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 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 and Secret Mountain Books to distribute select multicultural books and activity sets, and continues to expand its offerings.
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 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.
As Putumayo moved into its 25th year, the company continued its expansion by launching a travel division in collaboration with insightCuba & Masala Expeditions and long-time Putumayo A&R (Artists & Repertoire) consultant and musicologist, Jacob Edgar. In November, 2017, Putumayo led its first music-based trip to Cuba and is launching new offerings to New Orleans along with follow-up journeys to Cuba.
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.