Interview : Jeff Staple
Staple Design just opened there 2nd "reed space" in Aoyama, Tokyo. The first "reed space" in NYC has been a "must visit place" when I go to NYC. Good products, and artists like PhunkStudio, FAILE, Peter Sutherland、 MatzuMTP has done exhibitions.
This is an interview with the founder of Staple Design, Jeff Staple.
As alot of designers watch this site, his words might mean something to you.
And thankyou Jeff for having a time with us.
Interview & Photo by Yosuke Kurita(CBCNET)
CBCNET:Could you briefly tell us how Staple Design and Reed Space started?
Jeff:It started in 1997 as a clothing line, when I was still a student at Parsons. Then we went in to more graphic design. “Reed Space” started in 2002. The reason is because I was frustrated of the way retailers were treating brands. Felt that most of them were not properly representing the brand. A lot of the store tries to make to store itself cool, and forgets about the designers. So we try to tell more about brand and the designers.
Making it more about the people behind it, then the store will automatically be cool.
CBCNET:So you have been doing a lot of client work as well as your personal projects.
How do you keep the balance in between, is it hard to do that?
Jeff:Some times it is hard to keep the balance. Man and the money are always enticing to grow. For example, 3 or4 years ago we had 100 designs for a season. I felt it was too much, so I narrowed it down to 30. When there was 100 designs, there were 50 bad, 30 good, and 20 ok. So is said, cut the crap out and let’s just keep the good 30.
And what happen is our sells went up. People ordered more because it was good. It’s kind of the business model that Apple does, less is better, and do those really well.
CBCNET:What is the identity and philosophy of Reed Space?
Jeff:The first philosophy was “Educating people”. I named it after my art teacher, the reason what I did that is because what that art teacher, Michael Reed meant to me, I want Reed Space to mean like that to all it’s costumers. I want people to walk in to Reed Space and they could read about a new brand and learn about a new artist. We won’t force to buy something. A place where you could learn something new, something like a community center.
Reed Space is not like a place where walk in customers will understand. Like in NY store, the most popular question we get is “what kind of place is this?” They don really know it’s a store. We have our store in at Orchard Street, where 5 years ago there was more less people. But now there are more and more people. So we chose Aoyama because it felt similar to that. We are investing in a long term, hope this will be a gravitation point where people gather. These things need to happen naturally.
CBCNET:What do you think of the city Tokyo?
Jeff:I’m really inspired by this city. I love the detail oriented work and the aesthetic of the culture. From modern to historical. The people are really nice, and the retail environment, service environment are on another level. Like every store you walk in to is like “the next thing”. It’s kind of inspiration to try keep achieving that level. So, the Japan Reed Space have set the bars really high.
CBCNET:You must have so much going around you. How do you manage all of this?
Jeff:It’s all about the team. No way I could do this by myself. I have an amazing team in NY and Japan that allows someone like me to do what I want.
After 10years of doing this, I learned that people’s mentality is really important. Your skills actually don’t really matter. You don’t need to know invoicing, we could teach that.
But your mentality and personality, we can’t teach. I rather have a good person without the skills, instead of a highly skilled person who just don’t get it at all. Like when we were at that point having 100 designs, there were too many people working with me.
When you’re really busy, you might hire more people to fix it, but sometimes that makes it worse. More isn’t always better.
CBCNET:You were saying about 2 philosophies you keep to yourself. One was “treat everybody equal”, could you tell us about that?
Jeff : I try to treat every people I meet the same. When I meet a big company’s president, or if I meet my cleaning guy, I treat exactly the same. Some people would be insulted by that. But you both bleed, both dies, and pay taxes. Some kids might read into what I said and interpret it in a wrong way. It doesn’t mean to talk to everyone like your friend. It means having the same respect. I been lucky that most people that I meet appreciate that equality. I think that is one of the reason we were able to work with various clients.
The another word is by Bill Cosby. He said, “I don’t know the secrets of success, but I know the secrets of failure, and that is, not to try to please everybody.”
When I heard that I was at the point of my career where I thought, “I don’t want to do staple anymore.” It was so hard. Employees, expenses and all that, at the point where you’re not working for yourself. If you stop working, other people stop eating. It was big pressure on me.
Then I realized that I was trying to please everybody, the employees, store people, accounts, sales, and business people. I was about to say, “I don’t want to deal with you people any more, I’ll do it my self.” Then I heard that word. From then, I was like, “I am driving this bus, I decide which way to go”, I try to be fair as possible but at the end of the day I make the decisions. Ever since then things started to go well.
I think I am very good at, listening to everyone’s suggestion and making a decision based on that.
CBCNET:I forgot to ask this, Why is the name “Staple”?
Jeff:“Staple” means raw and essential element that you can’t live without. For example, rice is a staple food. Other like air and water. That name says a lot of what we are and what we do. We are not an artist who has some trade mark everybody recognizes. We do a lot of work that people don’t know about, it’s kind of everywhere, but no where at the same time.
CBCNET:So, how did everybody started to call you Jeff Staple?
Jeff:It was by the guy who bought Staple t-shirt. The guy bought 12 shirts, and every week he kept on ordering more. And he started calling me “Jeff Staple bring more!”, I was like “That’s not my name!” but now every one thinks that Jeff Staple is my real name.
CBCNET:Why did you start to make t-shirts?
Jeff:At that time in 97, the brands that was popular, had this huge logo on there shirt and that was all there is. What does that mean? It didn’t represent anything to me. I think a t-shirt represents something about the person who wears it. So I wanted to create much more basic and personal.
CBCNET:You do all kinds of work now, where is your base field?
Jeff: My base is graphic design and communication design. I actually don’t like the fashion industry. Having a space is retail business and I try to incorporate design to everything. Logo, shopping bag, business card, invitation, everything needs to be designed well. Opening a store is like an excuse to design more you like. Design is the thing for me.
CBCNET:What is the difference between doing client works and your own designs?
Jeff:I love the client work, I’m a graphic designer by nature. When I do Staple clothing, I don’t have to answer anybody. But what actually happen is, if no body tells you that’s good or that’s bad and everything you do is approved, you start to lose your edge. You need the criticism. And also I like working with other creative people, it a collaboration of team effort. Plus I like the challenge of solving problems of the company by design. Some free lancers does get frustrated by just doing that, so when I have that feeling I work on my staple clothing on my own.
CBCNET:I wanted to ask you about the internet thing that is around the world now. How it change the way of work and the culture.
Jeff:Internet is so powerful. It changes the whole game. When I started Staple, I didn’t even have an email address. I see people starting companies now, they are able to grow in 1or 2years which took me 7years to do.
Without the internet, what I had to do is a lot of leg work. Walking around, showing people stuff. It’s not like only front of the computer.
The information comes and goes so fast now days, and it’s just gets on a certain website and it’s at the bottom on the next day. Little bit sad, but I don’t find it that much of problem, because that is the attention span of today’s youth. So if it comes on magazines or other media, I think it’s good. At the end, only the strong survive. Time will tell who the real player is.
CBCNET:Could you tell us any plans of Reed Space?
Jeff:We have a lot of plans but I don’t like to talk about it. We are not trying to be the first or exclusive. We want people to feel comfortable, it’s special with all the stuff together. Keep everything really good and there’s a reason behind it.
CBCNET:What is your goal?
Jeff:Simply, to keep everyone who works with Staple and myself happy.
And hope more people become aware of what we do. I have been doing pretty much the same thing for 10years. So hope more people will understand and support what we do.