Normski caught up with size? Managing Director Paul Ruffles to talk about the PUMA States ahead of their upcoming re-release on Friday 14th March…
Normski: We’re over at size? store in Covent Garden with the main man Paul Ruffles. So what is it you do?
Paul: I’m Managing Director of size? and Foot Patrol so I pretty much oversee anything to do with those stores. I’ve been at this level for a couple of years now but I started at size? 9 years ago as footwear buyer so the roles have just got bigger and bigger.
So I guess footwear has been a big part of your life?
Oh yeah…my first job was at JD Sports in Birmingham as weekend salesman. When people speak about all the retro stuff, I was a part of it because I was selling them when I was 18, makes me feel old. It was all good running around the shop floor about 20 years ago!
So when was the first time you came across PUMA?
Probably in my early teenage years, before I started working and my mum was still buying my shoes. PUMA King football boots were ones which have a strong UK affiliation. I used to play football at weekends, not a high level but I’d play twice on a Sunday in the fit old days.
Do you remember the colour of your first pair?
PUMA King’s were obviously a black and white classic boot, but there was another pair I had when I was about 12 or 13 called PUMA Street which was a simple tennis shoe; full white leather and with black form stripe.
Can you remember what you were wearing with them and what style you were into?
It took me many years to settle into any sort of style but I was taught. My good friend at the time was a girl that lived next door to me. She was a little older than me and was into Vogue and Elle magazines. When we were hanging out, I used to read them too and tear out the men’s pages, which they did back then and put them in a folder. It was obviously a sign of things to come. From that, I started discovering more and more and I used to go through my mum’s Freemans catalogue and ask her to buy me this and that. Back then, I saw this whole new world of trainers and full tracksuits and I’d never seen anything like that.
Are you talking about this from an American perspective?
Yes, because it wasn’t really happening in the UK. I know in London there was something but in Birmingham; all due respect to my hometown but there wasn’t. But then the music came…Birmingham didn’t have a big hip-hop scene, but I remember discovering a few things on the radio and then a friend of my mums gave me a tape of Electro 14 or 15 and it blew my mind.
When you got into the hip-hop thing, were you wearing PUMA?
In my early teenage years, I was learning about brands. But as I got older and I started working for JD Sports, I’d have to travel around and do a lot of the visual merchandising of windows and that sort of thing. There was a shop down in London that again blew my mind. They would import gear from overseas and that’s where I first saw stuff like the PUMA States. That was when people used to bring things back from America but no one really does that anymore.
You’ve got a real background with clothing and footwear especially, because you’ve been in it since you were a teenager. Are you really quite particular about the quality of your stuff?
When you’re younger you don’t care as much about quality because you’re keen and desperate for the ‘look’. As you get older I think you do start to appreciate a little more quality on clothes, in shoes and with brands. That has been going on for years now and there’s an expected level of quality that people trust in a brand. The difference between shoes and clothing is that people will wear unbranded clothes but don’t really wear unbranded footwear – especially when it comes to trainers. The footwear has got to be branded and a lot of people still dress from their feet up.
There’s very few style-less people in this day in age. Back then, I was very style-less, and I had no idea how to throw stuff together. But it was only until trainers really arrived was when I knew where to start…
It was an anchor to start your look from. I think now you’re bombarded with ‘you should look like this, you should look like that’ and people want more things. Years ago, there were more tribes with looks. There wasn’t the internet and all of that so people would gravitate towards a group and want to look like them. The older guy was always the cooler guy because they were just so much more confident with what they were doing and had more years of experience. If you bowled round in a full retro style tracksuit; not a fleece suit like today, but a full bright polyester suit, you’d stand out. I used to do that sometimes and had a few polyester tracksuits. I wore a full suit to a football tournament once and the guys on the bus started calling me ‘retro man’ ha!
So PUMA States…did you wear them when you were younger?
I did. I’m sure I had a green pair but again they weren’t as easy to come by. I was keen towards them as I was into the whole hip-hop and basketball look – at one point it was either wearing massive basketball shoes or PUMA States.
What do you think it was that made the PUMA States so popular?
I think it was the simple colour and styling and then the whole idea of ‘dressing up’. When they first appeared, that was the first time I started seeing people in books matching their full outfits to their shoes. If they wore green PUMA States they would be wearing a green suit or a suit with that green in it. There was an element of luxury and it was the suede texture that helped. But a lot of people forget about the skateboarding element and that people used to skate in PUMA States too.
