Jeff Staple is always looking into the future (no wonder he hangs with Andre 3000). With 25 years in the streetwear game, the legendary designer has proven not just the resilience of his brand, but the resilience of streetwear itself. And while that gives Staple every opportunity to rest on his laurels and collect his paychecks, he seems just as energized now as he was in ’97 — truly embodying that NYC hustler mentality.
You know, that scrappy pigeon lifestyle that has made his brand so iconic.
That energy was on full display last month when NTWRK and Staple’s brand came together for the second annual STAPLE Day — a one-day in-app and in-person shopping event featuring exclusive drops and rare collections. This year, it also served as the 25th Anniversary celebration of the iconic brand. Still, the biggest thing on Staple’s mind wasn’t the giant milestone he’d just passed, it was the growing interplay between Web3 and fashion and the relationship between brands and consumers in the digital space.
“Three years ago I would’ve said that the golden age just passed us,” he tells me of the state of streetwear in 2022. “I would now say that there’s been a recharge and I’m really excited to see what we’re all able to do in the next five years. I think it’s going to be on another level and I’m already seeing concrete, black and white examples of that happening.”
Look no further than STAPLE Day itself, which let shoppers around the country in on the exclusive gear, via the NTWRK app. Buying exclusive drops isn’t exactly a Web3 phenomenon, of course, but it is indicative of how streetwear’s global reach continues to be amplified thanks to technology. And that’s something Staple is keenly interested in pushing forward.
To dive deeper, we spoke to the visionary designer about the future of streetwear, his collaboration with Crocs, and his current favorite sneaker silhouettes. Let’s jump in.
I’ve been following Staple Day and that came with a lot of drops and collaborations. We’d never ask you to pick a favorite but what were some of the collaborations you were most excited to see people lose their minds over?
Yeah, it’s hard to pick a favorite. Some of the highlights were probably that we did a collaboration on a capsule collection with an artist named McFlyy who is based out of LA. Him and I have been chatting for a couple of years now pre-COVID, just fans of each other’s work and always trying to figure out a way that we could work together. Like when people say to each other “Yo, we need to do something together…” It’s like, “Yeah, we do” but then it’s cool when it finally comes to fruition and it was also cool that we met physically for the first time at Staple day to drop the collection, which is pretty amazing.
Another cool highlight was that we did a Topps baseball card drop and for Staple Day I was signing them in a special pigeon pink ink color that I don’t do anywhere else. And we actually had the PSA, which is the actual autograph authenticator for world-class, legendary athletes everywhere in the world. They were on hand to certify my autograph on the baseball card. So now part of that collection, if you see something that’s signed by me, whether it’s a sneaker or anything, you can actually go to the PSA and have it authenticated because I’m on the books now with them.
I think the highlight of the whole thing, which was the grand finale if you will, was that being that this year was the 25th anniversary of Staple, one thing that I thought would be fun to do was to look back from 1997, which is the year I founded the brand until today and choose my favorite sneaker from every year. My favorite shoe of ’97, ’98, ’99, 2000, and on and on. And then collect all of those 26 shoes together and give them away as one pack. And so one lucky winner won all 26 shoes, my curation of the best shoe that dropped every year for the last quarter-century.
Those all vintage pairs then?
Some of those shoes are pretty old now, for a sneaker, what was the condition on those?
All brand new, none of them worn. So we did the work and we paid the money to gather them all up. But yeah, some of them are quite old — I don’t know if you’d want to wear them because they might crumble. Some of them are vacuum-sealed in plastic, but it’s just an incredible trophy piece to have in any sneakerhead collection.
One part of your legacy is that you’re always willing to push things forward. So with that in mind, I’m curious if you think of streetwear as having a golden age — like some would say 90s hip hop is the golden age of hip-hop. Do you feel like streetwear has an equivalent or does it continue to evolve with the times? Are the best days ahead?
That’s a great question. Because if you asked me this like three years ago, I would’ve said that the golden age of streetwear has already passed and I think what happened with COVID and the separation of people around the world, it forced all of us to have like a hard reset. And in many ways, even though it was a terrible epidemic that had a lot of tragedy, I think there was a lot of silver lining in that too, because the people who managed to survive it came out with new insight, new perspective, if you will, and new priorities and that’s on a macro global level.
So of course all of that is going to boil down into different subcultures, such as street culture.
Then you add in this thing that I’m really passionate about, which is the metaverse and Web3, and really just ownership of your own IP. It is really interesting because I think this is like, if three years ago I would’ve said that the golden age just passed us, I would now say that there’s been a recharge and I’m really excited to see what we’re all able to do in the next five years. I think it’s going to be on another level and I’m already seeing concrete, black and white examples of that happening. So I’m super excited about it.
I’d like to talk about the term “streetwear.” I’ve talked to a lot of designers now and I’ve noticed a trend that some people who came up in the streetwear scene have been distancing themselves from that label and category. I don’t know if it’s ’cause they’re trying to appeal to a luxury market — which is ironic because luxury labels are already obsessed with streetwear. Do you still think of all of this as streetwear?
