Puma has been accused of “glamourising” council estate drug dealing to boost its image at an exclusive party.
The sportswear giant hosted its House of Hustle event in London’s trendy Soho on April 5 – the same night five teenagers were stabbed in the capital in 90 minutes.
Photos of the event online show mattresses propped up on graffiti-strewn walls.
Others show a shoebox containing Puma-branded fake £50 notes illustrated with tower blocks, a ‘burner’ mobile phone, and a business card with the message “turn on the trap line” – a reference to the drug trade.
London-based social worker Amber Gilbert Coutts, 25, who was not at the event, wrote a furious open letter accusing Puma of “careless exploitation that promotes and trivialises” young people’s lives.
“There is nothing here to glamourise,” she wrote.
“We can only hope that rather than capitalising on lifestyles that are born out of poverty, your future ‘creatives’ will come up with a less exploitative way to sell trainers.”
The event was run in partnership with clothes shop JD Sports and advertised by JD on the social media site Instagram.
Other images of the event showed music performances, tattoo artists and a barber shop.
It came hours after London’s murder rate hit 50 so far this year.
Five youths aged between 13 and 18 were stabbed between 5.30pm and 7.05pm in Poplar, Newham, Mile End and Ealing on April 5.
MPs and the Home Office say the drug trade is a key factor behind the recent surge in violent crime – with youngsters recruited to bring narcotics across county lines.
And Home Secretary Amber Rudd has blamed social media for “raising and spreading the profile of drug-related violence”.
Social worker Ms Coutts wrote: “These children aren’t driving around in BMWs with diamond grills, they’re sleeping on dirty mattresses – an aspect shamelessly featured in the décor of your traphouse – in towns far away from home, being oppressed.”
Puma declined to comment on the criticism.
But a general statement issued by the firm said the “immersive experience” showcased “grassroots practitioners” in photography, tattooing, barbering, jewellery and music.
It added: “The event was designed to specifically celebrate examples of creative entrepreneurial pathways that are being forged from within the often testing social and cultural environments that are a reality for an increasing number of young urban dwellers.”