Interview: Jeff Staple Talks STPL X Airwalk
Jeff Staple breaks down the Airwalk partnership.
words & interview_Ira LaFontaine Images courtesy Airwalk & Staple In one of the more interesting collaborations we've seen this year in our industry, Jeff Staple and Airwalk have teamed up for a multi-season partnership that will have Payless ShoeSource exclusively launching a full collection of sneakers ranging in price from $30 to $50. Sole Collector caught up with Jeff to hear all about his motives, his goals, and why he thinks the project is already a success. [Be sure to also check out our feature detailing The Histories of Jeff Staple & Airwalk -- HERE] Ira LaFontaine: On your website, you have a portfolio with an extensive body of work for larger companies. Do you only work with larger companies, or have you done design work that we may not have heard of with smaller businesses? Jeff Staple: Oh most definitely. I have a sweet spot for working with small startups because in essence, that's what we still are. Or at least we have the heart of one. I think if you only work for big companies, it can really burn you out as a creative person. We did the art direction and design for Dime Magazine ever since their prototype issue! We used to have proofing sessions till 6 in the morning or later! So to see a client grow is something really special that money cannot buy. What project(s) have you previously completed that you're proud of, and what characteristics do you look for in potential partners? Man, there are so many over the years. It's really hard to pinpoint on a particular one. I'm actually most proud of our Staple apparel collection though. Seeing that grow from hand-silkscreened tees to beautiful cut and sewn pieces is an awesome sight. When a potential client or partner comes to us, I really don't use a calculated formulaic process. One thing I have learned over the years is to trust my gut feeling. If the people I am working with feel right, then it's usually all good. What led you to take on the Airwalk partnership? Was it the lure of a fresh challenge that drew you to Airwalk, or is this a sign that Staple is being cognizant of what is happening with the economy? When Airwalk approached us, I immediately had images in my mind of what the company meant: Skate, Heritage, Authenticity and Roots. So from that "brand" standpoint, doing something with Airwalk was pretty much a no-brainer. But I actually knew that doing a one shot deal...or some new color-up on an existing shoe would not help either of our brands. So we started discussing what could be done to take the project to the next level and really do something that hasn't been done in this market before. When we got deeper into the conversation things got much more interesting. Instead of doing one shoe; it was, let's do an entire collection. Instead of doing one collection, it was, let's do multiple seasons together. And instead of doing 50 pairs limited edition, let's allow the people to have access to them and actually make them affordable. So we worked with Payless ShoeSource to have exclusive distribution on this new brand, "STPL x Airwalk." You wanna talk different? This is the thing I have been waiting to do for a while now. I'll be honest, and the people who know, will vouch for this; I have offered up this similar deal with other much more notable footwear companies. I said let's do a release, but instead of the usual suspects, let's release at Walmart, or K-Mart, and sell it for $40. They laughed, but I was serious. See, the thing is, it's easy to sell 100 pairs of shoes at $200 a pair. That's been the model in the sneaker world and this collaboration is different from that traditional model. Can you make something that resonates with the masses? Can you create something that brings top-level design right down to sub-$50 prices? Can you create something that is desirable, without a FlightClub/Hypebeast/Ebay telling you to go buy it? That was the challenge that I was really interested in. When Airwalk and Staple first started talking, there was no talk of recession or stimulus packages. The downturn of the economy hadn't hit yet. But now that unfortunately it has, it's a hidden blessing for this project. It makes the concept all the more timely. I'm glad that Staple and Airwalk can come out with something dope for people to rock without gouging them...especially these days. In an interview on Murketing a couple of years back, Rob Walker asked you a question about projects that you wouldn't do. Your response was related to public perception and the general public asking "Why the hell did those two get together?" How do you feel about the early perception around the Airwalk partnership? As with almost any project I've done, I knew there would be backlash and questioning and there would also be lots of praise and props. It caused a dialogue, and that's healthy. Most definitely...there was some deliberation on my part. I had to really grill myself and test my motives to see if I was doing this project for all the right reasons? Or all the wrong reasons? You know how I answered it? I thought, "For every sneaker snob that says I sold out, there will be a kid that says 'Thank You'. Thank you for making some cool ass kicks that me and my family can finally afford. That I don't need to sleep outside for 5 days to get-(maybe), and that I can feel proud reppin." It's like Jay says, "If you don't like the music you can press fast forward!" I'm really, from the bottom of my heart, trying to do something for the people. The quality, design and craftsmanship that went into these kicks is no less than any other shoe on the market. Payless owns their own stores. There is no middle man. And instead of 2 locations on planet Earth, they have nearly 4,000 locations in America alone. That's why we can do what we do for the price we sell them at. It's a win-win for everyone. Airwalk is in a very different place in the shoe world today than they were over a decade ago. Do you feel that the Airwalk partnership can potentially give Staple more credibility, or do you worry that you could possibly devalue your brand by aligning with Airwalk and Payless? A: To me, when you speak of things like credibility, or marketing, or brand valuation...these are all very unreliable gauges for success. To me, PRODUCT IS KING. "Is it dope?" "Is it worth what you paid for it?" "Then thank you, have a nice day!" That's it! Keep it simple and keep it movin'. 'Cause on the other side of the spectrum, there's a whole ton of "limited edition" expensive stuff that is pure rubbish. There are plenty of brands that live off of just being marketed properly. That ain't me. That will never be me. Maybe to a fault. I do things I believe in. And after 12+ years in the game under my belt, I hope my fans will have that faith in my decisions and support me. What expectations do you have for your partnership with Airwalk and what goals will you have to reach to deem it a success? Back to the "Product Being King" concept...I hope the end consumer actually likes what we do! Hell, there definitely ain't no promises in that. But let me put it to you this way, when I saw the first samples from Airwalk, I was in a hotel in Los Angeles. I was honestly a little nervous. I had never worked with the company before and they never worked with me...so these joints could very well come out looking like garbage and I'd still have to put my name on it! I opened those JPEGs and I swear on my grave; I got goosebumps. Goosebumps only a sneakerhead could understand, feel me? To me...at that point? It was already a success.