Jeff Staple, the man who turned sneakers into coveted goods

When the urban footwear trailblazer released Nike sneakers in 2005, the lines to buy them at his New York store ended in riots

Jeff Staples
Designer Jeff Staple in his Manhattan office.VICTOR LLORENTE; Victor Llorente

For anyone who has been around streetwear, the shoe craze or urban culture, the name Jeff Staple, 45, is a legend. He is responsible for taking something that started on the streets of New York and Los Angeles and provided a sense of identity for some young people in certain neighborhoods and turning it into a global phenomenon that generates billions of dollars every year and shows no signs of slowing down.

“I don’t know if I’m guilty, but it’s an honor to be part of that list,” the New Jersey-born designer says via video call. He ascended to the Mount Olympus of sneaker lovers when, 18 years ago, he created the Pidgeon, the sneakers with which Nike paid tribute to New York. On February 22, 2005, riots broke out at his Orchard Street store when hundreds of kids eager to get their hands on a pair ran into gang members who were trying to steal them. The story ended with police intervention, along with a legendary cover story the next day in the New York Post with the headline: “Shoe Madness.”

“The fact that we’re still talking about it after so many years and that still everyone is asking me about it is a clear sign of its relevance. Of course, I didn’t know what was going to happen,” says Staple. “It’s like that band’s asked to play the same hit over and over; I don’t mind if they ask me to play it again. The secret for that craziness? I think it was the right time. It was also by chance that a reporter from the New York Post lived on the same street and that’s why it went from the street to the mainstream: if it wasn’t for that journalist, maybe it never would have left the street.”

Jeff Staple
A Staple doll aboard Nikes, in his office.VICTOR LLORENTE; Victor Llorente

Staple became one of the most sought-after names in the fledgling streetwear industry, limited editions flooded the planet and if someone wants to get their hands on a pair of Pidgeon’s today, they’ll have to shell out a minimum of €40,000 (about $43,800). “Everything has changed, but in a way, and beside the disaster of the pandemic, I think the ones who are in the business and survived, left that place with a bunch of new ideas and a new perspective. Years ago, if you’d have asked me about the streetwear and the sneaker world, I’d say the golden age was behind us, but now I’m looking forward to seeing what we’re capable to achieve in the future,” he says.

New Balance, The North Face, Timberland, Coca-Cola, Beats by Dre, Puma and Clarks have all collaborated with Staple, who has always claimed the roots of his culture (“in my high school there were 1,600 students and only three were Asian”) and has an obsession with trying to absorb everything: “New York graffiti artists have this expression ‘all-city.’ It means to leave your mark in all boroughs, in every subway line, from Staten Island to the Bronx. I like very much that philosophy: being everywhere,” says Staple, who has become a global brand. He is celebrating that accomplishment with the publication of a book called Jeff Staple: Not Just Sneakers (Rizzoli). In it, he compiles the good (and bad) moments of his memorable career. “Maybe it sounds naïve, but I’m very proud to have come this far,” he says.

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