Jef Staple: A Conversation (PHOTOS)
Jeff Staple. The name, if you travel in some circles, conjures cool, New York and pigeons; a monster tastemaker flocked by the likes of Beats By Dre, Nike and all of your favorite brands.
Two years ago I spoke to Staple, whom I’ve known professionally since his time with The Fader, whose clothes I’ve photographed on the bodies of up and coming rappers, whose visage envokes a Buddha-like calm served with a side of smirk, via email two years ago on the occasion of Staple Designs 15 year anniversary.
Describe how the Beats collaboration came about. Who contacted whom? Were you surprised by the interest Beats showed? (If Beats reached out to you.)
This all started because Beats by Dre was opening their flagship store in SoHo, and as part of that store, they wanted to have some apparel product. So they reached out to Staple to see if we could design some items, that’s how the conversation started between us. From there I think just because of what Beats is known for, the conversation just naturally went to well, can we do a headphone? Luckily they said yes.
Were you surprised by the interest?
Not surprised, I felt happy. I know what we bring for Staple holds a lot of equity in the minds of streetwear heads, design heads, sneaker heads, shoppers etc. We have a lot of crossover demographic so it felt like a good marriage for me. I wouldn’t have really offered it if it didn’t feel natural, but a Beats x Staple thing feels really natural for our fan-base and our customer-base. So I wasn’t shocked. I don’t think it was such an out-of-the-box concept to understand. But I felt blessed and happy that they accepted.
Why limit the run the run at 500 headphones?
500 is actually one of the most quantities they’ve ever done in a collaboration. They’ve done quantities of 10, or 12, or 24 for their collabs. Beats is not really so well versed in doing wildly distributed collaborations. I think that comes from the fact it’s such a high-ticketed item. So 500 is actually quite a lot of $350 headphones.
Except for some circles, the pigeon, a noble bird, is maligned in NYS and beyond. Are you worried that your brand will be forever identified with its image?
No, that is my brand’s image. We’ve embraced the pigeon for what it means to us in its positive mannerisms, and when we first introduced the pigeon back in 2004 it was for those positive reasons that we really connected with the bird. Now it’s literally Staple Design’s registered trademark with the United States Patent And Trademark office. So you ask if I’m afraid it’ll be forever identified? No, I want it to be forever identified. I want us to own the pigeon, and we do own it, but we own it in the minds of the trademark office. I want it to be owned in the minds of every person in the world, and from what I see so far, it’s happening. I get a tweet or instagram at least once a day with someone in the world taking a picture of a random pigeon and tagging it ‘@jeffstaple’. So people are more and more finding it difficult to look at a pigeon and not think of Staple Design. I think the mental takeover is working.
Staple was one of the first brands to align itself with conscious capitalism, working with non-profits to clothes and to draw attention to homelessness. What new, non-profit projects are you working on if any?
If you knew that you’re definitely a day 1 fan, so I definitely appreciate it. You’re referencing our ad campaign that we did highlighting the homeless back in… I feel like that was the late 90’s or something. Yeah, we still do a lot of non-profit, community-based work. We actually just finished a pretty long-term project with Geoffrey Canada & Harlem Children Zone, where we worked with the kids that go there who are at-risk youth. We did a design project where I basically tutored the kids on how you design something, how you design a t-shirt, how you market it, how you promote it etc. Then we did a vote on our website and we let the entire world vote on their favorite designs and the winning design was actually produced and sold in Reed Space. So it allowed a kid from Harlem who’s at-risk, who really has very little opportunity and options in his life, to now have the opportunity to do a design that could be sold on a world stage, online, on our website, and in our store. That was a really successful and dope project and it meant a lot to me.
What are your thoughts on the state of streetwear today?
I think the state of streetwear is going through a lot of transition and it’s being redefined constantly, similar to hip-hop, if you will. Hip-hop is also (I think) going through similar things where you might have old-school heads sort of saying hip-hop is dead because it’s not what they thought it was, it’s not what they sort of remember it to be. And what people are calling hip-hop today is different so they think it shouldn’t be labeled hip-hop. I think the same thing is happening in streetwear/street-culture where the real birth of street culture in the late 80’s, early 90’s, had this sort of preset description of “street culture should be A, B, C, & D”, and now because it’s gotten so much bigger, and because so many people, corporations, organizations have gravitated towards this idea of street culture, it’s naturally changed because of that. So people think it’s dead, or it’s dying, when really it’s evolving and changing. So I feel like a great example is what we do, what The Hundreds does, what Stussy does, what Supreme does etc. I think we’re really redefining what a ‘streetwear brand’ is allowed to do, in a very similar way that Kanye West puts out a hip-hop album but it’s redefining what a hip-hop album used to be allowed to do.
Do you agree that the silhouette for urban males is played out? Why or why not.
Haha. Deep question. I don’t agree with that actually, because urban males really have very different styles now. I think maybe 15 years ago there was a very distinct silhouette for an urban male but now that same guy in that same age is allowed so much more flexibility in what he’s allowed to rock, and that came a lot from the musicians they listen to, and that they look up to. So you have guys like ASAP, Lupe, Kanye, Pharrell and Jay, each one is sort of style pioneer in their own right, but each one doing it differently, and each one doing it credibly. The young urban male is now able to sort of adapt and be like, maybe I still want to look like DMX, but then maybe I want to look like Kanye West as well, and he can switch it up on a day to day basis if he wanted to. It’s not like back in the day where if you were wearing even somewhat fitting jeans you’d be called out. Now you could go super tight, spandex denim if you wanted to, and it’s all good, you know? So I think the fashion sense and what people expect out of an urban male has been totally changed, and I think that’s a good thing too. I don’t think there’s a sort of stereotypical silhouette anymore.