Jeff Staple of Staple Design talks current retail strategies and themes like the hyper-local and gender-fluid that had their origins in streetwear—and also explains why "vintage curation" will be retail's next wave

PSFK: What are some of the most popular strategies typical of streetwear retail that you see more traditional, heritage, or luxury names embracing?

Jeff: Going season-less and moving towards the drop method is probably number one. I think the whole movement towards gender fluidity has roots in streetwear as well. Streetwear brands that tried to create products specifically catered to women always struggled. Women in streetwear and sneaker culture were tired of the “shrink it and pink it” methodology.

And last but not least, the term “lifestyle retail” came straight from street culture. When I founded Reed Space in 2001, there weren’t stores that had shoes, clothes, books, music AND art. People were literally so confused walking into our store. Fast forward five years and you see mega retailers like Urban Outfitters, Virgin and Victoria’s Secret following our cues.

kusumadjaja. Courtesy Staple Design

What do you think is driving the popularity of these methods beyond the streetwear world? 

I think social media has a ton to do with it. In the past, print magazines that came out periodically dictated what was hot and what was not. Retailers would then follow suit. And consumers would listen obediently. The world was at peace haha.

But now, a single post can disrupt everything. A single verse from the right musician can kill off an entire brand. So the velocity at which retailers must adapt had to catch up. They could no longer wait for the Vogue “September Issue” or New York Fashion Week to see what was hot. It was blatantly obvious down to the exact number of “likes.” Retailers who wanted to innovate had to control their own destiny—or potentially die.

Beyond merchandise, how do these strategies apply to content? How do you see content & commerce interrelating, and how would you advise a brand to leverage them?

Brands who want to get into brick & mortar retail need to re-train their brains to think of retail as a MEDIA BUY. It’s a pure marketing play that at best will be zero cost to you. If you treat it as a separate business unit, that is dependent on its own P+L, it won’t sustain. It will die because the finance department demands it so. And then by shuttering a store 12-24 months after you open it, it will actually do the brand equity a disservice.

Is there any particular brand you think is a pro at this?

I really admire what the watch aficionados at HODINKEE are doing. Their integration of editorial storytelling, online retail and IRL experiences is top-notch. A lot can be learned from them even if you never wear a timepiece on your wrist.

Why do you think streetwear retail is so successful with key elements like engagement, community and storytelling?

Streetwear retail has traditionally always been limited in our ability to amplify stories: limited resources, limited funds, limited access—i.e., can’t afford shit and no one would bother listening to us. So from the start, we had to learn to be scrappy and essentially “elbow” our way INTO the conversation. That means thinking hyper-locally. Do things that matter to the 100 right people versus worry about being meaningless to 1 million people.

kusumadjaja. Courtesy Staple Design

Finally, what retail strategies do you see emerging right now? What can we expect more of in 2020?

The hot trend now is “The Museums of… ” and Festivals and Cons [short for conferences]. They’re super hot, but I am already sensing onset fatigue both from the consumers and the brands exhibiting. It’s not a very scalable model because of the amount of effort and manpower required to pull off just two-three days.

I am still very invested in the idea of highly curated retail experiences like Dover Street Market, Colette, GR8 and others. But these are also difficult to scale because they are highly dependent on the eye and curation of an individual expert or visionary. I also think “vintage curation” will be the future of retail—a combination of a highly-curated visionary selecting goods and services that don’t actually add anything to the planet. Brands like Reformation, Atelier & Repairs, Round Two, & Pass The Baton in Tokyo are on the cutting edge of this.

Staple Design

For more from Jeff, come see him take the stage at Anomaly's upcoming panel, Buying Into The Hype!

Lead image: Erick Hercules. Courtesy Staple Design

PSFK: What are some of the most popular strategies typical of streetwear retail that you see more traditional, heritage, or luxury names embracing?

Jeff: Going season-less and moving towards the drop method is probably number one. I think the whole movement towards gender fluidity has roots in streetwear as well. Streetwear brands that tried to create products specifically catered to women always struggled. Women in streetwear and sneaker culture were tired of the “shrink it and pink it” methodology.