PUMA teamed up with streetwear brand and long-time collaborator STAPLE, to introduce a collection of footwear and apparel inspired by Gidra, an Asian-American student-run newspaper created in response to anti-Asian sentiment in 1969.
Each piece in the collection reflects the intention and art style of the original publication’s design elements and references the Godzilla-inspired King Terror Pack from PUMA’s archives.
WE CAUGHT UP WITH JEFF STAPLE ABOUT HIS LATEST COLLECTIONS, HIS INSPIRATION, AND HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH PUMA.
YMZ: What are you passionate about in the fashion and footwear industries?
Jeff: Right now, I am really inspired by people who are doing custom and DIY work. People trying to create something one of a kind and bespoke. Like taking an exacto blade and glue and putting stuff together by stitching things or using prints. I'm really inspired by that as it takes me back to my early days of starting my brand.
YMZ: When you started in this business, what did you want to achieve?
Jeff: I didn't have any aspirations to try to have a business, a brand or be globally known. I was just trying to make stuff and express myself through the medium of t-shirts or like painting on sneakers. My goals were very simple and any success that came, came organically.
YMZ: How has the fashion and footwear industry evolved through the years?
Jeff: There’s been massive growth. When I started out in the mid-90s, people really only wore sneakers as sporting equipment. You would buy your shoes to play sports at a sporting goods store. There was no such thing as a sneaker boutique. When you wore out a pair, you would throw them in the trash and buy a new pair. That was the industry. A handful of people in the mid-90s started to use sneakers as a form of expression in fashion, but this was so rare. For example, there were 1,600 kids at my high school, but only three into sneakers as a fashion item. I was one of them. Now your mom and dad are probably into collecting shoes. Even your grandparents probably understand that sneakers aren't just sporting equipment, but a piece of fashion they can use to express themselves. So the subculture has exploded over the last few years.
"A HANDFUL OF PEOPLE IN THE MID-90S STARTED TO USE SNEAKERS AS A FORM OF EXPRESSION IN FASHION, BUT THIS WAS SO RARE."
YMZ: How have you managed to keep the STAPLE brand connected to the culture for so long?
Jeff: I'm not sure. I mean, maybe it has something to do with the fact that I wasn't trying to make something huge out of this or connect to a culture. I'd like to think I was the culture. Maybe that's what it is. Maybe I was trying to create the culture without even knowing it. There was no culture, right? Like if street culture wasn't a thing, then street wear wasn't a thing. I was blazing the trail and making up the rules as I went along. I tried not to shift from that ambition because there were a lot of other brands back then. Well, not a lot, but maybe like 20 brands back then that were also in the same position of being pioneers and sort of carving out the definition of what street culture is. A lot of them aren't around anymore. So I think maybe the founders had different objectives in life or they retired. Maybe their businesses got so big they lost sight of what was important. Maybe those are some of the reasons Staple has been around for so long, still innovating and just doing its thing.
YMZ: Is there a "dream" collaboration still buzzing in your mind?
Jeff: Yeah, I would love to do something officially with NASA. I think that'd be really cool as I grew up wanting to be an astronaut. It would be awesome to do an official one where it involved the spacecraft, space travel, astronaut suits with merch and everything. Incorporating education and experience, that'd be amazing.
YMZ: When did your collaboration with PUMA begin, and how did that come about?
Jeff: PUMA and Staple have been partners for decades. The first collaboration was a PUMA Suede that was a Made In Japan edition. It was probably 2001. Since then, we've collaborated on closer to 25 or 30 different styles. It's been awesome as PUMA is one of the most iconic brands in the footwear industry and we have a great working relationship.
YMZ: Are there criteria you follow when choosing to collab with brands?
Jeff: Yeah, definitely. We don't say yes to everybody. It has to make sense from different standpoints. Ideally, it's a brand that means something to footwear. PUMA's a great example of meaning something to sport, but also hip-hop culture. Another brand we collaborate with, Cole Haan, is a brand that means something in the workspace in terms of bringing comfort to dress shoes. Another brand we've collaborated with, All birds, if you look at what they do from a sustainability standpoint, it all relates. So it doesn't matter how old or young the brand is, it's about what the brand represents to the culture and then making sure we can offer some sort of an addition. I always want collaborations to be one plus one equals three, at least. If not equals 10. It doesn't make sense if it's just one plus one equals two. Just slapping two logos together to create something that either brand could have done on their own. I want to be able to push the envelope and advance not only my brand, but help advance the brand that we decide to collaborate with.
YMZ: What was the process like putting together the first drop, and how did it differ when approaching this second drop?
Jeff: Everything that we've been trying to do through the lens of PUMA has been to raise awareness for Asian ancestry, Asian culture and Asian awareness. We try to make product that is first and foremost visually really dope and that anybody, regardless of gender, race, or ethnicity would want to put on their feet and rock, right? That's the number one goal. I believe that if you make product that tries to tell a story but sacrifices design, then you've lost. It’s great that you've made something that tells a great story, but if nobody actually wants to buy it, wear it or share the story with other people, then what? So I think the most important thing is for the product to ring true to what it means to be a sneaker, which is to wear and rock it and hopefully snap some necks with it. Secondly, combining that with messaging makes it deeper than just the colourway or just another collab. That's been the aim with everything that we put out with PUMA. Since 2020, the year of Covid, seeing how the global pandemic particularly affected Asian folks who were often victimized and seen as the people to blame. Everything that we do tries to draw awareness of that.
YMZ: How is this new collection different from previous Staple collaborations?
Jeff: Raising awareness for AAPI is very important for this one. We've done that a couple of times but we got to tell a much deeper story this time by bringing an official publication from the sixties called Gidra into the mix as almost like a three-way collaboration. A lot of people in modern day era don't know Gidra. Thankfully, we were able to get in touch with one of the co-founders, Mike Murase, to create content that tells the story of why Gidra was born. That was an incredible way to elevate our relationship with PUMA and tell a deeper story rooted in authentic history.
YMZ: Can we look forward to more work with the PUMA brand?
Jeff: Absolutely! We are going to continue to work together, and we have some really cool stuff coming within this year and the next. We're going to continue to work together for as long as I'm around, because of how much I respect the PUMA brand.
"WE ARE GOING TO CONTINUE TO WORK TOGETHER, AND WE HAVE SOME REALLY COOL STUFF COMING WITHIN THIS YEAR AND THE NEXT."
THE PUMA X STAPLE “GIDRA” COLLECTION IS AVAILABLE ON PUMA.COM, PUMA RETAIL STORES, SHELFLIFE, AND ARCHIVE.