All these years later did you ever imagine that you’d be in the position that you’re in now?
I never purposely aimed or thought this is what I was going to do years and years down the line. Fortunately I work with a really great team, and don’t get me wrong it is constantly super busy but it is still enjoyable and rewarding. Now I’ve actually got the opportunity to work with brands as opposed to just aspiring to buy their stuff, I can work with them on interesting projects like this. So with the PUMA States, it’s an opportunity to re-tell the story because there are a lot people out there that don’t really know the history about them even though they’ve always been there. Loads of kids are wearing PUMA Suede’s, but if you ask them where they came from or their history many wouldn’t know. So I think rather than letting history go to waste especially on such an iconic shoe, we should help tell that story.
I’ve actually got a pair the size? PUMA States from 2006 in acid green and yellow. How did that whole collaboration come about back then?
It was actually a highlighter theme pack. You know, people had incorporated graffiti pens and all this sort of stuff on shoes in the past so we did a little twist on that. At size? with sales reports, we used highlighter pens to highlight the good and bad shoes. So when we talked to PUMA about re-doing the States, rather than using marker pens as a theme which is linked to the whole hip-hop & graffiti culture, we were like ‘why don’t we do highlighters?’
It’s brilliant and yet has quite a personal touch…
We always try and add that. We never do things for the sake of it, or to chase what others have done because you become a follower and not a leader as it were. And PUMA got fully behind it and threw an amazing night for the launch.
Do you remember that night at Canvas?
I spent that night in the hip-hop room with Big Daddy Kane was who I was and still am a big fan of. Living in Birmingham, hip-hop acts like these rarely came to Birmingham in the late 80s/ early 90s, so I never saw some of these people. I had people thanking me on the night because they’d never seen Big Daddy Kane but it wasn’t just me – it was PUMA.
When you look at a PUMA State what’s the first thing that you think of and how do you feel about the shoe?
The simple-ness of it, and obviously it conjures up the pictures I used to see in books and there’s a richness to them when the materials are right.
Do you think it’s got the potential to come back strong?
The point is that there’s PUMA Suede’s and then there’s PUMA States. The differences are really subtle so it’s a case of whether people will get it and be appreciative of it. They are really simple changes but I think whenever a brand does a re-launch of an iconic shoe, you have to do it from an original and not cloud it with any other kind of interpretations. And then as time goes on and people want more, you can spread it wider but it’s basically about originals, and original colours.
Because you’re actually in it, where does PUMA stand in the footwear market?
PUMA Suede’s have been around for a while. It’s hit a mass level so I think its key they re-elevate and reintroduce some of their iconic shoes. I think the PUMA States could bring back some more care and appreciation for this style. The brand re-visiting styles and technology like Trinomic, so they are definitely going toe to toe with other brands so it will be interesting so see what happens.
PUMA States, Navy/White, 1991
It’s a UK thing right now and style wise, it’s not about whose better but compared to America, how have we got our own style in the UK?
The UK is always good at getting something and then slightly twisting it to make it our own. The same with music – how many different sub genres have started here like drum and bass that never went massive anywhere else. I mean UK Garage used to run the place. The casuals scene is another key one that never really happened anywhere else.
Yeah I suppose you’ve got to admire the casuals from a style sense, it’s not like a college prep kid in America…
Casuals owned it and there’s a whole ‘living for the weekend’ culture that’s prevalent in this country as oppose to a lot of the other countries. People work hard and then when it’s a Friday, they want go out and looking their best, and it still happens today.
Do you have an abundance of shoes all over the place in your house?
Nah they’re all in one room. The most I’ve ever had is around 400 and it’s down to 100 or so now but I don’tcollect shoes, I wear them.
How are they stored?
Just imagine a built in bookcase with trainers. I’m going to upset some sneakerheads but they’re not in boxes because I can’t do that anymore and I make sure I wear them.
Finally, PUMA States, fat laces or thin?
It would be thin laces for me now; originally it was fat laces, sock under the tongue and all that business. But that was when I was 15…
The PUMA States in red/white, forrest/white and navy/white will be launching on Friday 14th March online at 8.00am GMT via direct links on our Facebook, Twitter and a dedicated e-mail newsletter. It will also be available in all size? stores on the day (from their respective opening hours) priced at £60.