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Shaun Neff Speaks On the Early Years of Neff
A label that stems from a background in snow and skate headwear, Southern California label Neff has since extended its know-how into a more fashion-forward orientation. Ardent collaborators with some of art and music’s most reputable, 2013 alone saw capsule collections with the likes of 2 Chainz, Mac Miller, Steve Aoki, Disney and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Youthful at heart, each collection is hemmed by the visions of CEO and creative driver Shaun Neff. Here, we catch up with Neff who shares with us the origins of the label, alongside the process of each collaboration — from ideas to inception. Neff also celebrates the relationship between work and friendship, letting us in on conversations he’s had with Wiz Khalifa and Damien Marley among others.
The Start of Neff
Can you introduce yourself and your role at Neff?
My name is Shaun Neff and I started the brand Neff over 10 years ago. I am currently the CEO of the company and I have fun everyday.
How did you originally start the brand?
Growing up as a SoCal kid it was a dream of mine to have a cool lifestyle company one day like the ones I supported as a teenager. When I moved to Utah for college I just went for it; printing T-shirts with my last name on it and selling them out of my backpack. After creating a slight buzz in my college town Shreddin, I supported a number of illustrious snowboarders and learned that there was a niche in headwear. It started with some self-made headbands, then shortly after, we established ourselves as Neff Headwear.
How would you describe your sense of branding and visual language?
At a young age, I was always very intrigued with branding and product. At Neff, one of our brand slogans is “Forever Fun” and that’s how we try to communicate our brand message. A lot of brands get so caught up with what type of brand they want people to believe they are. I just want to make products and let the public decide on the end result. I’ve heard Neff being described as an electronic band (via our support from Steve Aoki and deadmau5), a hip-hop clothing label (via collaborations with 2 Chainz, Mac Miller and Snoop Dogg) and our collaboration with Jean-Michel Basquiat sees us mingling with the art world. Limiting oneself as a type of label is only limiting your future and your following, so we try to stay as open as possible in regards to ideas and motifs.
“Limiting oneself as a type of label is only limiting your future and your following, so we try to stay as open as possible in regards to ideas and motifs.”
Shaun Neff on open-minded branding
On Design, Fashion and Collaborations
Outside of work, what’s going through your mind in terms of design and fashion?
This business consumes all my energy so I’m constantly researching on what the trends are today and what new brands are dropping. Inspirations can be found everywhere, from typefaces used on a menu in a Mexican restaurant to the paintings on the wall. The rest of the time I try and give time to my wife and two amazing boys, they play an intrinsic part to the initial ideas behind the Disney x Neff collaboration.
How would you describe the design of Neff products?
Our design motto is “Spitting Out Endless Flavors For The World To Consume.” We don’t ever want to feel like we’re stuck in a box or pigeonholed to one look. We have evolved through time. We did well six years ago when surf, skate and show was thriving. Now with the emphasis on streetwear, we’re able to make the crossover while still keeping to our brand integrity. We want to make items that are trend-driven but also very approachable.
What’s your general workflow to designing each season?
I’m the creative director behind the brand, so I tend to list out a number of design stories that will be slimmed down once we decide what’s achievable. I work with the design team to make sure the end product is on point. Our best-selling categories are accessories so we’re constantly seeking new colorways and materials to enhance those offerings. With the convenience of social media, the promotional process is faster, yet fashion is evolving quicker so we have to make sure we stay ahead.
What’s it like helping conceptualize ideas for collaborations and bringing them to life?
The collaborations have been amazing and by far the best part of my job. I’m humbled to meet and become friends with these talented people. Birthday celebrations with Steve Aoki and talks with Wiz Khalifa for several hours on how he wants his Taylor Gang capsule collaboration to suffice are valuable moments. Turning these conversations into actual pieces on shelves and worn by our fans are really special to me.
“We don’t ever want to feel like we’re stuck in a box or pigeonholed to one look.”
Shaun Neff talks about designing products
Favorites and Amazement
Your favorite moments working on a previous collaboration?
Flying to Miami and spending all night in Damian Marley’s studio listening to him talk about his childhood and how Bob Marley has influenced him was an inspirational time. More recently, I was walking into Disney’s creative offices and looking through an open playbook with all of its amazing properties — such as Aladdin, The Little Mermaid and Jungle Book. It was crazy looking at original sketches of Mickey and how he was created. It was a special moment since I’ve been an ardent fan of Disney since my youth.
The best thing you read in the last little while?
The best thing I read lately would be the book called The Tipping Point – it really has been a guide for me building this brand.
What was the last thing you did that amazed you?
The last thing that amazed me was for sure this past weekend at the Super Bowl. Richard Sherman came in rocking our Neff Brodie Sunglasses to the game, then I ended up on the field with 10 seconds left being police escorted with Hall of Famer Marcus Allen, where he was giving out the MVP trophy. So there I was in the middle of the Seahawks’ Super Bowl celebration taking selfies with the team.
“It was crazy looking
at original sketches
of Mickey and how he
Shaun Neff speaks on collaborating with Disney
Neff visits New York in ‘My Life BluPrint’
“When I was a kid in
high school it was
my dream to have a clothing brand like
the brands I used to shop. The fact that it happened is unreal.”
Shaun Neff talks to My Life BluPrint about never imagining being where he is today