As one of the world’s leading Sports brands, designing, developing, selling and marketing footwear, apparel and accessories for over 65 years, many have watched and worn as PUMA established its history of making fast product designs for the fastest athletes on the planet. Now, in 2016, Puma has invigorated a new tactic that combines powerhouse brands under its growing diaspora of collaborations, such as Rihanna’s ‘Fenty Puma’ collection, and thriving independent brands such as ICNY, Trapstar and most recent, contemporary footwear brand Filling Pieces. As a brand manager, my advice to clients was once that “over-collaborating can kill a career” however, the Puma brand seems to have a knack for the perimeters of doing just that, and making each collaboration successful.
Strolling NYC’s Soho neighborhood with Puma’s Global Senior Head of Lifestyle, Yassine Saidi, and Founder of the Filling Pieces shoe brand, Guillaume Philibert, we explored how these ideas come to life, what it takes for successful co-branding, the differentiating markets, and the makings of their “PUMA x Filling Pieces: Destruct To Rebuild” collaboration shoe.
Photos: Jacob Lewis Ferguson | Special Thanks: Yasmin Yusuff
TT: Yassine, how did Puma tie-in with Filling Pieces, and what influenced this collaboration to come about?
Yassine: It’s based on friendship, Guillaume and I had a mutual friend who said we should meet. We met in London two years ago. I have always had an admiration for his aesthetic for achieving what he has in such a short amount of time, and Puma has the same respect towards Filling Pieces. We are catering to the customer that wants luxury at a certain price point which is why we choose to collaborate in the first place. Our collaboration was never forced because of the preexisting friendship we shared. This made the collaboration more organic and easier to combine both brand’s aesthetics and come up with something different. It’s more than just a collaboration, it’s bringing a new experience to the markets – that’s our goal.
TT: What was the PUMA x Filling Pieces design process like?
Yassine: We had a year-long exploration process before beginning to design the shoes. It was important to us that we referred back to sportswear before getting into lifestyle, since our heritage is sport and performance, it is important that this is always at the forefront of our minds when we begin. The PUMA x Filling pieces silhouette comes from one of the most iconic running styles from our archive within the Trinomic family, the Blaze of Glory. The midsole gives the sport – technology with Filling Pieces DNA taking over the upper for that fashion take. It resulted in a product that is just sublime.
TT: What’s the story behind Filling Pieces and its beginning?
Guillaume: I felt that there was a big gap in the market between luxury and basic sportswear- in the price point range of $160-250- especially in regards to footwear. That was the moment when I decided to start my own brand, with the vision of merging high fashion and streetwear aesthetics in contemporary footwear product. When I started Filling Pieces, it was a true hustle since I was working on the brand in addition to my studies. I used to do everything myself, from product design to packaging, sales, and marketing. Looking back, I feel like this was a good experience because it made me aware of different areas of the industry. I gained a lot of knowledge overseeing everything myself until I had no other option but to hire people to help me with my brand since it was expanding. Most of the growth took place in the last couple of years.
TT: Filling Pieces is a high-end brand while Puma rides a line of stylish athletic wear. How does the collaboration work financially with Filling Pieces having such a unique price point compared to PUMA?
Yassine: Well Puma was the first brand with a wide price range to collaborate with a high-fashion brand. In 1998 we signed with Jill Sander. It was a huge milestone in the industry. So, because Puma has experience with this type of collaboration, it’s easy for us to judge which brands we should be working with, and what we can achieve through them. Yes the price point is different so the audience is going to be more exclusive, but that fact is part of our overall strategy to get the brand’s name out there.
Guillaume: We are offering a shoe that is not out of the normal for Filling Piece’s price range. While we normally sell shoes at about 170-180 euros, this shoe is 190. While that may be out of the price range for some people, especially some of Puma’s customers, there are a lot of luxury materials in it and that is a visible difference.
TT: Why were you [Guillaume] so excited to work with Puma?
Guillaume: Like you said [before the interview] it was the same story for me. Puma was a big part of my childhood; a lot of how I look at the design of footwear now comes from wearing Puma. I was in my early teens when I got my first pair of Puma’s and it was a major confidence booster for me. Looking at it from a business perspective today, Puma is a brand with a large, respectable following that can help grow our small contemporary footwear brand. In the end we looked at both brand’s profiles and figured out how we could play off of their strengths.
Tony Triumph: Where did the Filling Pieces brand start, versus where it is today?
