'This Is the One': The Design Process Behind J. Cole's Signature Pumas

Jeremy Sallee, Puma’s head of basketball footwear design, talks about the upcoming Puma RS-Dreamer Proto basketball sneaker, working with J. Cole, & more.

J Cole Puma
Complex Original

Jacob Garcia: Senior Designer, PUMA Basketball Footwear, J. Cole, Jeremy Sallee Image via Complex Original

J Cole Puma

How does J. Cole actually make his Puma sneakers happen? Jeremy Sallee, Puma’s head of basketball footwear design, says working with J. Cole on the RS-Dreamer series comes both easy and refreshing. So easy, in fact, he enjoys the chance to visit Cole, sit back and chat about colors, materials, Dreamer stories, and release schedules. 

“J. Cole is a good dude,” Sallee says. “We chat. He is one of the easiest assets I work with. He is not fake about it, he is learning at all times and that is refreshing, working with someone when they give you the reins and let the experts be the experts and learn along the way and become an expert.” 

The RS-Dreamer series, a summer 2020 launch, was an instant hit, both on the feet of NBA players throughout the bubble—Sallee still loves the Kyle Kuzma buzzer-beater in the “Blood, Sweat, and Tears” version—and at retail, where colorways sold out quickly. Sallee calls the immediate success a surprise, but credits a perfect storm of a good shoe, a great collaborator, and an even better authentic story about dreaming and reaching your goals. 

Puma RS Dreamer

Sallee remembers the first time he knew the Dreamer resonated—and not just because NBA players were begging the brand for player exclusives. He was at a FedEx retail site shipping a package. When the employee heard Sallee worked for Puma, his first question was if the box contained Dreamers.

“He just asked without seeing what was in the box and this was a day after they were released,” Sallee says. “It was in the middle of Indiana, and he was asking if some random package had Dreamers in it. When you get to the masses it means you did something well.” 

With so much success in just a few months, Puma is dropping the unreleased original colorway of the RS-Dreamer on April 2, dubbing it the RS-Dreamer Proto.

“I’m excited,” Sallee says. “We’ve surprised some people with it. I think with 2020 going on, all the delays we had in the original release and us being super surprised by how much it sold, sold well, and sold out, we always talked about that one colorway that we didn’t do that we did first.” 

The original brief on the shoe put Sallee and J. Cole together, both new to the brand at the time. The plan, Sallee says, was to draft off the momentum Puma had from its RS-X franchise and bring in some ’90s aesthetic, archive material, and design language, but brought into the modern era with something aggressive.

“We weren’t trying to be safe,” he says. “We wanted something wearable off court and on court. It was the same way with the colors, something neutral, but aggressive at the same time.” 

While the cord lacing system, ProFoam midsole, RS-Foam heel, and high-abrasion rubber outsole remained the same from the start, that original white-based colorway was shelved before launch. Inspired by the idea of a neutral base with pops of color, Sallee wanted an aggressive design that remained neutral and wearable. For the initial drop, they took the formula and used a black-based design, “a similar story, but just a different way of doing it.” 

“It is just nice to get back to the original,” Sallee says. “That rarely happens. As a designer, all the concepts are that first one and you love it and you want to add touches to it and make it follow a certain story, so it is good to get back to it.” 

Puma RS Dreamer Proto

Working with J. Cole has been different than working with young athletes who often lack business experience and only want what makes them comfortable. J. Cole was looking for something different. He was always open to Sallee sitting with him and making up colorways on the spot. “He’d have a suggestion and we’d put it on the screen and come up with a story,” Sallee says. Once they devised the colors, they’d work on creating stories to fit with the Dreamer themes and then time out the releases. 

“One meeting I brought the Proto with me and Cole immediately jammed his foot into the sample, which was three sizes too small, looked down in awe and had a ‘This is the one’ moment,” Sallee says. “From that point on he was all in. We went straight into crafting stories and designing colors. The rest is history.”

With Puma Basketball not even three years old, Sallee says the success of the Dreamer line signals we can expect more Dreamer, from on-court to additional designs and even apparel. “J. Cole is good people. My team is good people,” Sallee says. “We are trying to keep it moving with great stuff.”