Very few lifestyle boutiques can claim to be truly revolutionary. The Reed Space is one such boutique that can. From its design, to its customer service, to its inherent vibe, the Reed Space still continues to remain true to the ideals originally set forth three years ago by founder, jeffstaple.
In Part I of this two part interview, Reed Space founder jeffstaple takes time out of his exciting world travels in order to provide insight into the Reed Space, both past and present, as well as his thoughts on the overall street wear fashion scene and Nike’s recent marketing mindset.
KATC: First allow me to thank you for taking time out of your hectic schedule to sit down with me, I appreciate it. Letâ€™s delve into some history. Take me back to the time when the idea to create a shop sparked within your head. What was your desire and motivation behind the Reed Space?
JS: I opened up Reed in 2002, but the thinking behind it probably started about two to three years before that. I started Staple as a clothing line back in 97. At first it started out with me hand printing shirts for my friends and giving them away for free. Then we started to get accounts actually buying Staple, the first being Triple 5 Soul on Lafayette, back when they carried other brands. Then came Union, Memes, and then we spread out to Japan. Throughout that time it was like a snowball where we just kept on building on accounts and I had to keep dealing with more and more stores. As we started to spread out, especially into America going west, it became harder to deal with all of these people. Mostly from chasing money, getting paid, bouncing checks; youâ€™d call up two months after an order shipped and ask â€œhowâ€™s Staple doing?â€, and theyâ€™d answer, â€œWe sold out in like the first three days.â€ So Iâ€™m like â€œOk why didnâ€™t you call me and place another order?â€ It just didnâ€™t make sense to me.
JS: The other thing that was very frustrating, in the city at the time there were a lot of good stores but what a lot of people donâ€™t realize is that those stores were flagship stores, so they only sold their own [stuff]. There werenâ€™t that many stores that sold a good variety of stuff. Union was probably one of the best ones. But, at the time what I wasnâ€™t satisfied with Union was that youâ€™d go into the store and youâ€™ve got all these brands on the rack and you are flipping throughâ€¦What I was starting to find was that you would ask someone wearing a Staple shirt where they got that shirt and theyâ€™d answer, â€œUhhh, I donâ€™t know what brand it isâ€¦butâ€¦I got it at Union.â€ So the store was getting all of the props and the brands wouldnâ€™t, which I guess benefits the store.
JS: So I wanted to open a store where its more about the brands than the store. I want people to walk out of the store knowing the brand of the shirt, the designer, the concept, everything, then they could say, â€œoh and I bought it from Reed Space.â€
KATC: Right, I noticed the signs around the shop that offered information regarding the brands…
JS: The thing is, to offer contact information of other brands is a major no no in retail, it doesnâ€™t make sense. Stylists, other buyers, could come in and be like â€œoh [snap] I could contact Und-Crwn and just email them and go directâ€ That doesnâ€™t matter to me, I wanted to open a space that: A. represented the brands well, B. merchandised everything well so that you could tell the differential between each brand, I wanted to feature up and coming brands as well as established brands that were trying to do something better. Case and point Nike SB, Gravis, these guys are big companies that are still trying to do something cool. Then independent guys like the Undr-Crwnâ€™s and 10 Deepâ€™s of the world that are making their mark now. I wanted to have balance.
JS: Coupled with that, it was really important to me to have a community aspect where we would have art shows featuring up and coming designers and artists, and just the whole vibe of the store was important. I didnâ€™t want people to feel intimidated when they walked in. That was a feeling that a lot of people would have when they would walk into some of the other stores. It is almost part of their marketing that you should feel intimidated when you walk in the door. â€œYou can only buy one!â€, â€œNo we donâ€™t have it get out!â€, I wanted to do some [stuff], it was immediate, people were like the â€œthis store is dope, the vibe here is dope, I can ask a question about a brand and you guys will answer it, its awesome.â€ I definitely wanted to keep going with that. So thatâ€™s how Reed Space as born.
KATC: So you felt there was a void left open by the stores at the time?
JS: Well, what they did was good, what they did fulfilled one thing, I just wanted to fulfill something else. There is no knocking what they do, what they do, they do well. I just felt like there was another contingency of people that didnâ€™t like to feel that way.