I still am cognizant of why people feel like there’s a stigma around the idea of a streetwear designer. And if they’re trying to break into a higher price point or a different customer tier, then it makes sense why they don’t want to have streetwear baggage on them. I totally understand where that comes from. And I feel the same way sometimes, but I’m more open to wearing it on my sleeve that when people ask me if they don’t know what brand Staple is, I have no problem saying like “it’s a streetwear brand.” I know some people will be like, “Oh, it’s a luxury high-end street-inspired…” — it’s like I don’t even know that stuff.
Streetwear or street culture, if you break down the word, it’s like the culture and the fashion of people walking on the streets, right? Like real people, whereas I feel like runway shows, couture and high fashion are really cool and inspiring to look at, but I also sometimes struggle to find the connection point between everyday life. And I’m even talking about everyday life in some, 1% gentrified place, like Soho or Fairfax, or what you see on the runway in Paris doesn’t ever translate to Prince & Lafayette or Harajuku. It doesn’t even translate there, but you have to remember that there’s a UPS driver that works in Flint, Michigan that loves Staple.
So how is that ever going to translate to him or her? And I’m always really cognizant of the everyday person, the normal guy that doesn’t go to Paris fashion week, doesn’t pop bottles in some hot club, he’s got a family, a great job, and he just wants to look fly. You know what I mean? That to me is what street culture is all about. It’s actual people who live and operate in these streets.
I never want to lose that person, this is my thing. So while the luxury world is very enticing and you get starry-eyed over it, I personally feel way more goosebumps, love, and satisfaction when a UPS driver comes up to me and gives me a fist bump because of how much he loves the brand. And I keep saying that because that literally just happened an hour ago, a UPS driver came up to me and he was just like, “Yo, your brand is amazing, I love it, spend half my paycheck on your brand!” and that to me is better than getting into any runway show.
Congratulations on the huge milestone of Staple being 25 years old!
I know you can’t give away everything, but what are some of the most exciting things we can expect for the next 25 years and what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in this journey?
The things that I’m most excited about are the merging of this digital world with the physical world. As I mentioned before, that really excites me because I think we’ve already been heading in that direction for nearly a decade now where most of our lives are consumed on a screen or expressed through a screen. So to me, the leap to way more of that is not a huge leap. Whereas I know some people are very scared and skeptical of the metaverse or Web3 or NFTs. But I know for a fact we’ve already been there, we’ve already had eight of our toes in that water without people even knowing it.
You just look at music or sneakers or fashion, or even home, even home interiors. If you bought an Eames Lounge Chair and you’re flexing it in your home, probably 99% of the people who see that and experience it is through a screen.
The number of people who come into your house and sit on it is probably 1% of your circle. So it’s already been there, done that. I’m really excited for the masses to accept that art expression and supporting a brand can be done without actually owning the physical product. I think that COVID was a big accelerator of that because in two years people realized that, wow, we could actually still do things through a screen and just because we don’t get to meet up in person doesn’t mean that the world stops.
I think the other factor there is the environmental factor where the earth is going to force us to not make everything physically, but if that happens, then we as humans have to learn how to enjoy and appreciate things that don’t require a physical 3D object in our hands.
So that’s what I’m really excited about for the next quarter-century. I also recognize that my position in this field is that of an elder statesman, so I recognize that I can either be that old guy in the club that’s trying to bro down with young people and pop bottles, or I can just spread the knowledge. And I definitely want to take the latter. Everything that I do, I try to share the wealth and just share those experiences with the younger generation and get inspired by each other because they can get inspired by the learnings and the experience and the wisdom that I have from a quarter-century of street culture and then I get inspired by them because of just the raw, relentless energy. If I do talks or interviews, it’s typically with someone in their twenties or thirties, because we’re just learning from each other, it’s really dope.
It’s interesting that you’ve mentioned having eight toes in the water, because I think in terms of a digital life, a lot of people don’t realize that gamers have been doing this for, long time. But I do wonder your take given the crypto NFT crash that has happened recently. Do you see that as just growing pains or is that a bigger warning sign? Does it worry you or is it just part of the journey?
It doesn’t worry me. I also want to expressly say I’m not giving financial advice here, but it doesn’t worry me because to me it’s just a factor of currency exchange. I’ll give you an example — if I want to go to Tokyo next week, if I want to experience Tokyo to its fullest, I have to change my USD into Japanese Yen. Next week the exchange rate could be really beneficial to me or it could be really bad for me right? Anyone who’s traveled across borders knows that “Oh, I’m getting hammered by the Euro!” or “Wow, I’m killing it in great British pounds.”
You know what I mean? So it fluctuates and because crypto is so new, the fluctuations are really, great and tremendous, but it’s just the course of doing business, things go high things go low.
