The 35-year-old founder and creative director of Staple Design is also owner of the Reed Space boutiques; a teacher at Columbia University, New York University and Parsons School of Design; and a sneaker connoisseur who has worked with Nike to design the legendary Pigeon Dunk. So it makes sense that when he does get a chance to kick up his feet at home, he’s accompanied by hundreds of shoe boxes that are stacked on industrial shelving units in his Manhattan apartment.
“People who collect sneakers, we’re only one step away from people on the A&E show ‘Hoarders,’” said Staple, aka Jeff Ng.
The designer, who has been collecting since the sixth grade, doesn’t lack in the organization department, cataloging each of his shoe boxes with a 2-by-3-inch Polaroid picture of the contents inside. And though he’s amassed a collection of more than 400 pairs, Staple said this isn’t his first. He recalled dumping 200 of his favorite sneakers into a Salvation Army box in 1998.
“I was dead set on moving to Tokyo, and apartments in Tokyo are about a sixth the size as those here, so they only fit about three shoes” Staple said. “It was a full catharsis, but of course, after I dumped the sneakers I realized I wasn’t moving to Tokyo. I went back to the Salvation Army and asked if anyone dumped off 200 shoes and of course they were gone. So I started from one again.”
Pairs owned: “Around 450 total. [They’re organized by] ‘less worn,’ ‘more worn’ and ‘what I’m wearing for the week.’”
Brands owned: Adidas, Brooks, Clae, Common Projects, Converse, Jordan, New Balance, Nike, Pro-Keds, Reebok, Terra Plana, Timberland, Undercover, Visvim, White Mountaineering, among others
On building a second sneaker collection: “I started back up again with the Nike Prestos [in 1998]. At that time I was working at Paragon Sports, so I had an in, and I was buying them like T-shirts. I bought every color that came out. That’s when the bug bit me again, and it started to build from there.”
How many pairs bought: “I would say 40 percent [of my shoes] I’ve bought; 60 percent were somehow brought to me. I wore one pair of Pro-Keds once. It just so happened the day I was wearing them, I was crossing the street and the brand manager for Pro-Keds saw me. He was like, ‘I thought you only wear Nikes!’ Next day, every single color showed up. This is why even if I say I’m going to stop [buying shoes], it doesn’t stop.”
Best workout shoe: “I’ve been working out a lot in the Nike Free shoes. It’s as close to barefoot as you can get when working out.”
Favorite shoe-shopping spots: “The footwear boutiques used to be a place where you could get really exclusive stuff. Now a lot of companies have globalized their limited editions, so the same thing you get here is the same stuff you get in Tokyo. So I’ll go to the Modell’s of Tokyo: ABC Mart.”
Wearing at the moment: “My Visvims that I picked up in Australia. I find picking up Japanese streetwear brands is a lot easier overseas than in Japan because the Japanese fiend for it. I’ve also been pulling out my white New Balance Pigeons. These are great warm-weather shoes. When it turns 70 [degrees], these just feel like the right shoe. They’re very fresh.”
Organization strategy: Industrial kitchen shelving. “I used to just stack them, but then [the sneaker box at the bottom] got crushed.”
Shoe-buying philosophy: “I don’t consider myself a collector; I consider myself a user. I’m the type of person who needs to buy it and wear it to understand it.”
Personal style: “Nowadays, everyone is wearing something [that is] limited edition. Wearing something in-line makes you stand out. If you look at the shoes I have in my rotation, there’s nothing outstanding about them at all. They are special, but only I would necessarily know that they are.”
Wearing his own designs: “I don’t wear my Nike Pigeons. It’s too much. It’s like Karl Lagerfeld wearing a T-shirt with his own photo on it. It’s not necessary. I just got one pair because there were only 150. I knew they were scarce and I wanted kids to be able to have them.”
Rare pairs: Vintage Nike Air Alpha and Nike Air Base
Travel shoes: “I used to be obsessive and bring a shoe for every day that I’m traveling — I’d have a suitcase just for sneakers. But I realized that every time I went to a city, I’d pick up three or four pairs. Now I just bring the ones I wear on my feet. I know I’m going to buy a few.”
Shoes I don’t own: “There’s a couple of Converses that I’ve been wanting and I can’t find. I rarely ask people that I work with to hook me up with shoes, but this time I did. He said he would send them, but I haven’t gotten them.”
How many shoes per year: “There will be times when I get 10 in one shot. It’s maybe 50 a year.”
Buying habits: “A couple years ago, I would take more time to figure whether I wanted to buy a shoe or not. Now, I’ll buy a shoe because I know I’ll be able to gain something from it — reference, inspiration or something. I just get it while I can get it. I don’t necessarily need to wear it.”
Shopping for shoes overseas: “I can’t even think of a place where I buy shoes in New York, mostly because I’m too busy to go shopping. It’s when I’m overseas that I have a day of downtime when I can go. I often buy things overseas that I could easily find on Orchard Street [in New York]. It could be anywhere; it could be a vintage shop or a Foot Locker store; or it could be a boutique. It really doesn’t matter to me.”
The sneaker culture: “I think sneaker culture will last because since I was six years old, there’s been a sneaker culture. It’s definitely ballooned. Now there are investment bankers that buy sneakers on the weekend instead of cigars. Those people will go away, but there’s always going to be an underlying core.”