Jeff Staple was in Singapore late August for the second season of the PUMA x Staple NTRVL collection. We caught up with the man with a million plans.
By Kim Hana
All photos: PUMA
Jeff Staple, the man behind storied collaborations and the person who singlehandedly made pigeons cool again, talks sneakers, street culture, the business of streetwear, and why Asia matters.
Tell us what you’ve been up to lately.
Lots and lots of lots of travel! After Singapore, I went to Jakarta, Shanghai, Hong Kong, NYC, LA. Tokyo, Taipei then back to NYC – all before October! Between the design studio, the clothing line, the collaboration drops, my new role at TGS/Reed Space/Extra Butter and speaking engagements, I sometimes feel like a touring rock star!
We read that you have plans to resurrect Reed Space this year too, could you tell us more?
I’ve been looking for the right retail spaces in NYC to re-open. It’s taking a little longer than I expected, but I hope to have it re-open in Spring 2018. I’m very excited for what the new iteration will be.
How did the partnership between Staple and PUMA come about?
As with most cool things, it started out in Japan. The PUMA Japan team reached out to do a collaboration and we started with a Staple x PUMA Suede that was actually manufactured in Japan! It was very limited – less than 300 pairs – and very expensive – over US$250. From there, it has been a great consistent working relationship.
How did you come to the decision to launch NTRVL in Singapore? Why not just have a do in New York?
To be honest, I think there were multiple factors. My familiarity with Singapore, I think I have a decent fan base out there. I think there was great demand from the region too.
What, to you, stood out about the NTRVL panel session held in Singapore on August 29?
Probably the passion and inquisitiveness of the people who came. They have so many questions! Often in New York, people just want the selfie and the autograph. But here, while they want that too, they also have many questions. Maybe around the culture, the business, or just building a brand from scratch. It’s awesome to see though.
What interval of streetwear are we currently in?
Maturation. Streetwear is about 25 years old now, depending on who you ask. So we’re out of the teenage years now. But the “adults”, in this case traditional fashion, seem to always assume we’re going to fuck up somehow and go away. Every year, I still hear, “When will streetwear die?” People asked when will hip-hop die even after 40 years of its existence. This year in 2017, hip-hop outsold pop. So I personally think street culture is flourishing and is obviously here to stay. We’re just hitting our stride.
Let’s talk sneakers. People are still obsessed with them, but in a totally different way. Is sneaker culture better or worse off than it was before?
I actually slightly disagree. I think the obsession is the same. What has changed is the technology. The ability to see so much, so fast has altered the way people can consume. So it looks like it’s crazier but my feeling as compared to even when I was a kid have not changed. And I suspect that’s the same for most. To me, this is pretty much all positive. The only thing that slightly irks me is when I see someone wearing a shoe that they obviously have no idea about the heritage or history of what they’re wearing. They’re just wearing it try to be cool. But maybe that’s the gateway for them to be more informed. So it might be a good thing in the long run.
You mentioned during the panel that New York doesn’t dominate street culture anymore. What changed?
Like I said, it’s the technology. Before social media and the Internet, a culture was “born” somewhere, and then it spread like a slow virus. Now with technology, that virus goes global overnight. So you don’t see the origin anymore. And hence, the origin matters less.
You’ve traveled a lot. What distinguishes New York street culture from what we have here in Asia?
NY culture still has a level of authenticity that cannot be replicated. In many ways, Asia copies what happens in NY, and adds their own twist. Eventually, I hope that Asia will be able to produce their own version of the culture. And I know for fact it’s happening. I see it with my own two eyes.
How important a market is Asia for Staple, or for streetwear as a whole?
For Staple, it is super important. It’s the future of our company. There is also something to be said for the fact that I am Asian. And so there’s a natural feeling of pride that “my people” are proud of me too. “The chicken has come home to roost.”
Looking back on these 20 years – how different is the Staple of 2005, just coming off the success of the Pigeon Dunks, from the Staple of 2017?
I think creativity-wise, we’re the same. I’ve built a very consistent brand. We’re not trendy or hype-based. But from an organizational and efficiency standpoint, we’re so much better. Not sexy terms, but those are the things that separate the boys from the men. That’s how you get to two decades. Malcolm Gladwell said if you can spend 10,000 hours working on the same thing, you’ve become a master. I’ve spent more than 60,000 hours honing Staple and this culture. Wonder what that makes me?
Keep up with Jeff Staple – if you can – @jeffstaple.
This interview has been edited and condensed.