Even though we’re at a real low right now, I think it’s a great time to build and innovate because it’s cheaper for somebody to get in now. Obviously, if you bought high and if you own a lot of digital assets, you’re feeling the crunch of it right now. I totally get that but if you were ever interested in building something in Web3 now is the time. It’s like if you’re building a house, do you want to build a house when lumber and steel are at their highest or at the lowest? You want to build when it’s at its lowest and that’s where we’re probably at right now. So it’s two sides of the same coin really.
I noticed on your Instagram that you gave the Air Presto Hello Kittys a shout-out. Definitely one of the best drops of the year. And I think that goes down to the full packaging, not just the shoe, the box and everything. What other big sneaker drops of 2022 have really caught your attention?
I think overall it’s really exciting what’s been happening with Crocs, we dropped the Crocs recently, my friend Salehe Bembury has been killing it with Crocs and it’s really cool to see a brand that five years ago, you wouldn’t be caught dead wearing out in public. It wasn’t even a no-name brand, Crocs, was a mockery of a brand. Straight ridicule and in such a short amount of time, it’s become like this fashion icon piece.
I think that’s cool because I love the brand. Obviously, I collaborate with them, but I also think it’s cool if you’re a marketer or if you’re into building brands or if you own a brand that is maybe not “hot” or viral right now, it’s a great case study, there’s no such thing as being over, anything can happen. I really love that.
The New Balance coming out are amazing. Their made in USA line is great and they’re also a great case study in the idea that slow and steady wins the race. They never tried to sign some Kanye West level rapper to do a sub-line with, they just held their ground. All of their collaborations have this great running DNA through them and where they lack maybe in crazy left field out-of-the-box innovation, they kill it in consistency and they slowly but surely grinded away at youth culture. Now, I live in downtown New York City — I definitely see more N logos on the side of people’s shoes than swooshes right now.
The last shoe I want to call out is the Tom Sachs General Purpose Shoe. I don’t know if you’ve seen that one. It’s like the “boring shoe” I love the shoe, and I think what Tom is trying to do in terms of beating the resellers and doing this thing where he claims they’ll be no resale or up sell prices because he’s going to make this shoe so readily available for everyone who wants it, that it won’t be an issue… I think is Tom is an incredible artist, but he’s not a sneakerhead who’s had four decades in the game.
While his mission is pure and innocent, I think it’s going to be harder than it sounds to pull off. Because you know, coming from me, who’s been doing a lot of collaborations and high heat sneaker drops. It’s not easy to thread the line between the idea of let’s get everyone who wants a pair to have a pair for regular retail price and also not worry about excess inventory overages and discounting.
How do you predetermine six to 12 months in advance that 134,500 people will want this shoe and get all of them that shoe and not over and not under produce? If it’s under, you have resale prices, if it’s over, you’re at the factory outlet and people are making fun of you as an artist. So it’s really interesting to see how he’s going to tread that line. I think he made the proclamation without yet figuring out how it’s actually going to happen.
If you look at the resale prices of his general-purpose suit, right now, it’s $400, $500, so it’s already not working. So I’m really keen on watching how that goes, cause he’s doing this like in partnership with Nike. So let’s see if one of the world’s greatest artists and the world’s greatest footwear brand can actually figure this out when they’re both on the same page.
You mentioned it in passing, but I really want to talk about your Crocs collaboration, the Sidewalk Luxe Clog. Definitely one of my favorite Croc drops. A constant in your work, as I said before, is this willingness to redefine what sneaker culture is, which is what I think Crocs doing in real-time. What are some of the touchstones of Staple that you brought to that collaboration and was it hard to get Crocs to do those giants pigeon Jibbitz?
I want to say it wasn’t actually, but they were surprised by the idea, even my own internal team was surprised of the idea. They tried to convince me out of it and if you look at the other Jibbitz, the New York City-style Jibbitz, that more so came from my team, they wanted to do that and not the big pigeon talons. But I was like, no, the big pigeon talons have to stay!
Then the Crocs team was like, ‘we’ve never made Jibbitz this big, we don’t even know if it’ll function properly, or it’ll stay on your foot.’ But we tried it and it worked out and I love that we kept on doing it. And it’s obviously the thing that you see talked about the most about that shoe. It was great working with them all in all, I’m glad we did it. In fact, I actually submitted that Croc to the Guinness Book World Records for the largest shoe they ever made in history. So I’m hoping I get a Guinness out of this too.
I mean, someone has to hold the title right?
To close out, aside from the SB Dunk, of course, what are your five favorite sneaker silhouettes right now?
Right now I’m really varied, I wear Hoka a lot. Hoka Clifton 5 is one of my favorite shoes, I wear Crocs classic of course, the Staple Croc, I just came out of wearing a lot of Salomon S-lab. Solomon is this ski brand, they have a division of shoes called the S-lab that I’ve been wearing a lot. Less so as a summer shoe, but in the spring and winter, you definitely wear them. I’ve been wearing the New Balance 2002 R Protection Pack, which I had a customizer by the name of Staniflou do a pigeon version on that 2002 R, which you can see on my feed, which is beautiful. And I’ve been wearing the shit out of those.
And last, let’s say, the Hello Kitty Presto. I’m back on my Presto tip.