If you’ve read part #1 of our chat with designer Jeff Staple, you know that “meeting people all over the world” can be really inspiring — and you may imagine Staple’s inspirations are having a dry spell. But for someone who believes in the power of virtual creative support, ideas are always on 🌎sharing season.
His energy results in projects that praise street culture and pure design with that startup optimistic vibe thru what he calls “Positive Social Contagion”.
He does all that by finding his calling in the mixed bag community of streetwear. Staple has a few insights on what consumption might look like post-COVID, but if we had to pick only one thing to agree with him on, we would assure that the future will be just like street culture ― dipped in the will to change reality.
Scroll down , jump thru time, and understand how the designer imagines the overcome of street culture, creative industries, and consumption as we know it.
In your experience overseeing US Creative Operations for HBX & HYPEBEAST RADIO, how have you approached rethinking consumption in the digital age?
We came out of the age of brick and mortar retail stores, which started to feel old and archaic when we moved into this age of digital retail, where the digital monsters became sort of the owners of everything. But then what happened very recently, right before COVID, was more innovative brands starting to see the importance of in-real-life brick and mortar experiences. Apple Stores are oftentimes regarded as the highest-grossing per square-footage retail stores in the world. They’re so clean, empty, and beautifully designed. Then you see brands that were born on the internet, like Allbirds, Everlane, or Away Travel starting to open up brick and mortar retail stores. I think people have started to understand that brick and mortar is actually really important. Now we’re in this COVID era, in which stores have to close, there’s a virus that is attacking people when they’re too close together, so now gatherings are very difficult. And what’s gonna happen in the future is what we really need to rethink.
And how do you see the future of retail?
What will happen in the future is stores struggling to fill up their locations, even with a vaccine in the near future. And when I say near future I mean two years, so until then stores are not gonna be able to fully open or reach full capacity. A lot of businesses won’t make it, but what you’re gonna have is still a store in any city and town. There’s still gonna be a space on the ground floor of a building where it used to be a store, there will be a vacant square box at the bottom of these buildings. And then it will either open with somebody new or remain totally empty. But there’s gonna be something there. And I think that is the future of retail: the kind of content, media, or whatever it is that we put into that square. It might not be about walking in, and paying money, it might be something totally different. But that’s a huge opportunity, because no matter how bad the world gets, those spaces are not just gonna disappear and turn into something else. The other big thing is that these huge multi-billion dollar corporations are not just “Oh, nevermind. Let’s just let it go!” They’re gonna wanna find an answer, so if creatives and designers can figure out the answer of what to put into that space, I think that’s the future of retail business.
You empower young creatives, as we can see through your Skillshare courses and Business of HYPE podcast. How will the ability to virtually support and give access to ideas impact the future of creative industries?
I have a podcast and I do a lot of online teaching, so the virtual world is really adept at being able to spread information to a lot of different people. I used to actually teach at the university level in a traditional classroom where 30 students were in class and only the 30 students who were wealthy enough to pay for the tuition could sit in that classroom — and now with Skillshare, it really opened up so that everyone can take my class. I have 40,000 students on that platform and tens of thousands of people tune in to the podcast every week, so I’m able to share information at a much wider scale.
Virtual learning + gatherings are really prime for this kind of environment. Which is why you see businesses like Zoom and Google Meets skyrocketing.
Everything is gonna be done remotely. We as a society do need to figure out how to still meet people in real life safely, because there are certain things that are irreplaceable.
I think the foreseeable future of technology cannot replace sitting down face to face with someone and meeting in person, or having a drink or a meal with somebody. That one-hour interaction in person to me is worth 500 emails and 50 hours of Zoom conference calls. There’s something that you can feel when you meet with somebody that is so strong and powerful. And I don’t see the digital world being able to replace that. So I would say to young people who might be watching this, even though you might be really killing it on all these virtual platforms, don’t lose the skill of being able to meet people in real life, that’s a really critical skill set.
Speaking of skyrocketing, street culture has blown up and become more mainstream than ever. Why does street culture have the power to transcend social labels?
Street culture is born from anti-establishment, so the opposite of streetwear is big fashion houses, and we were the sort of punk rock version of fashion. In this day and age when protests and having a voice is really important, particularly for young people, I think streetwear and street culture is a great medium for people to be able to express their views on fashion. And we’re getting out of this really dark period of global protesting and racism, and inequality, with some incredible voices being heard ― and, probably a lot of them will express themselves through fashion, streetwear, and design.
Street culture has always been about diversity; in a way, we weren’t intentionally trying to be non-racial or equal. We were into diversity because we loved what everyone brought to the table. So, if you listened to hip-hop, if you listened to punk, if you skateboarded, if you played sports, in street culture all of us could get along and be friends. Whereas before street culture, it was very segmented. Skaters had to stay there, basketball players had to stay there, punk rock had to be here, hip-hop had to be there. And there was no place where we could physically all hang out. This mixing of culture is really where we need to be as a society.
Through your career, you have always gone against the grain. How has your background helped you build your professional path?
I’ve always tried to go against the grain and do something interesting and different. When I was growing up, I didn’t really have a good sense of my own identity. I didn’t grow up among other Asian people. I grew up in a primarily Caucasian society that didn’t have a lot of people that looked like me. So, until about age 17, I didn’t really know who I was. It was after I got to university in New York that I started to interact with other people who were minorities, and people of color. That’s when I started to understand my own identity. That’s really been a driving force for me, to do things that I’m proud of as a person but also things that will represent my people strongly, in a global manner. Even the way that I do it is very interesting and unique. I don’t go out there and try to say that I’m the best Asian designer, or the best Asian footwear designer, or the best Chinese streetwear designer. I go out there and just try to just make stuff that people really want. And, I think, the best way is for people to become fans of my work and then realize through some research that I am Asian, and then open their eyes to what it means to be Asian and Chinese. So, I’m kind of taking a backdoor approach to it, which in the long run is more effective.
Your Positive Social Contagion work clearly defines you as an optimist. How do you think spreading this message can influence the generation after you?
I hope that with what I do people notice and make a change in their lives. I had mentors when I was growing up, I didn’t grow up thinking that I was gonna be a working creative, it wasn’t even a reality for me. It was certain mentors that were in my life that showed me that there was another way. They didn’t hold my hand or give me money, they just showed me that there was another possibility. And that’s really all I’m trying to do with the podcast, Skillshare, and all the work that I do: I’m just trying to show people that there is another way. This might not be your way, but you should find your other way. Just because your parents, or your partner, or society, or teachers tell you that this is the way that you could be, you can actually say “No way, hold on, I think there’s another way”, that’s what I’m trying to do. To me, that’s what a Positive Social Contagion is all about, it’s about people moving forward and thinking independently for themselves and doing what they love to do.
Inspiration is all over street culture, we can assure you.
Still on the Jeff Staple wagon, read the first part of our chat or tap play right here.
Portraits \ JEFF STAPLE