KATC: Do you think your mindset and the way you handle business at Reed Space has influenced any of the surrounding shops or maybe any up and coming shops at all, to possibly lighten up and focus on the brands?
JS: I donâ€™t know. I have definitely heard that some of the other nameless stores have gotten a lot friendlier. I donâ€™t usually go shopping at all but I have heard that recently these other stores have been super customer service friendly. I donâ€™t know if we had an influence, I am sure there are a lot of other influences, like the bad economy. Its not the way it used to be, you have to earn your dollar now, so it might be that. Ive seen some improvement overall in the environment.
KATC: When you designed/created the physical space, what did you have in mind?
JS: I was influenced by school and the whole concept of, when you come into the Reed Space you are learning something. Reed is actually the name of my High School art teacher. Michael Reed was my art teacher in high school and prior to that I didnâ€™t have any artistic need to express myself. I was sorta like going through school, you know, Iâ€™m Chinese so my parents were like you are either going to be an accountant or a lawyer or a doctor, so I was just going through the motions. Mr. Reed was really the first person to show me that you could make a living doing art.
KATC: So you had no fancy for art prior to meeting Mr. Reed?
JS: I doodled and I had some sketch books, but, I didnâ€™t think that I was going to be an artist or a designer.
KATC: Mr. Reed inspired you artistically or in a business sense?
JS: He inspired me artistically, one, and two, he inspired me by teaching me that communicating to people is a gift. The other teachers I had, I hated. He was the only one that was able to convey ideas. Just the whole idea of not having to be a jerk to get people to do things, you could deal with people on their level, and vibe with them, he taught me that.
JS: He passed away while he was teaching us so that also had a huge influence. So that was the first seed that was planted.
JS: So, I wanted to convey that concept of passing on information, and, there is no better environment for that than school. So there are little details and cues around the store that follow that, like the hardwood floors are dark, our front counter and cash wrap area is elevated so that when you are paying you are looking up like you were a kid, our shelving units are made out of little kids chairs, and our other shelving unit is made out of monkey bars. Then we named the shop the Reed Space so all of that is a friendly and warm type of environment.
KATC: How many different concepts did you have for the design of the space?
JS: We actually had two different ones and it is really really funny, I could show youâ€¦I should show you, actually, just so you know Iâ€™m not lying.
(At this point jeff shows me a rendering of an early concept design of the Reed Space. This early rendering resembled a large, white, pristine, lockeroom bathroom. Complete with wall to wall white tiling.)
JS: This was the only other real concept which was like a bathroom almost, real antiseptic and clean. I was going to do bathroom tiles everywhere floors, walls, and ceilings, 360 degrees. We decided to go against it because it would feel really cold and it would probably be really physically cold. It is funny to see stores coming out that look like this almost to a tee. It is funny how things cycle around.
KATC: What was your thinking behind this concept?
JS: I donâ€™t know maybe it was more logistics? It was easier to clean..
KATC: Now onto what is inside the Reed Space, is there particular reason for stocking the brands that you stock?
JS: No particular reason other than that we vibe with the people and the brand well. Thatâ€™s our only criteria to decide. Many people ask that, but, if we want to rock it and we like it, we will support it. There are a lot of weird brands that we carry that no one else would.
KATC: I also noticed that the Staple brand is mixed in with the rest of the brands as well.
JS: Thatâ€™s definitely a conscious decision. Reed space is its own corporation and I did that on purpose. I did that on purpose because, A., I didnâ€™t want any conflicts of interest, if Reed space is buying a brand, I want that brand to be supported just as much as Staple would be. I wanted that real separation and I didnâ€™t want Staple to get any favoritism. The other reason was I wanted to test the brand, both brands. I wanted Reed Space to succeed based off only its own merits. I wanted to see if these two brands could live on their own without the help of each other. I feel they both clearly can.
KATC: One of the major things that I noticed about the retail space was, although you are known as a sneaker connoisseur, sneakers take up a very small space of the retail area. Is there a reason for that?
