Putumayo began in 1975 as a Latin American handicraft shop in New York City, by then 23-year old founder Dan Storper. Dan majored in Latin American Studies, and on a trip to Colombia found himself in the Putumayo river valley where he fell in love with the indigenous handicrafts, people, and countryside. The company grew to seven shops and a wholesale business selling international handicrafts and women’s clothing to 600 boutiques.
In 1991, on his return from Indonesia Dan stopped in San Francisco where in Golden Gate Park he happened upon an African band named Kotoja – who was performing upbeat Afro-beat music to a happy, dancing crowd. That chance occurrence led Dan to start the Putumayo World Music record label with his friend Michael Kraus in 1993. For the past 25 years, Putumayo World Music has become known for its joyful compilations of international music, featuring album covers illustrated by British artist Nicola Heindl.
Putumayo has been considered a pioneer in developing the non-traditional market of gift, health food, children’s and other specialty stores as outlets for music. The company’s commitment to helping communities in the countries where the music originates led to the label contributing more than half a million dollars to non-profit organizations around the world. In 2021, Putumayo was awarded the Elaine Weissman Lifetime Achievement Award by Folk Alliance International.
In 1999, Putumayo launched its children’s division, Putumayo Kids, with the ground-breaking release, World Playground. The album quickly became a staple in classrooms and homes around the world. After winning many Parents' Choice, National Parenting and other awards, Putumayo Kids has become known as the leading source of international music for children. In 2012, the company began creating and distributing cultural coloring books. Then in 2017 Putumayo Kids partnered with Barefoot Books to distribute select multicultural books and activity sets, and continues to expand its offerings. Putumayo Kids is also proud to present a partnership with Enchanted Lion Books.
As a long time fan of international folk art and photography, Dan was pleased to launch two greeting card collections in 2017. One collection features the artwork of Nicola Heindl which has also become recognizable on Putumayo’s album covers. Each of the Nicola Heindl greeting cards includes a free regional song download. The collection of world photography cards features the work of globe-trotting African-American photographer Emerson Matabele. In 2018, note cards by Brazilian block print artist José Francisco Borges and Louisiana Folk Artist William Hemmerling were added. The following year in 2019, London artist, Christopher Corr, and Louisiana's Cajun artist, George Rodrigue's art were added to the Putumayo Greeting card collection.
The company’s commitment to helping communities in the countries where the music originates has led to the label contributing more than one million dollars to non-profit organizations around the world including Mercy Corps and The New Orleans' Musicians Clinic.