Street Style Pioneer Jeff Staple on the Future of the Sneaker Sharing Economy

Jeff Staple in black and white
Courtesy of Heather Sten

As soon as the designer Jeff Staple joined Kyx, a new online sneaker rental service, as creative director, he experienced what he describes as “an eye-opener.”

Kyx allows members to rent a pair of hard-to-get sneakers, wear them as they please, then return them for another user to rent. You can also pay a slight premium for the option to rent only brand-new, never-before-worn shoes. “You flip a switch on your preferences and it only shows you first-time shoes only,” Staple, born Jeff Ng, told W over Zoom. “Out of over a thousand subscribers, less than 15 percent flipped the ‘new sneakers only’ switch. Eighty-five plus percent were like, ‘I’m cool to wear it if it’s been cleaned and sanitized.’ I thought it was going to completely be the other way around.”

But Staple, whose Nike “Pigeon Dunks” were the stuff of legend when they dropped in 2005 (and can currently be purchased on resale sites for no less than $50,000 a pop), came to realize that Kyx, both as a concept and a utility, could be useful not only for diehard sneakerheads, but for anyone interested in a sustainable approach to wearing sneakers.

Plus, the brand has expansion plans on deck—soon, they’ll be offering sneaker package edits from big-name shoe buffs. In Staple’s Style Notes interview, the sneaker aficionado discusses the concept of an Airbnb for shoes, shares his childhood style inspirations (Boyz II Men, chambray shirts, and Marithé + François Girbaud), and why he’ll never put Jibbitz on his Crocs.

What was your initial reaction to the idea of Kyx when the co-founder Brian Mupo reached out to you about it?

Brian hit me up about it almost a year ago, and I was pretty skeptical of it, to be honest. My knee-jerk reaction, being an old-school sneakerhead, is I wouldn’t really want to wear other people’s shoes. But as I started to learn more about the business, I realized more and more that the culture is evolving. I also come from an age where I thought it was not cool to buy from resale. If you couldn’t get it from a store, or if you didn’t have a plug, then you just had to live with the L. Then resale took over our whole culture—between the StockXs and the Stadium Goods and the GOATs of the world—to the point where now, I see younger generations actually wearing secondhand shoes as a badge of honor. It’s also happening in music, movies, in cars that you drive with Turo, and homes that you live in with Airbnb. This idea of a sharing economy is happening naturally in all of our lives, down to our beds and our pillows, where we sleep at night. So why wouldn’t it happen in footwear eventually?

Courtesy Kyx

Sneaker resale is an enormous economy all its own that’s existed for years. How does Kyx stand out or differentiate itself as a newcomer from other sneaker resale sites?

Kyx is taking what’s been happening with the vintage resale market, like your Crossroads or Buffalo Exchange or Tokio Seven, where you can dig and find gems, and it’s taking what’s happening with The RealReal and Rent the Runway—the more luxury side of the market—and applying it to sneakers and really hard-to-get shoes. I give credit to Brian because he realized that his purchase habits—buying a pair of sneakers, wearing them for two months, then selling them back to a StockX or a GOAT when the next hot shoe came out—was essentially renting shoes. He’s like, “I am renting shoes, I’m just paying full premium for them, and so are all of these other people. Why don’t we create this business model that is the actual act of renting shoes?” We’re just making that process more efficient now, and healthier for the environment, so you’re not sitting on thousands of pairs of shoes.

Onto the Style Notes questions. What’s your go-to shoe for a day off?

It changes all the time, but right now, I’m going to say Crocs. The Tokyo shop Beams has been doing these collaborations with Crocs that are amazing. They’re camp—as in actual hiking, camping. They have all these utility straps and carabiners, and instead of Jibbitz, they’re covered in little satchels that you can store stuff in.

I was going to ask if you wear Jibbitz on your Crocs.

I’m not really a Jibbitz guy. Crocs are enough—a full-grown, adult male wearing Crocs already turns some heads.

What was the last pair of sneakers that you purchased?

The New Balances by Salehe Bembury.

What’s the best fashion tip you’ve picked up on set?

Throughout all the shoots that I’ve been on, I’ve now learned my good side and my bad side. That was key. For a long time, I couldn’t figure out, like, How come I look like shit in this photo shoot, and how come I look fine in this other one? Also, I think because I’m Asian, they tell me not to wear oranges and yellows because it makes me look sickly. Navy, black, and white look better on me. And keep the light colored above the waist and dark colors below. That use of color stretches you out, versus the other way, which makes you look top heavy and penguin-like.

Who was your style icon as a teenager?

My style icon as a teenager was Boyz II Men: I loved their chambray denim shirts tucked into a pair of belted, pleated Marithé + François Girbaud or Z Cavaricci pants. I went to public school, but I would wear a tie to school with that whole denim outfit. I was really weird, and I was made fun of and ridiculed for it all the time, because most kids in my public high school and middle school were just wearing sports clothes, t-shirts and shorts. And here I am wearing a button-up chambray shirt with a tie. But I loved that whole New Jack Swing era of R&B, and I loved representing the style. So fuck ‘em.

What else were the other kids wearing?

I grew up in a real small town in New Jersey, and at my public school, if you didn’t play sports, you weren’t cool. It was a total jock school. The coolest kid had a varsity jacket on, and the coolest girl was the head cheerleader, and that was it. So you can imagine me in my silk tie. By the way, I was one of only two sneakerheads in my whole school; sneakerhead wasn’t even a term then, but in terms of people who would wear a different pair of shoes to class every day and try to flex, that was unheard of. Back then, you wore sneakers to play your sport. Sambas were big in my high school because a lot of kids played soccer. But to wear different Jordans, basketball shoes, and tennis shoes, was not a thing. There was only one other kid that was into sneakers. Other kids just did not understand why we didn’t wear the same shoes every day for the entire school year.

What’s the most prized possession in your closet?

It’s gotta be my original Pigeon Dunks, which I designed with Nike, from 2005. I would never sell them. They’re the original pair—they’re individually numbered and mine say zero, zero.

What was your first major fashion purchase?

My first suit that I ever bought, a Hugo Boss suit that was, like, $700. That was an important purchase. But more recently, I visited the Issey Miyake store in Tokyo and got head-to-toe Issey—that was a price tag eye-opener. I was like, am I gonna really spend this much on pleated clothing right now? But now that I’ve bought a few pieces, it’s worth its value. I think it’s amazing stuff.

Which friend or fellow designer’s style do you most admire?

I'm going to shout out Dao-Yi Chow from Public School. We grew up together throughout college; I met him at a part-time job that I had at Paragon Sporting Goods store in Union Square in Manhattan. We worked there at the same time, selling sneakers on the shop floor back in the mid Nineties. We both knew we wanted to have our own brands, but we hadn’t started them yet. Even Dao-Yi pre-Public School, pre-CFDA darling—I always admired his style, even when we were just working retail.

Describe your style in three words.

Utilitarian, functional, and travel-friendly. I travel a lot, and I hate packing heavy. Everything ideally fits into my backpack, so everything ideally is wrinkle-free and easy to care for; it doesn’t stain easy, and I could just wear the same jacket with a different shirt underneath, or the same pants for a three- or four-day trip. I’d rather be very efficient than overpacking and having five completely different outfits. I feel like fashion should be first and foremost functional. And then you can apply style, color trends, fabrication, and storytelling to it.

All three of those words—utilitarian, functional, and travel-friendly—totally describe your Crocs from Beams.

You’re right. But that is what I look for when I look for things to wear, and make style choices.