Jeff Staple Reveals the Steps Critical to Delivering a Must-Have Collaboration

For 25 years, Staple founder Jeff Staple has worked with some of the biggest names in footwear and beyond — and learned countless lessons along the way. With that rich experience, the in-demand designer wants to share his wisdom with others in the industry and newcomers looking to get their start. Here are some of his rules for collaboration.

1. Choose your partners wisely

“The vetting process can sometimes take years. Nothing dies on the internet. If I collaborate with so and so, it’s going to live for the legacy of my entire life and brand. You can’t delete the existence of that collaboration, so I spend a lot of time in that vetting process.”

2. Don’t rush into relationships

“A lot of people meet at a trade show or over a DM. I get DMs where people are like, ‘Yo, let’s collaborate,’ and I’m like, ‘We don’t know each other. Maybe in the future, but no, not right now.’ The generation that I’m from is much more like, let’s meet, let’s share my idea and your idea — not even for collaboration, but, what’s your idea for yourself? What’s my idea for my brand? And let’s see if they gel or not.”

3. Curate your time and resources

“I used to DJ back in the day with vinyl records. When you DJ with vinyl, you might have 10,000 records at home but you can’t bring them all, so you have to vet which ones are going in the bag with you. Then when you go to the club, you have to actually select which ones are getting played and in what order. If you think about that in a collaboration, I meet hundreds of people in a given year who are possible collaboration partners. Which ones are getting selected and in what order? It’s really curation. Don’t offer yourself to everyone. Who is the right fit for you? After that, it’s who should you do something with? And when? And in what order?”

4. Elevate the design

“Things should be well designed, and I think too much today, a collaboration needs to happen so quickly and so often. Look at the Tumi collaboration we just dropped. I could have a two-hour conversation with the creative director of Tumi talking about all the design details that went into this collaboration. You look at other collaborations and it’s like logo x logo, white silkscreen on a black T-shirt. The idea of a collaboration — the word collaboration — has been bastardized a bit, and I think there should be more thought put into the design of it. Give yourself and the other side the time. Don’t rush into it, don’t just slap two logos together and call it a collaboration. We’ve got enough of those in the world.”

5. Show some loyalty

“If I’m going to do the Tumi collaboration, I’m not going to do Porter the next week. Give enough time for projects to breathe, so the partner on the other side of the table doesn’t feel like they’re yesterday’s news. I do a lot of footwear, but there’s still a lot of spacing in between. For footwear, if I had to make an artist statement on all the shoes that I collaborated on, it’s more about my love for the entire culture. Even though there are obviously dominant players, I have love for the entire culture more than I have love for a single brand. But I will never step on the toes of another project.”

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