Talking Street Fashion With One of America’s Most Prominent Designers
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because you wanna know what’s steezy, right?
A large Wu-Tang logo pillow, colorful design and fashion books, vinyl figurines and pillars of shoe boxes fill the space. These boxes aren’t filled with just any pieces of footwear: They’re one-off samples, Japan exclusives and electric-laced Pumas.
It may sound like one of the coolest stores you can think of, but this is actually jeffstaple’s [sic] office space. Returning to his office in the Big Apple after days of jet-setting, he finds 10 boxes of shoes waiting for him. Companies such as Nike and Adidas send him free exclusive shoes in hopes that he will wear their product and influence all of his social media followers to do the same.
Staple Design, founded in the late ’90s, has been at the forefront of street culture since February 22, 2005, the day jeff released a sneaker that’s now coveted by all self-respecting sneakerheads. The shoe, a perfectly designed Nike SB silhouette, featured three gray tones, orange accents, white laces and a small pigeon on the heel. When only 150 pairs hit the market, lustful shoe addicts lined up to get their fix. Only they didn’t stay calm. What resulted was a dirty fight over clean design dubbed the “Nike Pigeon Dunk Riot.” Police ended up shutting down the release, catapulting jeffstaple’s brand into streetwear’s forefront.
OZY recently sat down with the designer — who was sporting Nike Zoom Elite 8 sneakers — to discuss street culture, the industry’s rising stars and the fate of dad hats.
OZY: How would you describe your industry, and how did you get to where you are today?
jeffstaple: I went to NYU for journalism and then Parsons for communication design, and professors taught how traditional graphic designers and fashion designers were using their mediums to communicate an idea. I came out of a school of graffiti, hip-hop, punk, DIY culture. I wanted to use that as my medium to communicate an idea in ’95. There was no street culture yet. There was skate, hip-hop and punk, but they were very separate. People were called out for mixing those cultures. It was very bucketed. It wasn’t until the late ’90s that blending happened.
OZY: You were recently listed among the seven founding fathers of streetwear. Is there one person or brand that stands out to you?
jeffstaple: I’m not a founding father. To me, I’m generation three. There are so many guys now who, in 10 years’ time, will be on this list. That’s a testament to where this culture is now. It’s a monster of an industry. It’s bigger than punk. Sneaker culture is a $50 billion industry. The immediate name that comes to mind is Virgil Abloh.
OZY: What are your principles for good design?
jeffstaple: There’s the physical principle — the pigeon, our logo. Pigeons have a distinct color, and we have clear colors. In terms of philosophy, we try to push the envelope to make people think about what they wear. The biggest compliment is that every time I wear staple, I have a conversation with someone about what I’m wearing. W
e try to create products that cause people to have an opinion, are polarizing, make people reflect.
OZY: There’s a thought in Silicon Valley that everyone needs to be a good designer. Do you agree?
jeffstaple: I agree that the likes of Apple have made design a priority. But I think there’s still the same number of good designers as 25 years ago. It’s still a skill set. You can go to years of grad school, but if you’re not a naturally good designer, you can only get to a 7 or an 8 [out of 10].
OZY: Do you think the “sneakerhead” is disappearing?
jeffstaple: I thought sneaker culture was going to die. Every three years I think it’s going to die. But every three years, it’s three times the size. It’s crazy how monstrously big this industry is. This year I got approached by a dozen networks wanting to do a sneaker-related TV show.
OZY: So what trend has run its course? Dad hats?
jeffstaple: In the last six months, a lot of streetwear brands made their own dad hats. That’s pervasive, and it probably has another year. At that point everyone will have three dad hats. The hat that’s dead … is the traditional major league, high, pitcher hat. Once everyone’s had their fill of dad caps, someone will rock an MLB cap, and that’ll come back.