Jeff Ng, the esteemed doyen of contemporary street style better known as jeffstaple, spent two years at New York University studying journalism and dropped out. Then he attended Parsons School of Design for two years, for communication design and graphic design, and dropped out. Then he started Staple Design, which last year celebrated 15 years in business. This year, his retail outlet and community gathering spot Reed Space hits the 10-year mark.
But the numbers only hint at the character of his success. With Staple Design, he has collaborated with companies that are seemingly all over the map, from sneaker companies New Balance, Nike, and Converse to Hyundai Motors, New Era hats, and most recently, Jeep. In 2005, his limited-edition Nike Dunk created such a frenzy outside Reed Space that it made the front page of The New York Post the next day. The shoe’s primary distinction -- besides the gray colorway and bright orange soles? The small likeness of a pigeon stitched onto each heel.
“The pigeon is our mascot. It’s our icon. And now it’s our registered trademark,” he says. “And actually the pigeon poop, too. I have a document from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office with just a splat of pigeon shit in the middle of it.”
The pigeon idea emerged out of a search for an image that best represented New York City. “They have a weird urbanite quality to them -- they’re not really birds,” says the New Jersey native. “They’re like city people. It’s kind of weird and cool at the same time to me. They’re pests to most other people.”
The pigeon icon took off, he goes on to explain, because, unknown to him at the time -- back before his passport was as full as it is now -- pigeons are the same in every city around the world. “Everyone placed it as their own mascot.”
That right there speaks to how the guy operates: by gut, by instinct -- talents that aren’t exactly taught in communication design classes. “I’m very much a take-it-one-day-at-a-time type entrepreneur, which has got its merits and its negatives,” he says. “It’s scary for any potential investor or partner.” He adds, though, that he doesn’t entirely operate without a plan. It’s just “more branding based and soulful based than mathematics.”
In other words, jeffstaple the designer does not stray too far from jeffstaple the man. Staple Design’s motto is “Positive Social Contagion.” He explains, for instance, why he chose not to follow the overdone trend of emblazoning curse words on clothing.
“Now, do I have the capability of putting the word ‘f***’ on a shirt? Yes, I absolutely do,” says Ng. “I can do that right now and send it to the printer and I could probably make a nice five- to six-figure chunk of change by putting ‘F*** Pigeons’ on a shirt. But my gut tells me not to do that.”
Born: New Jersey, March 7, 1975
Moisturizes: Carries Chapstick at all times and freaks out if he’s ever without it.
Dot dot dot: Has a phobia to repetitive dot patterns, like those found on honeycombs and ladybugs.
Catty: Deathly allergic to cats, though he “loves their demeanor.”
Check out the November 2012 issue of Red Bulletin magazine (on newsstands October 16) for more of the article. To read the magazine on your iPad, download the Red Bulletin iPad app.