Half a decade ago, the perception of cool often resided in the limited nature of product runs. This commercial infancy in so-called streetwear meant a strong push towards monetizing a culture previously untapped. We’ve moved into an era over the last few years where many have become desensitized to limited distribution. But at the same time, the absolute growth of a culture has seen a once powerful marketing tool — numbers — lose clout as a marketing tool.
Several years ago, the announcing of Hyperstrike Nikes often accompanied a loud and proud declaration of the production run. As early 20-somethings entering the mix via Hypebeast, our own personal perception of it all was quite similar to that of jeffstaple over an afternoon in the Staple Design offices. “My perception of them has changed, ‘maybe 10 years ago I was enamored by them’ and I was like, I want to do that too and it spurred street culture,” he says. Yet, however beneficial a marketing tool, the growth of the industry ensured that making just 50 pieces was no longer the same sort of risk as it was in the past – a time when many were just beginning to embrace the internet.
As we grow and experience the full complexities that surround the industry, we begin to change the way we view the situation, with jeffstaple stating “… my perception now has changed from awesome admiration to… it’s cute.” With a credible number of projects under his belt, jeffstaple has become familiar to the plotline in trying to push past “a difference between a great item and a great brand. There’s so brands that make you ‘that’s a great item’ but is it a brand though?’ Often times it’s not.”
I took a personal interest in the story of Staple Design. A brand that was the masterminds behind arguably one of the most hyped sneakers of all-time, Staple Design created the Pigeon motif on the Dunk Low SB that became a story for the ages and still enjoys regular referencing despite releasing over seven years ago. But despite emerging from some of the best organic PR possible, Staple Design has made some decidedly interesting moves along the way. “Reality has set in and the dynamic of doing business,” says jeffstaple has really affected the bottom line and what is needed to grow. Attempting to find a balance between the mainstream masses, maintaining relevance, and a so-called “cool factor” is often branding’s most difficult balance.
In the particular case of Staple Design, jeffstaple states that “for us, the most important aspect to whatever place we’re at now… was that we were diversified.” That meant client work, art shows, curation, and consulting that helped mitigate the lows and feed the overall Staple Design system. A lack of diversification was far from a considered approach to the growth of Staple Design, but it reared its head as some brands were truly affected during the recession-era.
When Payless Shoes came knocking, it posed an immediate question to the consciousness of jeffstaple. By selling to the likes of Payless Shoes, could it really boost a brand or potentially put it in a death spiral?
“It wasn’t like 10 years ago here’s the roadmap,” he says. I wondered for any brand to make the move towards a mainstream context, was it a necessity to stockpile a cachet of cool points — for lack of a better term? Much like a video game, was there a requirement for a brand to prep itself for the onslaught of criticism that was awaiting it the minute it stepped into the mass market spotlight? There have been few instances of successful brands which have enjoyed a level of unparalleled respect despite their ubiquity, including Apple, Stussy, Vans, Converse, Nike and Ralph Lauren. But for Staple Design, what prepared them the minute they signed on the dotted line and confirmed a deal to be sold in a mass retailer such as Payless Shoes? Mind you, it’s less a knock on Payless Shoes as it is commentary on the situation as a whole. For a retailer like Payless Shoes, with over 4,500 stores, they understand their positioning and serve a purpose to a large part of the market. But here you are looking to control your branding, your most important asset as a small entity. No easy feat in itself.
“The risk was always there and it kept me up at night,” he says, considering how to strategize a relationship with Airwalk into a multi-year, multi-collection project. “If you took a poll, everybody would say don’t do it… if you ask my fanbase they would say that’s wack as hell don’t do it,” as he continues on. Looking back, it was a brave move on the part of Staple Design to push ahead and aim to create a fruitful partnership for both parties. Not quick to discount the fact there’s a money play involved, there also lies something deeper that many are quick to overlook in a project of this stature. jeffstaple saw it much differently: the idea to do something in the streetwear world that simply was never previously achieved thanks to the omnipresent nature of Payless Shoes. But it must be said that, “Anybody who enters into the street culture business now is looking at a bigger pie. You’re not looking 30s and 50s, you’re looking at 300s and 500s or even 3,000s and 5,000s,” says jeffstaple — effectively defining the growth of the industry.
The expansion has had the desirable byproduct of including an abundance of information. Social media protocol, sales reps and production are no longer factors that require the previous route of simple experience but have been pre-defined. This has raised the standards as our conversation moves towards Hypebeast’s involvement, “The bar has been raised not just in the making in the brand but even in the editorial. You used to be able to just a graphic on an Illustrator CAD… no fucking way now.”
“There’s this kid in Kansas who reads Hypebeast, and even Urban Outfitters is [considered] a mecca. I’m about to put a Staple product in his strip mall. I think that’s dope.” Some people would see that as a great detriment, but for jeffstaple there lies strength and interest in communication. It’s no different than artists wanting to get up, they want visibility for their efforts and a large-scale project like this affords them those opportunities.
Given the proliferation of high-means mass collaborations releasing season-by-season with a more educated consumer, you wonder would a project with Payless have been better received in the present? While the general consensus is that Foot Locker trumps Payless Shoes, a most recent project of similar standing with Undefeated and Foot Locker was perhaps facilitated by Staple Design’s early endeavors. Had Staple Design imploded and “jeffstaple went down in ruins cause of that Payless deal, Eddie [of Undefeated] would definitely not do that deal.”
As mere spectators with a strong foot in the door, we’ve overseen the growth of many small brands that began in and around the inception of Hypebeast. The beginnings were a shared experience of mutual growth and development. With no case studies to adhere to, it was essentially moving forward into the abyss. The deliberate and considered growth of a brand or company resides in strong infrastructure to promote scalability. In most cases, getting bigger is something very much welcome by owners. Think industries such as electronics, production, food and beverage, and the service industry where success is often not uninhibited by the fact everybody consumes your products. But in the realm of fashion, it becomes something slightly trickier — where availability plays a big part in the present and future of a brand.
While public perception isn’t always the first consideration of brands, building something that can teeter the fine line of branding and mainstream penetration is something many attain to achieve. Brand positioning in fashion is unlike any of its other counterparts and exponential growth while maintaining maximum respect and coolness is almost categorically possible. High fashion’s guard is pricing, one that ensures that widespread adoption is a matter of economics. But for more affordably-priced fashion, caution must be exercised when availability can truly hurt a brand’s prospects.
For start-up and smaller brands, the allure of sales increases on a mentality of “as soon as possible” are salivating prospects. No doubt this notion is compounded by our instant world of the internet. However, careful consideration and ensuring the proper foundation is in place is a supremely important aspect that often gets left out of the equation. As a creative, it’s great to have your work exposed to the masses, but ensuring the proper dissemination and understanding of your product is something that goes far beyond asking your collective of friends.
Five years ago, being big was frowned upon… now that’s no longer the case.