to see those players wearing this boot and hearing their feedback on it.

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Daniel Jones

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