â€œBuilding an empireâ€ has become an expression used all too loosely today. In regards to Jeff Ng aka jeffstaple, this statement is 100% valid. Founder of Staple Design, Staple Clothing, and The Reed Space, the once journalism and communications design student now boasts clients such as Burton, Nike, Puma and New Era.
An avid reader of Wire, Business Week and Fast Company, with a dozen staff under his wing, the 32-year old entrepreneur has grown his business since 1997 from an order of 12 shirts to a full-fledged empire.
â€œI learned that communication can be achieved through any medium your mind wishes. I am currently using fabric. But maybe in the future, it will be something different.â€
Format: Your silk screening on tees began at the Parsons School of Design. Itâ€™s prevalent in your creations that you have this design background,, particularly with your cut and sew today. Do you feel that there is a lack of quality with present streetwear fashion, as so much as become DIY?
Jeff Staple: â€œLack of qualityâ€ is a very subjective and strong statement to make. I would say there is definitely a lack of proper design sensibility in todayâ€™s streetwear market. That doesnâ€™t necessarily make things better or worse. Sometimes, things can be over-designed. Sometimes, doing some ugly type in some wacky color is a hit on the sales floor. But I would like to think that the details found in our collection are derived from a formal education in communication and graphic design.
Format: You studied journalism and communications design. How did your schooling play into your success as a designer?
Jeff Staple: The journalism classes really helped with my word play. A lot of our designs incorporate some kind of play on words. This goes all the way from the graphics, to the labeling, to the hangtags, to the advertising campaigns. And of course as a Communications Design major at Parsons, I learned that communication can be achieved through any medium your mind wishes. I am currently using fabric. But maybe in the future, it will be something different.
Format: Where did you get the funding to start up your brand?
Jeff Staple: I have been working since I was 12 years old. There was no initial investment from my parents. No trust fund with my name on it. I was working as a data entry clerk in a publishing company. I used all of Parsons facilities in those early days. Parsons was paid for with some financial aid and maxing out seven different credit cards. The only thing I had to buy were blank tees on 14th Street. My first order of 12 t-shirts soon turned to 24. I bankrolled that to make 36. Then bankrolled that to make 72. And the rest is history.
Format: Who is the demographic that rocks the Staple Clothing collection?
Jeff Staple: Itâ€™s clichÃ©d to say â€œeverybody.â€ But really, it surprises me who likes Staple. It spans across age, gender, social status, occupations, sexual preference, religion, and color.
Format: You use upscale fabrics like lambskin leathers and satin linings. Your designs are as technical as they are luxurious. Have you ever sacrificed technical design for style and vice versa?
Jeff Staple: Thanks for noticing the small details. There is always a balance with each collection. The balance comes from my personal preference of dress. Sometimes, I like to be technical and protected. Other times, I like to feel natural and organic. Other times, I like to be dressy and professional. Hence, my collection usually reflects this same sensibility. Itâ€™s not so much a sacrifice as it is trying to achieve a balance of different lifestyles in our range.
Format: You feature a faux button upon a hunter shooting flap. How would you rate the importance of style over functionality?
Jeff Staple: Some items, like the button you referenced and chest pockets on shirts, have become like the appendix for the human body. They probably served a purpose at one time in history. But they are relics today. Still, people like being reminded of the past. Sometimes, we make these things non-functional in order for people to understand its place in the present, future.
Format: The Gingham Check Rain Poncho is a beautiful piece. What limits are you pushing with your designs?
Jeff Staple: I let my designers have fun and allow accidents to happen. The poncho was an accident. A jacket was fucked up in early sampling stages and it ended up looking more like a poncho than a coat. We ran with the idea, let it develop, and people fell in love with it.
Format: Staple has various streams of business: Staple Design, Staple Clothing, Honeyee.com and Reed Space. What has been the lowest common denominator in all your success?
Jeff Staple: Iâ€™m still searching for that LCD [lowest common denominator]. All of my ventures have existed on the edge of culture and society. I would love to make something completely mainstream for the masses to enjoy. I keep finding myself veering towards that fringe though. I actually view it as a deficiency that I canâ€™t make something like toilet paper or ballpoint pens that Costco would buy. Luckily for me, most people donâ€™t have the ability to create something edgy, so it keeps me constantly busy.
Format: You recently designed the NYC Pigeon Dunk. Tell us how you got started working with Nike and how you developed the relationship to what it is today. What other clients are you most proud to have worked with?
Jeff Staple: I first met people at Nike while I was art directing The Fader Magazine as one of our clients. I wanted to do this story on Nike Japan and the limited edition shoes they were making only for the Japan market. This was a novel idea back in 1999. And from that meeting, we kept a good relationship. We still do projects today but less on the collaboration items and more on the back end, like organizing events, or rolling out launches. We both think and agree that itâ€™s best if we kept our working relationship behind the scene for now. The world is a much different place than it was 10 years ago. I love working with all footwear and sports companies like Burton Snowboards, New Balance, Puma, New Era and Timberland. Weâ€™ve worked with or are currently working with all these companies. Why sports companies? The emotional highs and lows that sports create are so authentic and real; itâ€™s quite addictive.
Format: Nike has come to you for insight on how to make environmentally sustainable products and sneakers. What eco friendly processes you are currently incorporating into your designs with the Staple signature collections?
Jeff Staple: Unfortunately, very little. Itâ€™s the sad state of manufacturing. The costs involved in making something organic or green are so much more expensive than traditional methods. Doing a collection that way would price us out of business because of our relatively small quantities.
Format: Tell us about this community centre, the Reed Space.
Jeff Staple: I started Reed Space in 2002. My vision was to create a community centre where anyone and everyone are welcome. If you were an artist or designer, we are open to featuring your creations. All mediums welcome. If you know nothing about this creative landscape at all, but are interested in learning more, Reed Space also welcomes you. Other places make you feel like a fool for walking into their store. We try to maintain a level of education in everything we do. Reed Space would be the physical classroom for my university.
Format: Reed Space Live, is this really a live video feed of people shopping at the store? Why did you come up with this concept? Do you use this to cool-hunt or trend-hunt?
Jeff Staple: Yes itâ€™s real! Live! No smoke and mirrors here. I donâ€™t work in Reed Space. Our design studios are about three blocks away so itâ€™s my way of keeping one eye on the store. I figured other people might be interested in checking it out also. Iâ€™m afraid cool-hunt [and] trend-hunt are not words in my vocabulary.
Format: Your line is quite extensive featuring outerwear, denim, accessories and tees. What is next for the collection and what can we expect to see for Fall 2008?
Jeff Staple: Our Fall 2008 Collection is based around the concept of biology, anatomy, and the study of the human body. We just had a preview for it this March and the response has been amazing. I love the collection even more than Spring, but, of course, I have a biased opinion. But if you loved the poncho from Spring, wait till you see what we have coming this Fall!
Format: Life without knowledge is death in disguise. What do you know and what do you not know?
Jeff Staple: The most important thing I know is that I still have a whole lot to learn.
Format: Your blog is called â€œTo Darrin Hudsonâ€. If you could say one thing to Darrin Hudson today, what would it be?
Jeff Staple: Keep teachinâ€™ my man.
More Info: http://www.stapledesign.com