Joe La Puma went from pasting pages of Complex to the walls of his UCONN dorm room, to writing cover stories for the magazine.
Now he’s the VP of Content Strategy at Complex — founded by fashion designer Marc Ecko — and hosts a wildly successful online-only sneaker show called Sneaker Shopping with Complex.
La Puma, who graduated from Bay Shore High School in 2001, has interviewed dozens of A-list celebrities, ranging from rappers like 50-Cent, to comedians like Kevin Hart and even New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft.
In his November interview with Kraft, La Puma got right into what everyone was thinking: What was the reaction at the White House to Kraft wearing sneakers during his visit after the Super Bowl?
Spoiler alert: It was totally cool.
Through the hit show, La Puma has went from a byline to a recognizable face at the mall — at least among sneaker heads.
And if you think you recognize La Puma from the South Shore Mall in Bay Shore, you probably do. He worked at Finish Line from 16 years old, in 1999, until his full-time writing gig at Complex in 2006.
La Puma gives much credit to his work in Bay Shore to his success today.
“I worked at Finish Line on and off for almost eight years,” he said. “I would go to school, come back on break and go to Finish Line. Some people thought I never left Bay Shore. After college I was managing that store and trying to get my writing out there.”
That meant working on dozens of short posts at $1.50 a pop for an online magazine, between what would often amount to 80-hour weeks at the mall.
“But it was a good step in the right direction,” he said.
It all led to his 2005 internship at Complex — and what followed.
AHEAD OF THE GAME
La Puma hadn’t declared a major yet when he chose journalism during his junior year at Connecticut.
He wasn’t exactly thrilled with covering budgets and museum happenings through his journalism classes, but his work on the school newspaper allowed for some editorial flexibility.
“I wanted to write about Jon Stewart, and how he was affecting the elections,” he recalled “And the Chappelle Show. Everything that interested me at a young age, sneakers, fashion …”
And he refused to grow up. Meaning, instead of transitioning into what some might call serious news, he stuck with what he loved to write about, even after he graduated from college.
Much of the world followed in their taste for the type of news they wanted to consume.
“Things changed so much and I’m so thankful when I was a young kid I took a stand and wanted to keep writing about pop culture,” he said. “Now you see in the NBA, when Lebron [James] walks into the tunnel, everyone is breaking down his outfit.”
In the 2016 media landscape, he pointed out, news of what Russell Westbrook is wearing can rival the news of his in-game performances.
“That was totally the type of stuff I was interested in from a young age,” La Puma said. “Now everyone is showing what they’re wearing on social media, or what they’re listening to. That’s really the stuff I wanted to cover in my career. I’m fortunate the industry went that way.”
If you click here to check out La Puma’s collection of cover stories, you’ll see he’s had plenty of face time with famous people since making the leap from intern to staffer at Complex, which happened in 2006.
Those names include Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande and Katy Perry.
So he’s comfortable around celebrities. He might be even more comfortable talking about sneakers, specifically with people looking to buy sneakers, given his years of experience at Finish Line.
“I never really wanted to be on camera,” La Puma said “But I knew I could be on camera if I needed to be.”
He was the obvious choice when he and the others at Complex developed Sneaker Shopping five years ago.
“I’ll be with celebrities like Kevin Hart, but I’m having conversations like I would when I was 16 working at Finish Line at the South Shore Mall, trying to figure out what they look for,” he said.
Being himself has proven to work. The June 2016 Sneaker Shopping with Kevin Hart has been viewed nearly 2.7 million times on YouTube.
La Puma’s December 2014 piece with 50-Cent is nearing 4 million views.
The takeaway should be that La Puma’s work isn’t just for sneaker heads, as they call themselves.
“It’s evolved into a lifestyle interview where the sneaker is the entry point,” he said.
La Puma — now a Brooklynite — says he’s out in Bay Shore often, visiting friends and family. He still likes to go to the mall, often by himself.
It’s also cool when people recognize him for his work on the show — not just from roaming the halls of the middle school.
“I do get recognized,” he said. “I’m not famous or anything, but I was in the mall with my mom and three people from the Bay Shore track team came up and wanted to take a picture. It’s always a little weird when that happens, but I’m super appreciative.”
“And everyone in town is super supportive of me,” he added. “I used to really push the envelope in Bay Shore, and a lot of people used to look at me weird when I was wearing tight jeans and ripped jeans.
“But it kind of makes sense to them now.”