A few week back on his second trip to China this year, Maosuit caught up with Jeff Staple – a global purveyor of cool and Founder of New York’s Staple Design and Reed Space to speak about the street wear scene in China and collaborations.
Below are excerpts from both Maosuit’s interview with Jeff and his Q&A during the Young Bloods Relay Fashion Talk.
What is the perception of China in the American brand community?
Right now, China feels like a minestrone soup of Western culture – it’s all mixed up and a bit mad.
Most Americans know that China isn’t a backwards country anymore; in fact many see China as the jackpot for making money. But Americans might not know how cool some bits of China have become. Even I was surprised at the cool things I saw while walking around the 798 Art Zone and Nanluoguxiang Alley.
Around the world Japanese brands are already very established, Korea is also on the rise with brands like Samsung, LG and KIA becoming household names. But China is still just known as the manufacturer and copier of everything.
When Japanese ‘copy’ or duplicate something the do so with a reverence which pays homage to the original brand or product. They maintain respect for the original and even take it to the next level. In China they don’t do that at all.
Why have you chosen this year to visit China?
I want to see if the current gold rush (for brands) in China is real. Five years ago I was here and considered opening something with Nike in the 798 Art Zone just before the Olympics. In the end I’m glad I didn’t open back then because the timing wasn’t right and the area didn’t develop in the right way (for what I was doing).
What are the essential elements for collaborations between brands and designers? And how do they happen?
Sometimes two companies do collaboration just for financial reasons but this isn’t the best way. The most important thing is equal respect between the brand and the artist. If the collaboration is born out of mutual respect than it will lead to money naturally.
Collaborations always happen organically and usually people come to us first. We have lunch or dinner and if we like each other we proceed to do something, although sometimes it takes a lot of lunches and getting to know each other before we actually do the collaboration.
Then you need to decide what each side wants form the collaboration. If you don’t define a clear goal and mission at the beginning it will become confused at the end.
It’s also best to find something each side has in common to talk about. For our collaboration with Oakley they were celebrating their 35th anniversary and I was also turning 35 years old so that worked well and became our mutual story.
What are the best ways a designer can promote his/her own brand?
Over the last 15 years I did many different things to promote the brand. In beginning I used postcards, magazines and flyers. Today I use twitter and Instagram etc. In 10 years it will be something new again.
The most important thing isn’t the way of promoting the brand, its what the brand means. Some brands spend millions on PR and marketing but the brand isn’t so great. If you have a great brand you don’t even need to advertise.
Do you do the production and promoting for collaborations or only the design?
As an artist and creator you need to think about everything. How it’s sold, marketed and packaged etc. The one thing you don’t think about will be the one thing that pisses you off later. So before you even make it, you should know the A to Z of how everything will happen and where it will be sold etc.
Do you have any advice for young Chinese designers?
For collaborations, sometime the other side aren’t honest about what they want and just hope to make money. This is why I do lots of dinners with them before even starting. In a 30 minute meeting people can easily bullshit you, but across a three hour dinner that’s much harder.
It seems that right now Chinese youth are scarred to try something new. 15 to 20 years ago in New York no one was doing street wear so it was scary for me too. But when everybody is scared to try something it also means there will be no competition.
So if you’re brave enough to try, maybe you will stand out and be noticed.
Concentrate of the brand and don’t worry about marketing. My first10 years were all about quality and building the brand, not marketing.
Another trouble for young creative people is that they want to do everything themselves, but you need help with accounting, marketing and running a business. We creatives don’t usually trust others to help us so want to do everything ourselves, but its impossible because you only have 7 days in a week and 24 hours in a day. Therefore the challenge is to trust others and build a team that is vital to growing a brand.