It’s been almost five years since WNBA star Skylar Diggins-Smith became the first basketball player to sign with Puma in nearly two decades. At the time, her decision was called fearless, considering the brand did not even have basketball shoes for her to play in yet.
“I was listening to a vision and taking a leap of faith coming from other brands,” said Diggins-Smith, an All-Star guard with the Phoenix Mercury, after starting her career with Nike and wearing Adidas in college.
After rolling out of a handful of basketball silhouettes that drafted off of the brand’s iconic “Clyde” sneaker — the first signature sneaker made for an NBA player, named after 1970s New York Knicks guard Walt “Clyde” Frazier — Puma’s vision for its female athletes began to take shape a year ago.
The brand added costume designer and stylist June Ambrose as creative director of Puma Women’s Basketball with the launch of the High Court Collection in late 2021. That served as a starting point for the brand highlighting a mix of versatile silhouettes that could work on or off court .
Along the way, Diggins-Smith was working up her own capsule series — sneakers, a jersey dress, shorts and a T-shirt — named the “Desert Sky” collection.
As Diggins-Smith began creating the series with a team of Puma designers, she looked at the nature of the city she currently calls home.
“It’s the representation of duality for me,” she said. “When I got out here and saw that there were mountains and how scenic it was, there was something about the sunrise and sunsets, and the color just caught my eye. When I think about sunrise, I think about opportunity and new chapters. When I think about a sunset, I think about reflection and that contrast.”
While the hues are inspired by Phoenix’s landscapes, the orange and purple tones also tie directly to her team’s colors. During a time when the WNBA and NBA no longer have any color rules for sneakers, that’s become a bit rare for athletes’ collections.
Posing poolside with the sneakers, or styled in a modern mansion in the elongated snap-off jersey dress, even the way the campaign imagery was photographed took on a new tone for Diggins-Smith and Puma.
“I loved it and the versatility of not just standing in the gym and bouncing a ball,” she said.
When she first debuted pieces from the collection, the Mercury star took advantage of the photographers awaiting her arrival for another home game tunnel entry shoot. She strode in wearing the No. 4 jersey dress, snakeskin pants, boots and dark shades, and carried the “Desert Sky” TRC Blaze Court sneakers.
“You see more and more players being very intentional about what they’re putting on nowadays,” she said. “I love it that people are paying attention, because there is a lot of storytelling that goes along with these outfits that we’re putting together. Details that tell a lot about someone’s personal style.”
For example, the jersey dress in the collection represents the late ’90s and early 2000s for Diggins-Smith.
“That was the nostalgia of when I first started loving basketball and first started hooping, and those kind of vibrant colors at that time,” she said.
The collection also includes a graphic T-shirt that ties back to Diggins-Smith’s family, her journey in the sport, and her starting point with Puma.
The tee has a growling Puma cat across the front, and reads “You Do You” below it. It’s a nod to the message of encouragement her mom from Ella Renee, who knows American Sign Language, would give her before her youth basketball games.
“She would always sit way up top, so she could just be in her zone,” Diggins-Smith recalled. “What she did, is she’d sign to me, ‘You Do You.’ Like, you do your thing. No matter what, be yourself and don’t be like anyone else.”
Along the tongue of the sneakers and the left sleeve of the shirt are a series of sign language gestures that spell out the phrase.
“Even playing in front of thousands and thousands of people, I spot her in the crowd still and she’ll say the same thing to me when she comes to games now. That was the symbolism there,” she continued. “My mom was always encouraging me to be myself, and that’s the message that I want everyone to feel. In this day and age, where everyone is trying to imitate somebody or emulate somebody, just do you.”
When she appeared in her sixth WNBA All-Star Game last month in Chicago, Diggins-Smith donned her “Desert Sky” sneakers, revealing additional phrases on both of the heel strips. The left side read “Beauty,” opposite of “Beast.”
“It’s really about that duality,” she said. “When you see me off the court or outside of this element, I’m different. When I’m in that fight-or-flight moment and the competitive juices are turned on, it’s like I never know what I’m going to do the next minute.”
Since Diggins-Smith signed on in 2017, the Puma Hoops’ women’s lineup has added Brenna Stewart, former No. 1 WNBA pick Jackie Young, sharpshooter Katie Lou Samuelson and more recently in May, No. 2 pick NaLyssa Smith.
Diggins-Smith, Stewart and Young appeared in this year’s All-Star Game.
“We were very well represented there for our brand, considering that’s 60% of our [Puma] roster,” she joked.
With the debut of Stewart’s “Stewie 1” signature shoe — the first WNBA signature shoe in a decade — and Diggins-Smith’s upcoming “Desert Sky” collection, Puma plans to continue highlighting its five WNBA headliners.
“That’s dope that the brand just continues to set the bar for brands with what we do,” said Diggins-Smith. “Showing that they’re investing in their athletes, it’s going beyond the court and growing the game.”