Guillaume: I started the company back in 2009, I was 19 at that time and studying architecture. My architectural background has been a great influence in how I look at and approach footwear. During my educational pursuit in architecture, I bought a lot of athletic footwear, but I had a true interest in luxury trainers. However, since I was on a student budget at the time, I didn’t have the money to buy designer shoes.
TT: Are you happy with where the brand is now?
Guillaume: I, along with my team, are happy with where the brand is going now. Everything in fashion is always happening at least a year ahead. It’s sometimes hard to reflect on the past because you’re always in a rush to look to the future. Your whole mindset and vibe is programmed to think that way – to keep looking forward to the next step – leaving you with little time to look back, which is sometimes sad.
TT: Puma has done so many collaborations. How does Filling Pieces stand out ?
Yassine: We look at collaborations as a base for storytelling and to connect with the consumer.We want to create new products, and new styles. While we dislike the word “lifestyle”, we like to call it “sports-style”. This is due to the fact that everything we do is related to and based on sports with a twist of fashion and trend. The collaboration with Filling Pieces is unique because it has helped design a completely new upper for Puma. The upper is a clear representation of Filling Pieces own brand which makes this hybrid collaboration so authentic. Sometimes our collaborations are only based on color and material, but with Filling Pieces we went the extra mile to create something different.
TT: Where is your number one market at the moment?
Yassine: For Puma, it’s a different conversation, we look at it on a regional basis. For example, the US is one of our biggest markets, and we are doing well in Asia as well, and Europe is a strong base for us. Currently, our numbers show that we are growing in every single market, but the US is a strategic market because it has influence on everything else the is going on in the world so we have a very strong focus in the US – in particular, New York. Like they say, if you can make in New York, you can make it anywhere!
Guillaume: I think it’s the same for us. With Filling Pieces we are very known in Europe. The brand is doing well in the UK, France, Germany, and of course the Netherlands where we’re from. Our target market is the US though, because we feel that culturally, everyone follows the US. Music, movies, and so forth. I have also traveled to Asia, specifically Tokyo, many times and also feel like they are trying to emulate US pop culture. Thus, we feel that if we make it in the US it will be easier to break into other markets.
TT: Guillaume, would you say the “Destruct To Rebuild” collaboration is one of Filling Pieces’ premier shoes?
Guillaume: It’s in the top picks for shoes designed by Filling Pieces, even though I can’t say we designed the whole shoe since it is a deconstructed “Blaze of Gory”. It is definitely in the top 5 of shoe designs we have ever released. It is a unique shoe and we weren’t able to do this on our own with our resources which is why we joined forces with Puma; to create a luxury shoe with an athletic appeal. It will be sold at Puma’s highest end retailers on the Puma Cream line.
TT: Everything in 2016 is about how people feel while wearing certain pieces. Do you make an effort to pull the aspects of ‘lifestyle’ into your products?
Guillaume: Personally, I don’t really like the term ‘lifestyle’ because what we’re actually trying to reach is super high-end – we’re working with some of the best stores in the world. A product with a certain aesthetic attached to it automatically becomes ‘lifestyle’ as soon as people wear it. We had a certain image we want to create with our brand, and off course we’d love the people who wear our band to have that sort of sophisticated artsy style, but everyone has their own style.
TT: Do cultural or social issues, such as the value of the dollar vs. the pound changing and the recent Brexit, ever affect your business?
Guillaume: Compared to Puma, we [Filling Pieces] are such a small brand. However, we are in a position where we have expanded past the status of a start-up company and have gained a bit of a reputation. I think what we came up with is perfect for the moment because people don’t want to spend a ton of money on high-end trainers anymore. For someone with a luxury budget this is a great option for less cash and for someone who’s looking to step-up their luxury shoe game without the real luxury price.. Since it is an easy swing design and price point we haven’t really felt any outside economical effects on our business. Socially, Filling Pieces does not take a political stance, but one of our collections is called “Independence”, because that is what I felt when I designed it, and we didn’t have any boundaries material wise. I also wanted the name of this collection to inspire independency in creativity and emotion. The world is going through very tough times right now and we want to make sure our brand is here to push the happiness into these times. We feel a certain responsibility as a brand to make the world a better place.
For more information on “PUMA x Filling Pieces: Destruct To Rebuild” collaboration please visit Fillingpieces.com.
Starting July 30th, handpicked top PUMA retailers like Dover Street Market London, Colette, KITH, Isetan, Luisa Via Roma, Tres Bien, Ssense and Sneakerboy will carry the “PUMA x Filling Pieces: Destruct To Rebuild” shoe.