We Design: People. Practice. Progress.
My belief is that just because you’re not a phenom doesn’t mean you aren’t going to be successful. I am a prime example that you can really scrounge and hustle and grind your way to the top. It’s not always about being this supreme talent. Although some talent helps a bit too.
jeffstaple (born Jeff Ng) is a sneakerhead, influencer, designer, and entrepreneur. He’s also the founder and creative director of the menswear brand Staple Pigeon, the design firm Staple Design, and host of the podcast Business of HYPE on Hypebeast. He has long been considered the master of streetwear and youth culture and is sought out by many companies such as Nike, Microsoft, and Kia. Design was central to Jeff’s life before he knew it was a career path. He became an avid collector of comic books and sneakers at a young age, but did not have specific career aspirations. However, while pursuing a journalism degree at NYU, he got a data entry clerk position at a graphic design firm that inspired a shift in his interests. He transferred to the Parsons School of Design, which provided him with new art and design knowledge.
My strength is not in the actual handiwork of doing art; it’s the conception, ideation, and execution of it. I am good at taking an idea and making it come to fruition using whatever tools I have at my disposal.
Jeff began creating his first wearable art after learning silkscreen printing in school. One day, he walked into a New York clothing store wearing a shirt he’d printed, and walked out with an order for 12 more from the store’s owner—what would be the first order for his new brand.
Now, Jeff’s ventures include Staple Pigeon—his fashion brand, the Staple Design Studio—a world-renowned creative consulting firm, Reed Space— a retail store in downtown NYC, and he serves as creative director for TGS Holdings, Inc.—an innovative group of retail outlets. In 2005, Jeff collaborated with Nike to produce the Nike SB Pigeon Dunk Low, a limited-edition sneaker that currently sells for around $20,000 per pair. In 2017, the Black Pigeon Dunk Low were released to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Nike SB and 20 years of Staple.
Photo courtesy of jeffstaple
In his own words, jeffstaple tells the story of Staple Design, exploring the inspiration of NYC’s Lower East Side, the studio and retail space, and the ideology behind his work.
Video produced by Eighteen Eighty
Photo courtesy of jeffstaple
Jeff Ng was born to Chinese immigrant parents who moved to the United States to start a family. He grew up in a middle class, suburban city in central New Jersey, a minority in a predominantly Jewish-Caucasian community. His parents owned a Chinese food importing company in New York City, which Jeff would visit every chance he got to hang out in the city.
“Obsessed with Shoes”
Growing up, comic books, sports, music, streetwear and sneakers represented all things cool for Jeff. He followed athletes’ careers, their branding, shoes they wore, and their collaborations with athletic and fashion brands. At 13 he began to work to finance his passion and all the newest sneakers his parents would not buy for him. They were his prized possessions, and he kept them lined along the walls of their dining room on display.
I had an identity crisis my entire adolescence. There were 1,600 students at my high school and only three Asians. I was embarrassed to be Chinese, to speak Chinese, to bring Chinese food for lunch. There was a lot of bullying and racist remarks. In terms of school, I was extremely average. I wasn’t a phenom growing up in the slightest. My parents’ dream for me was to be a doctor or a lawyer, but we all realized that would not be the case by high school.
Jeff also spoke to a major source of inspiration early on in his journey toward a career in design: his high school art teacher.
“My high school art teacher, Michael Reed, was really inspiring. He passed away my senior year, and it was his passion for education and art that pushed me to work even harder and pursue college. I was really into creative writing, but I didn’t think being a novelist could be a real job, so I took up journalism as the next best thing and got into NYU. There were a couple of Asian journalists, like Connie Chung, at the time, so my parents were okay with it—if they saw an Asian person doing something successfully, then they thought I could do it,” Jeff continued.
