Jeff Staple on Making His First Book, “Jeff Staple: Not Just Sneakers”

Published by Rizzoli, this monograph doubles as a treasure trove of archival design and a guidebook to how it's done

In the world of streetwear and sneakers, Jeff Staple (aka Jeff Ng) is a man who needs no introduction. Founder and designer of the pioneering clothing brand STAPLE, founder of the creative agency Reed Art Department (RAD) and the brains behind the iconic Nike Pigeon Dunk SB, the multi-hyphenate’s spirit, style and story have shaped footwear and fashion into what it is today. Now, on the 25th anniversary of his clothing brand, Staple is releasing Jeff Staple: Not Just Sneakers, his first book to reveal the origins and archives of his fashion line and numerous collaborations.

The hardcover, trim-size tome—released by renowned New York publishers Rizzoli—reveals the grit and determination that catapulted Staple from his humble beginnings in New Jersey to a globally renowned brand. Featuring contributions by musician, producer and designer Hiroshi Fujiwara and New York artist Futura, the nearly 300-page book is as much a treasure trove of design context and streetwear references as it is a reminder that ideas once considered too eccentric can become coveted calling cards.

“The book happened because people have asked me to write books probably the last decade now, and I’ve always been grappling with whether I should write a manuscript, paperback, how-to, how-I-did-it-type book or a here’s-beautiful-pretty-pictures-of-what-I’ve-done-type book,” Staple tells COOL HUNTING. “I’ve even met with literary agents and different publishers about it, and I just never pulled a trigger on it. Also because I feel like in some weird way—and this is totally not true, this is just in my own head—but I feel like writing a book is like saying you’re done. It’s almost like a  greatest hits album. I don’t want to make a greatest hits album; I’m not done making albums yet.”

It was within the process of writing the foreword for Fujiwara’s book (which is also published by Rizzoli) that Staple began to become enthralled with the writing process. From there, the form and feel of Not Just Sneakers began to take shape.

Jeff Staple: Not Just Sneakers by Jeff Staple © Rizzoli New York, 2022.

“I didn’t want to make a catalog,” he continues, “like ‘Here’s all the pretty things I made.’ That would be so dissatisfying to me, because that’s just hanging the carrot in front of the kid but not telling them how you grew the carrot. So I wanted to make a book that showed a little bit of the carrot but also the backstory of how these things were made and, even preceding that, go into the backstory of who I was when there wasn’t even a glimmer or a chance in hell that I could even work on these projects.”

The beginning of the book showcases Staple’s origins, from being financially constrained and having to juggle multiple jobs to discovering graphic design by working as a data entry clerk at a publishing company. Each page is filled with journal entries or early sketches, testaments to how Staple never stopped dreaming. “When you’re 16, you have all these sketchbooks and journal entries, but you have no idea how they could actually apply to a career or the real world. When you look at that chapter of the book, which talks about pre-STAPLE, it goes all the way back to elementary school. You might be like, ‘Holy cow, this person was and is as random as my head is—look at what they’ve been able to create out of this.'”

The next two sections of the book cover the making of STAPLE and RAD, including the famed story of how Staple walked into a boutique in New York wearing a shirt he silk-screened and then walked out with orders for more. These chapters give insight on retail, service and presentation, whereas the following focuses on the founder’s many collaborations.

That chapter, he tells us, “is organized beautifully, alphabetically from A to Z with almost all of the collaborators that we’ve worked with in the past. Then, in the back of the book, there’s this beautiful appendix. We had an editor reach out to all these different peers and luminaries and notable figures in the industry, and it’s almost like a high-school yearbook where you write your thoughts on the back. They gave their thoughts on the brand, myself and how we’ve worked together. It’s this incredible collection of amazing people I’ve crossed paths with.”

The monograph—available as the book only or as a deluxe edition which comes with additional interviews and a limited edition shirt—is a visual playbook of the pioneering brand and founder, as well as an inspirational guide to continue dreaming and designing no matter how slim the odds of making it may seem.

Images courtesy of Rizzoli