With his hands in just about everything, 33-year-old Jeffrey Ng a.k.a. Jeff Staple has masterfully created a world of communicating through design. The founder and owner of Staple Design, Staple Clothing and Reed Space, Jeff is a graphic, Web and clothing designer, artist, DJ, writer and entrepreneur.
Born in New Jersey, Jeff attended New York University to study journalism. While in college, he worked as an entry-level data clerk at a design firm. With no prior exposure to the design software programs that were being used such as QuarkXPress, Photoshop and Illustrator, Jeff quickly learned, and eventually became a class instructor at the firm in less than six months. He then realized his growing passion for graphic design, dropped out of NYU and enrolled himself at the prestigious Parsons School of Design in fall 1995 to study communications design.
Following his calling, Jeff took on an internship with the pioneer streetwear clothing company, PNB Nation, and worked as a graphic designer at c.i.t.e. design. With school, an internship, a part-time job and a strong desire to communicate through design, he managed to materialize his budding idea to establish Staple by silk-screening T-shirts in his spare time.
Coincidentally his first break happened on his birthday, March 7, 1997, when Jeff walked into the Triple Five Soul boutique in SoHo wearing a hand-printed Staple T-shirt. The manager took notice and placed the first-ever order of 12 T-shirts from the line. With Staple’s door officially open for business, Jeff successfully turned his one-man T-shirt business into a men’s collection, as well as a full-service design firm — opening Staple Design that year and his own retail store/art gallery, Reed Space, in 2002.
Staying very firmly grounded to the values in which the Staple brand was created — sticking to the basic necessities needed in life — Staple Design also has created design work for Burton Snowboards, Converse, The Gap, HBO, Housing Works, Levi’s, LVMH, New Balance, New Museum of Contemporary Art, Nike, NYC&Co., Puma, Timberland, Uniqlo and more. Eleven years since Jeff received his first T-shirt order, now with an international following and high respect from his peers, Jeff Staple himself, has become a brand.
What are you working on right now?
Recovery. We just did a huge project for letsredu.com and it was very fulfilling … but also a lot of work and quite a bit of stress. So now I am decompressing (ever so slightly) …
3 trends that excite you?
Trends do not excite me at all. I abhor trends.
How do you bring ideas to life?
It depends on what it is exactly. Each idea has a completely unique set of parameters. But overall, there is a common thread. We treat our projects like a baker in France … or a swordsmith in Japan … slowly, surely, methodically and one small step at a time. We find this is best way to bring ideas to life. If you rush it or cut corners, the end product will reflect it.
What inspires you?
People who create from the heart.
What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?
There are so many … haha.
OK this one is very business oriented. Don’t ever sign anything, no matter how simple it may seem, without some sort of consulting. You might think, “Why do I need to pay X number of dollars to have someone look at this? This is a no-brainer.” But no matter what, it will be worth your investment. You don’t want to lock yourself into something you may regret forever.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
“Hide your money in your books.” — Chris Rock
What was your initial trigger that made you realize that you wanted to make this your career?
The trigger was when someone literally bought the shirt I was wearing off my back. It was a store, too, so they didn’t just want one piece. That’s when I knew I was on to something. But even at that point I didn’t think it was a “career.” I still don’t to this day.
Obviously you have you hand in so many different projects, what is your process in choosing which projects to pursue, and how do you find the time to fit them all in?
Authenticity is really important. The brand should represent some level of realness and pride in what they do. How do I do it all? It’s not easy, but I have a great team. But personally, I work very efficiently (and sleep very little).
Being one of the forefathers when it comes to street wear, what are some of the major differences you see in the game today?
The sad part is that expectations come too quickly for young entrepreneurs. When I started Staple, I had a very organic process to go with. I feel like for whatever reason, young people today who start companies feel a pressure to gain success and growth in a short time … like maybe if it doesn’t work out as they hoped in two years, they give. My mentality? I’ve been doing this for 14 years, and I’m still not getting it right!
Collaboration is the name of the game, what do you say to the critics of design by committee?
Taking a quote from SneakerFreaker.com, “equal parts entrepreneur, store owner, apparel and product designer, blogger and jetsetter extraordinaire.”
What is your secret to find some sort of balance for your life and sanity?
The secret is simple. Take each minute as it comes to you. Don’t put too much weight in the future. Live for right now. The moment. Also don’t harp on the past. Don’t regret mistakes, and don’t rest on laurels. That’s how I make it through everything I do. I think the one big drawback to that is that I have problems remembering things like, “What did you do last New Years?” or “What year did you go to Stockholm?” It’s all a blur to me.
What is one book and one tool that helps you bring ideas to life?
I don’t really have a book that I use to help me.
Man … there are so many tools … The one critical one is probably my MacBook Pro. (13″)
Who would you love to see interviewed on IdeaMensch?
Hmmm … how about Lynsi Martinez for BOTH?! I love me a good protein style. And I think the business is amazing also.