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How the protest movement inspired streetwear legend Jeff Staple to branch out

Staple Design Studio will now be called Reed Art Department and will work not only with brands such as Sprite but also on behalf of social justice causes.

How the protest movement inspired streetwear legend Jeff Staple to branch out
[Photo: Santiago Felipe/Getty Images; rawpixel]

Back in 1997, Jeff Staple made a T-shirt in silkscreening class during his sophomore year at Parsons School of Design in New York City. As the legend goes, he walked into a boutique wearing the shirt and unintentionally walked out with an order for 12 others like it. That triggered a cascade of events that saw him drop out of school to start Staple Design Studio, launch his own streetwear line called Staple Pigeon, and by 2001, open his first retail store in New York called Reed Space.

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In 2005, Staple landed in the sneaker hall of fame for his Nike collaboration, the Staple Pigeon Dunk SB, currently available on Stock X for more than $23,300.

Now the designer and marketer is rebranding Staple Design Studio as Reed Art Department, aimed at making a clear distinction between the agency—which has worked with brands such as Nike, Kia, Beats by Dre, Sprite, and Shake Shack—and his own brand, as well as help point the way forward for his future creative marketing work.

“I wanted to have a clear separation and delineation of those businesses, and this is actually the first, formal announcement of our creative studio,” says Staple. “We’ve worked with many brands over the last two decades, but it has all been through networking and word-of-mouth. A lot of the work we do and are known for doing is based on knowing what youth culture is all about. It’s about being authentic to what they want, what they’re looking for, and then helping be the translator for companies that want to attract that audience.”

[Photo: courtesy of Reed Art Department]
Recent projects include a Sprite-branded apparel collection, designing the eSports Overwatch League kits, and a collaboration with Shake Shack and Uber Eats. There’s also the fundraising drive for Black Lives Matter-related causes. Staple tapped fellow designers and friends Hiroshi Fujiwara of Fragment Design and Futura2000 to donate rare sneakers and collectibles; fans could buy a limited edition “Black Lives Matter” T-shirt to enter to win.

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Our path towards helping to fight racism is a two-prong plan: 1. Short-Term. Immediate. Impactful. 2. Long-Term. Persistent. Committed. We will announce our long term plans in the coming weeks. Here’s what we’re doing right now. We have teamed up for a triple OG collection of items from our friends, Hiroshi Fujiwara/Fragment (@fujiwarahiroshi) & Futura2000 (@futuradosmil). BLACK CULTURE has inspired & supported Hiroshi, Lenny & Staple since day one. We stand in solidarity with the fight for justice & equality, & hope this action plants the seeds for the next generation of Black Leaders in our community. • To raise funds & awareness for the cause, we are organizing a charity raffle & launching a special “BLACK LIVES MATTER” tee created by Futura2000. It will be available for presale for only 48 hours starting Wed June 10th 1pm EST. 100% of the proceeds will be shared between the ACLU (@aclu_nationwide), EJI (@eji_org) & Art Start (@artstartorg). • From Hiroshi Fujiwara: A personal pair of Fragment x Nike Air Jordan 1s. (Size 11.5) From Futura: The FL-001 Pointman Figure from his Generation Z Exhibition in Tokyo. Only 6 pieces have ever been publicly available. From Staple (@staplepigeon): A 3-Pack of Grails – The Lasered Nike SB Panda Pigeon Dunk in the Limited Edition Bamboo Box. The Sabotage (@mr_sabotage) x Staple “Pigeon Fury” AF1. And a never before released 1 of 1 Black Pigeon Dunk High made by Garrixon Studios (@garrixonstudio). (All Size 10) • Here’s how it works: Every dollar you donate counts as one “raffle ticket” towards winning your item of choice. A $5 minimum donation = 5 raffle tickets. A $100 donation = 100 raffle tickets. A $500 donation = 500 raffle tickets, etc. The tee is $40 & purchasing one tee represents 40 raffle tickets. When checking out, you can indicate which item you’d like to receive if chosen. There will be 3 winners chosen, one for each prize. If you don’t want any of the items, you can still donate & 100% of that will go to the orgs mentioned above. Or please consider donating directly to an organization of your choice. Thank you for your support. Stay informed. Stay smart. And stay safe. PEACE! ???? #BlackLivesMatter

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“In 48 hours we raised $250,000 for the ACLU, Equal Justice Initiative, and Art Start,” says Staple. “To me that’s the perfect example of taking what commercialism and marketing taught us and giving it back. And I want to do a lot more of that.”

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Part of the agency’s evolution involves branching out beyond just its commercial work. Staple says recent events such as the Black Lives Matter protests have inspired him to put more of his money and time where his mouth is. The agency rebrand process began back in September 2019, but between COVID-19 and the anti-racism protest movement, they had to decide whether to hold off or not.

“Many companies wouldn’t choose this time to do something aggressive like a rebrand, most want to lay in the weeds for a minute and wait for the storm to pass,” says Staple.”We said let’s go for it. And there were things we wanted to do in the past that—and I hate to say this—we just hadn’t got around to it. Things that went beyond marketing and churning the consumerist engine, but giving back to the community. One thing protests do is light fires under asses like mine, and say it’s time to get up and do something.”

[Photo: courtesy of Reed Art Department]
The newfound motivation has inspired two initiatives, launching later this week. The first is One for Equality, a call to companies to make a financial commitment to organizations fighting for and supporting racial equality. Second, Staple is launching a $125,000 scholarship fund at Parsons for students from marginalized neighborhoods.

“I firmly believe that art and design are one of the most effective ways to break down color lines,” says Staples. “I’ve seen it with myself and my friends. If you’re on stage with a band, or painting graffiti, a person’s color doesn’t matter. That’s what I’m trying to pass on.”

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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