Streetwear Leader Jeff Staple Reveals What Grinds His Gears
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Here to promote the NTRVL collection, the self-professed sneakerhead discusses the realm of streetwear culture
When posed a rather innocent question, we are confronted with a response fuelled by equal parts of unbridled passion and intense resentment. It is only at this point of our interview that Jeff Staple, one of the most powerful people in streetwear, drops several f-bombs and a smattering of fecal matter-related curses. So did we unintentionally strike a nerve?
Congregated at Marina Bay Sands’ Limited Edt Chamber, Staple shifts comfortably into a leather couch as he discusses the state of street culture with other local creatives. An audience of streetwear purveyors listens on.
The gathering of great minds is in lieu of the launch of Staple’s second collaboration with Puma – NTRVL. Combining the creative force of streetwear powerhouse and the technological prowess of the German shoe brand, NTRVL collection boasts five reinterpreted Puma kicks: IGNITE evoKNIT, IGNITE 3, Limitless, PUMA Clyde and BOG Sock sneakers, presented in monochrome colorways and Staple’s signature grey and pink tones.
For the first time, the collaboration includes a line of apparel, featuring track pants, hoodies and bags, that encapsulates style and functionality to reflect the idea of ‘fitness fashion’.
Following from the lively panel discussion, we sat down with Staple to pick his thoughts on the convenience and power of social media. While he recognises its ingrained position in the sneaker realm, Staple still remains a traditionalist and hopes the young #hypebeasts of today know the importance of unplugging once in a while.
What are the things you look out for when selecting a collaboration? And in what way does Puma speak to you this time around?
In a collaboration, I think about the symbol Ying Yang. So I feel like we provide something, and then the other company provides thing we can't do, and we can provide the thing that they can't do. That's when a collaboration is really good. I think sometimes when two companies collaborate, they'll do the same thing and it's kind of pointless.
One thing I happened to be really good at is picking the right collaborations. And so with Puma and its technological innovation, the performance, the sports lens, the footwear, we expanded to apparel. Apparel is very hard for us to do in-house. I'm sure it's hard for Puma to do too, but they're experts at that. So we always look for those Yin Yang relationships.
Style versus functionality: Which is paramount in your design approach or do both work hand-in-hand?
It starts with functionality. You can see the way I dress is very simple and clean, so I start with function than I add design to it.
With the NTRVL in particular, what is your constant source of inspiration?
Travel always inspires me. I love travelling and meeting different people and seeing different cultures. So it reminds me that everything I create, it has to attain a global level that works for everyone, not just people who read hypebeast or are sneaker-collectors. I want somebody who walks into the store and he might not collect sneakers, but might just be into fitness and he can buy this stuff. So I sort of try to think of it from all perspectives, not through just one lens. And I think in order to do that you have to travel and see the world.
Recently, I have been really focused on American cities outside of New York City like Austin Texas, Chicago, Portland - I have been really into that. There was time before that I was really into international travel, and I was really inspired by Berlin, Germany, and Melbourne.
We were talking about how just design alone is not good enough to reel in the fanfare instead, we need to rely on marketing to generate the 'hype'. So how do you strike a right balance without comprising on your design process?
I think a lot of collaborations talk about the design process the same time as the marketing and sales. The second the collaboration begins, they're like: How do we market this? How do we sell it? And I just shut that talk down right away. We haven't even designed the thing yet, and you want to talk about selling and marketing it; we have nothing to sell, and nothing to market because it hasn't be made yet. And the fact that you're even talking about sales and marketing, means that your whole thing is BS - you're completely BS-ing because you have nothing to talk about, or sell! So I every time I hear that kind of conversation, I immediately shut it down because we need to design and make something first, then we can have a meaningful conversation on how we can actually sell and market it right. And I have done that many times in meeting where I'm just like nope, we're not ready yet, don't even talk about it to me.
So what is a personal strategy of yours?
I still love doing videos. I like doing long-form videos. Videos used to be the solution because kids stopped reading, so they made videos to tell the story. Now, the kids won't watch videos more than 30 seconds now. So now you must tell your whole story in an 18-second video which is very disheartening to me because all the designers have a story on how they make something; now you can't write the story, you can't show the story in a photo, you can't make a video anymore. How do we tell the story anymore? So, I'm constantly challenged with regards to that. Live interactive things, like live events, are really a great way as they are engaged, they are here.
You have acquired a wealth of knowledge being in the shoe game since 1997. What are some key factors you have noticed different now as compared to in the past?
We can't stop technology. I think a young person's ability to unplug is really the key for them. I don't think they can give up the iPhone or give up Instagram, but if they can actually recognise equal importance of seeing real people, and real-life experiences, having dinner with somebody versus dm-ing them, they just have to understand that there's a balance between the two.
In 1997, I didn't have an email address. I only had my home phone number on my business card. So to go from my home phone number to a mobile phone, to websites, to blogs, to Facebook, to Instagram, to Snapchat - it was just so fast. But if young creators have their voice and their concept, it doesn't matter what the new technology. I have been telling the same story for 20 years, and it is only the medium that is slightly different now.
Lastly, just like how everyone has a spirit animal, what is your spirit 'shoe'?
The Puma Suede Classic in black and white. Inspired by hip hop, it's probably the most basic, legendary old school shoe, but still relevant today.
The new Puma NTRVL collection is now retailing at the selected footwear boutiques including Leftfoot @ Cineleisure, #02-07A, 8 Grange Road, Orchard Cineleisure.