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puma house of hustle drug dealing council estate

Puma threw a party inspired by council estate drug dealing

An open letter on Instagram explains exactly why this was a bad idea

We’ve all seen the typical ‘urban youths in sportswear on a council estate‘ photoshoots, but a recent immersive event in London took it one step further. 

Puma’s ‘House of Hustle’ party (thrown in partnership with JD Sports and marketing agency Urban Nerds) took place in London’s affluent Soho area last week, with invitees being sent Puma shoe boxes full of fake £50 notes and sketchy-looking business cards which instructed them to ‘turn on the trap line’. In other words, turn on the ‘burner’ phone they’d been sent, which came with a preloaded message reading “Yo G what u sayin today? Pass tru the House of Hustle.” Trapping, in case you're not familiar with the term and Puma's drug-dealing starter kit hasn't made it clear, is the selling and dealing of drugs.

The trap house itself was covered in graffiti, with blacked out windows and dirty mattresses strewn on the floor, while drill acts including Loski performed and tattooists and barbers offered guests fresh ink, trims and grills. There’s something slighly...weird...about a brand doing this – yes, the glamourisation of drugs is nothing new, but a determined focus on class (and perhaps race) makes it a strange thematic choice, particularly given what’s happening to London’s working class youth right now.

Calling into question Puma’s event was Amber Gilbert Coutts. Coutts, a London-based social worker who works with vulnerable families, penned an open letter and posted it to her Instagram account yesterday. She called out the brand for glamourising the darker side of ‘urban’ youth culture, saying that the party was “far from cool. Adolescent drug dealing so often results in violence, exacerbated deprivation, and community pain.”

Coutts went on to detail what is currently happening on the streets of London amid extensive police cuts, social unrest and far-reaching poverty – on the night of the party, there were ‘six stabbings in 90 minutes’, with most involving teenagers or young adults.

“We are not even a quarter of the way through the year and in London alone there has been fifty fatal violent crimes,” her letter continues. “The vulnerable young people – both boys and girls – who are most at risk of becoming victims of this violence are those who are associated with gangs and the related drug markets.” Coutts also goes on to say these children and young people are susceptible to drug trafficking, sexual exploitation, and injury after being “coerced, threatened and forced into trapping.” 

The letter has received support, with many posting comments expressing similar feelings towards the party’s theme. “As someone who has lived through the things they are glamourising here I rly appreciate this post which is something I could have never articulated. It’s grim to see my childhood used as a marketing tool when living through it was traumatic and still haunts myself and my family today!” commented @damngeorgina, while others including musician Kindness (Adam Bainbridge) called for a boycott of Puma and its products.  

“The vulnerable young people – both boys and girls – who are most at risk of becoming victims of this violence are those who are associated with gangs and the related drug markets” – Amber Gilbert Coutts

How the ‘House of Hustle’ party made it past what we’re presuming was a lengthy series of sign-offs, and that someone thought it was a good idea in the first place is questionable. As Coutts puts it in the caption that accompanied her IG post, “we can’t expect corporations designed for the pursuit of profit to morally care about the impact they have on communities both locally and globally, but if they want credibility and if they want our money then they MUST take accountability for every one of their poor choices.”

Puma made the decision not to comment when we reached out to them for a response to the letter yesterday, while JD Sports and Urban Nerds did not respond at all. Coutts finds this disappointing. “It’s cowardly that corporations continue to ‘innovate’ new exploitative ways to repackage and sell us back our cultures, but they are scared to even engage in a conversation with those who live these experiences,” she tells us. “But if they ever decide to open their ears to listen and learn then I’m happy to point them in the right direction.”

Read the full letter below.