Will Rihanna’s reign continue by reuniting with Puma?
This collaboration could provide a different example of a celebrity-sneaker partnership
Sportswear company Puma recently announced it’s reuniting with Rihanna in a simple statement: “She’s back.”
With the continued success of her companies Fenty Beauty and Savage x Fenty, Rihanna is reentering the sneaker market at a time when women — and Black women, in particular — are overdue for recognition as trendsetters and creative collaborators. While Puma is more entrenched in the sneakerhead market since its initial deal, the singer returns to the partnership as a much more experienced business executive who has become a billionaire because of her brands and partnerships, particularly with LVMH. Her successes could be a road map for Puma as they renew their working relationship.
In December 2014, Puma tapped Rihanna as global ambassador and creative director for womenswear. The move was interesting since Puma wasn’t as popular as bigger competitors such as Nike and Adidas. By partnering with the company, Rihanna gave Puma an injection of cool and relevancy in pop culture.
Channing Beumer, founder and CEO of women’s sneaker lifestyle site CNKDaily, recalled seeing Rihanna style her outfits with sneakers more frequently. She was intrigued when she chose Puma as a brand collaborator.
“She transcends the variety of sneaker girls,” Beumer said. “From the novice to the experienced collector, she seems like one of us, so it seemed natural for her to want to create her own thing.”
And that she did.
In the fourth quarter of 2015, Puma reported $975 million in sales overall – a 17% increase from where they were at the end of the previous year – an increase partially attributed to their star collaboration. “[Rihanna] can sell sneakers and Puma is onto something here that we haven’t seen yet in the women’s area,” said then-Puma CEO Bjorn Gulden during a news conference in February 2016. With her creative direction, consumers saw a fresh take on Puma’s apparel and sneakers, such as the Fenty Puma Creepers, which were available in various colors with an oatmeal-colored platform sole. The model’s success led Footwear News to name it “Shoe of the Year” in 2016.
“We saw her [Rihanna] connect with a brand that was kind of in obscurity and boosted not only the product but also the marketing. She took Puma to a new level at Paris Fashion Week in 2016 and elevated how it was presented,” Beumer said. “I think it really set the tone for the sneaker industry to see that women are consumers and women will buy what they want if you cater to them directly.”
In March 2017, she remixed the classic Puma R698 silhouette with three colorways and added a satin bow in the place of shoelaces. The Fenty Puma trainers were an acquired taste, but she unapologetically made bold design decisions to cater to all sorts of sneaker lovers. “I respected the fact that she brought different silhouettes to the table,” Beumer said, “as opposed to just taking a classic Puma, putting a different colorway on it, and calling it hers.”
Rihanna’s new deal with Puma arrives as two long-standing athletic brand partnerships with celebrities — Ye’s Yeezy brand and Beyoncé’s Ivy Park, both with Adidas — have suffered significant setbacks.
The anti-Semitic rants and other outbursts by artist formerly known as Kanye West led to Adidas severing ties with the star. As a result, the company’s left with $1.3 billion in products and limited options.
In Beyoncé’s case, the singer’s star power failed to translate into sales. Ivy Park’s sales tumbled in 2022, resulting in a reported $200 million projected shortfall.
While those examples show celebrity endorsements don’t guarantee success, Puma’s recent growth places the company in a good position to benefit from an affiliation with Rihanna.
Alix Montes, director of client services at Creative Theory in Washington, believes that as a heritage brand, Puma has put itself in the ranks with Nike and Adidas in the U.S. sneaker market. Adding Rihanna to its roster strengthens the brand’s perception even more.
“Rihanna has a lot more credibility now than she did in 2014 — with Fenty Beauty and Savage x Fenty has given consumers a taste of her style and how it’s evolved,” Montes said. “This reunion with Puma could offer new and existing consumers another way to experience the Fenty touch.”
On the flip side, two significant challenges loom in the distance: one is the price of the sneakers, and the other is the potential longevity of the partnership. In the age of social media influencers, it’s possible for consumers to grow tired of celebrity partnerships and want to spend their money elsewhere.
As exciting as this collaboration is, Beumer said, there is some trepidation. “Can this partnership sustain and achieve the same numbers it did years ago?” she said. “Once we start seeing product offerings and price points, that may be determined.”
“As long as Puma leverages Rihanna thoughtfully, the partnership will seem intentional and authentic,” Montes said. “Many brands try to tap into the culture through celebs or collaborations, but being culturally relevant takes work and investment.”