While at NYU, he maintained his extreme work ethic by balancing different jobs and clerking at a graphic design studio. There, his boss saw potential in him and began teaching Jeff how to use the design programs. This was the first time Jeff saw people making a living doing creative arts, and he was enthralled. He soon wanted to merge his work and school life and tried transferring to Parsons School of Design, but was not initially accepted. He then took some foundation 2D and life drawing courses offered at Parsons, which helped him eventually get into and excel in the Communication Design program at Parsons.
The ABC of Mens Fashion
Jeff Staple is the owner of Staple Design, a clothing collection, creative agency and retail store in New York City. Jeff discusses the nuances of men’s fashion, and how no amount of money and styling can make a fashionable man. Instead, the man must make the fashion by expressing his individuality.
Video produced by Hardy Aimes
Project: All things staple
When thinking of how he would brand his line, a friend’s nickname for Jeff—“Staple”—really stuck and even inspired his own personal rebranding as “jeffstaple.” The success of his Staple clothing line then lead to Staple Design, a communication and design firm based in NY emphasizing branding and marketing. A music, style, and culture magazine, The Fader, was an
early publication design client, to which jeffstaple also contributed articles. One particular piece he wrote about the rarity and intrigue of Nike Japan products led to an ongoing collaborative relationship with the company. jeffstaple’s eye for design and influence in athletic apparel was beginning to solidify.
My second year at Parsons I took a silk screening class and fell in love. I got tired of printing on posters and started printing on clothes. T-shirts and fashion are such a powerful vehicle of communication. If I gave my friend a piece of art printed on a shirt one day, it could mean 10,000 are seeing my design. I was sneaking into the lab at night to make them with a friend, since the teacher only let us print on paper in class.
“Then on March 7, 1997, I was walking around SoHo wearing a political shirt I made. A boutique manager asked about it and bought a dozen on the spot. It was my first order, and those 12 shirts sold out in a week. They doubled the order, then another store put in another one, and before you know it, I got a big order from Japan for 1,000 pieces. I knew I couldn’t make that many shirts breaking in at school anymore, so I decided to leave Parsons and pursue this clothing line thing.”
After an influx of commissioned design work, Staple released a collaboration with Nike, featuring Jeff’s signature pigeon logo. Designed in 2003, the Pigeon Dunk Low took two years to be released in a limited run of 150 pairs. When the shoe came out in 2005, the ensuing frenzy to obtain a pair was dubbed the “Pigeon Riot” and introduced the public to the sneaker craze.
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On my podcast, the #BusinessOfHYPE on @hypebeastradio, we learn about the nitty gritty details of success stories (& failures) behind the most inspiring creative entrepreneurs. From designers, artists, photographers, CEO’s, musicians, chefs and more — no story is left untold as we learn about the tenacity required to find success. This is the post-graduate class you’ve always wished you had. Available on all streaming platforms. 🎙🐦
Creating a “Positive Social Contagion”
jeffstaple also founded Reed Space, a small retail store, and is the creative director of TGS Holdings, Inc. retail outlets. Recently, he began hosting Hypebeast Radio’s podcast Business of HYPE. While Jeff is considered an influencer, originator, and KOL (key opinion leader). With all of these accomplishments, Jeff noted that he finds the most reward not from the titles, but from the hard work he has put in to get where he is.
“I would love to create platforms where young creatives can access everything I have learned and use that as a jumping off point, so they don’t have to take a decade like me.”
Looking to the future, Jeff would like to mentor new creative entrepreneurs who can learn from his failures and successes. However, in this ever changing digital age, the question is how to best present the information.
“My belief is that just because you’re not a phenom doesn’t mean you aren’t going to be successful. I am a prime example that you can really scrounge and hustle and grind your way to the top. It’s not always about being this supreme talent. Although some talent helps a bit too.”
Other people had to tell me I was an influencer. In 2010, someone at Nike told me they have a ranked chart of people who move the needle, called influencers, and I was in the top five. Whenever a company had any initiative that involved trying to capture the youth audience, Staple Design was the go-to.