JS: Its interesting isnâ€™t it. I never broke it down like that until you mentioned it just now. You are right. It wasnâ€™t a conscious decision, I think its my personal mindset . Sneakers at the end of the day end up being an end product of what I am into. If you think about the things that lead to [the sneakers] it is the things that you are educated by, what you read, what you listen to, what you are absorbing, and that creates your whole persona that then decides what shirt you get, what jacket you get, which kix you get. If itâ€™s not about the music, your lifestyle, your education, then this stuff will completely change. And I never even thought about it like that until you just mentioned it. All of this other stuff is much more important. Itâ€™s almost like if you walked in and you were an Alien, you could educate yourself, but it all starts way before.
KATC: That is interesting because a lot of the newer generation of sneaker consumers really donâ€™t even think about what they are buying, they think sneakers first. You take it back to what actually influences oneâ€™s purchase decision.
JS: Right, plus there are so many sneaker stores in this concentrated area. Nike categorizes retailers, as you know, Tier 0, QS, etc. Reed Space is categorized onto a category all itself which actually confounds the sales people at Nike. They have this spreadsheet where store X is this and so on, but at Reed Space we have our own column. Its called â€œmarket trend leaderâ€. They are like â€œyou are not categorized into any of these columns, they just call you market trend leader and you are the only one on this list thatâ€™s called this.â€ I think its because we donâ€™t have that shoe wall, so we are not really a sneaker store. Its almost like if Nike had a display up at Barnes and Nobles or the MoMa. I think Nike understands that we are hitting something else, not just the sneaker head eBay cat.
KATC: Stepping outside of the shop, what do you think about the overall climate of the marketplace? What is your view of the expansion of sneaker culture and street wear as a whole?
JS: I think it has to end soon, I think itâ€™s inevitable. The street wear fashion game, there are a lot of players now but in 2007 Staple turns 10, there arenâ€™t too many guys around that have been around that long. Its almost like an expansion draft, people are going to eventually fall by the wayside. I think now we get this other surge of new guys coming aboard and more power to them, but, itâ€™s just the law of nature that all of them can not survive, its survival of the fittest.
KATC: Everything is cyclical. Have you ever noticed a boom like this before?
JS: Actually this is very similar to â€™97. There was Staple, 10 Deep, Milk Crate, Double Down, Social Studies, Charismatic, a lot of these old brands that started back then, but, as the years go on everything falls away. And then when you talk about the sneaker game, Nike knows this to, you canâ€™t continue to pump out a limited edition kick every week. Itâ€™s a real problem. When we were growing up, watching those Jordan commercials, the air revolution commercials, the Bo commercials, you would get goose bumps. They were creating a real culture there, a long standing one. Think about the Jordanâ€™s, the Agassiâ€™s, the Trainers, the Maxâ€™s, these are shoes that stood the test of time. Now they are just coming up with one hit wonders in comparison, and they know they know this. That is why they put emphasis on things like the Presto or the Shox, these are the things that will change the course of the company. Thatâ€™s what Air was, thatâ€™s what Jordan was.
JS: The Easter Air Force 1 is not changing the course of the company. Somehow they got caught up in this mindset that either we could try to figure out something, like â€œAirâ€, that will change the course of the company, or, we could come out with 52 variations of the Air Force 1 like the Easter, the Chinese New Year, etc. That will sustain you for a while to, but they know they have to come out with some real substantial stuff.
KATC: Nike, Reebok, Adidas, etc. are obviously huge brands, but, they often reach out to small boutiques and design companies to execute collaborations. How do you think that came about and why?
JS: I think it makes a lot of sense. It comes down to marketing. The marketing guys at these companies are really smart. They said this is our demographic; 16-25, disposable income, want to be different, etc., letâ€™s look at what they are into, letâ€™s look at their whole lifestyle. It just so happens to be that our generation is into the boutique lifestyle, graffiti artists, cool hip-hop music, etc. Letâ€™s just say, by chance, that our demographic really liked Kenny G., you would definitely see a Kenny G. dunk.
KATC: Itâ€™s Coolhunting.
JS: Yes, they are mining our brains.
In the upcoming Part II of this interview, Jeff will further explore the overall street wear scene with his personal thoughts on Bape and BBC, as well as, explain his plans on continuing the Revolution that is the Reed Space.
Click Here for Part II