While Going Greener, Puma Also Thinks Outside the Box

It’s part of the experience of buying new shoes. Along with the new sneaker smell and the tissue paper, there’s a cardboard box that comes standard with every purchase. Well, not every purchase. Later this year, Puma will toss the box aside for a bag.

In the process, the sneaker brand might also stake its claim as a green innovator in the category and woo some consumers for whom sustainability is a major purchase consideration.

But that’s not necessarily the goal. Antonio Bertone, Puma’s CMO, said that the company didn’t run any focus groups before rolling out the packaging. “We actually haven’t done research,” said Bertone. “It’s a lot of our own thinking. You can’t go home and teach your kids to recycle if you’re not doing it yourself.”

Puma announced  the “Clever Little Bag” last month. A 90-second online video from Droga5 outlines some of the main points: The brand worked with industrial designer Yves Behar on the project, which took 21 months. Puma considered more than 2,000 ideas and 40-plus packaging prototypes. Eventually, they came up with the Clever Little Bag, which, thanks to a cardboard tray, assumes the shape of a box, but uses 65 percent less cardboard than the standard packaging. The bag will reduce electricity use by 20 million megajoules and will save 1 million liters of water.

Despite those savings on materials, Bertone said that the bag is “90 percent the same” as a normal shoebox in its form factor, so retailers won’t have to worry it won’t stack well. But Puma needs to train reps how to present the new packaging before it hits this holiday season. The goal is to have them retain the cardboard for recycling and then hand off the shoes in the reusable bag.

The introduction coincides with a renaissance of new technology in the sneaker category. In the past year, Nike has launched Flywire, which employs new stitching to provide a fabric that’s lightweight and yet still provides support. Meanwhile, Reebok has introduced EasyTone, which purports to develop the upper leg and butt muscles by keeping the wearer slightly off balance. In addition, Nike, Adidas, Reebok and New Balance have started including in-box codes that let users go online and get coaching tutorials and other extras.

Sustainability has also been a  big factor in rethinking the category. Nike has rolled out a program called Nike Considered which has resulted in several shoes that use less materials than standard models. Timberland’s shoe packaging is also made of 100 percent recycled materials.

Nevertheless, going boxless may be an industry first. Matt Halfhill, founder of sneaker blog NiceKicks, said that a Chinese manufacturer named Warrior introduced a pair of shoes in a bag two or three years ago, but no major players in the category have done so. Halfhill said he believes Puma’s Clever Little Bag will be a hit. “I think green kind of goes there in the back of someone’s mind,” he said. “When the [salesman] is doing the presentation and there’s no box, it will remind them of what Puma’s doing.”

Matt Powell, a sneakerologist at Princeton Retail Analysis, said the bag is a good move for the brand. “It fits the psychographic of the Puma customer,” he said. “It’s hip, and yet it’s green at the same time.”