Jon Stan is 2023’s sports apparel designer to watch
You could be forgiven for not knowing that one of today’s most forward-thinking, iconoclastic, hip-hop culture-driving fashion designers calls Herriman, Utah, home—but it’s true. Born and bred in Brooklyn, New York, Jon Stan moved to Utah two years ago with his wife, Samareea, after she fell in love with the state as a nursing student at the University of Utah.
2023 has already been an important year for Stan. In January, New Era, one of the most prolific licensees of professional sports apparel, began carrying his designs. The NBA commissioned him to create official designs promoting the 2023 NBA All-Star Weekend, which will be featured at the NBA Crossover interactive fan event this week. Stan also designed the hats given to the inductees honored at this month’s Silicon Slopes Hall of Fame Gala.
Moving to suburban Utah after a lifetime in the birthplace of hip-hop was occasionally jarring, Stan says. But as evidenced above, his career hasn’t suffered for it. In fact, the opposite is true.
“Back in New York, everyone is doing the same thing. You’ve got a million designers and entrepreneurs, so you have to figure out how to stand out. I did OK back there, but coming here made it ten times better for me because here, I get noticed,” Stan says.
One reason Stan’s work gets noticed is for how contrarian it is. The look and feel of sports apparel rarely deviates from a well-worn motif, but Stan’s trademark look goes out of its way to reject the cliches, incorporating imagery so unlikely to be associated with professional sports that one can’t help but take a second look.
For someone as direct and driven as Stan, one might think the path leading toward his recent successes was straight and plain, but that’s not the case. Three moments—each as defining as they were unlikely—proved critical in getting him where he is today.
The first defining moment came early on in Stan’s development as a fashion designer. Stan’s grandmother, a Puerto Rican who decorated her home with religious imagery, is one of his main inspirations.
Stan’s grandmother particularly loved Raphael-inspired, cherubic angels, he says. “She had the angels all over the house, on the candles, on the carpets, on a blanket she had—everywhere. I looked at that blanket and thought it would look nice as a jacket, so I drew the angel and made it into a patch.”
Because the angel patch was intended for a jacket, it was proportioned accordingly, but Stan decided to experiment. He affixed two oversized angel patches to each side of a red New York Yankees cap he owned and went out to do some market research.
“I showed it to some people, and they said, ‘Bro, nobody does that on hats. It’s too big. I’ve never seen anything like that. Nobody is going to want it,’” Stan recalls.
And when his market research showed a lack of interest in the intersection of oversized Renaissance art and professional sports, Stan made the hats anyway.
That’s how the Jon Stan aesthetic was born.
Stan’s next defining moment came while managing Manhattan’s Penn Station Starbucks, one of the chain’s largest stores in New York City.
“Back in New York, everyone is doing the same thing. You’ve got a million designers and entrepreneurs, so you have to figure out how to stand out. I did OK back there, but coming here made it ten times better for me because here, I get noticed."
Hoping to enhance both the employee and the customer experience, Stan designed and produced custom embroidered hats for each of the store’s 72 workers. Of course, Starbucks is notoriously brand-conscious, and these hats were not approved. This was just one of many unique (but unauthorized) things Stan did to make his store more interesting, which caught the attention of then-CEO Kevin Johnson, who paid him a visit.
“He came to my store and told me he heard about all the things I was doing and that he loved it,” Stan recounts. “Even though they were not in the guidelines, he said, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing. You remind me of myself when I was chasing my dream.’”
What did Stan do with this high-level endorsement? Not what you’d expect. He quit.
“I realized I was working 100 percent for the CEO’s dream, not my own,” he says. “I prayed on it and decided to take a chance on my own dream. I told my wife, and she said I should quit, and she’d support my dream 100 percent.”
Stan’s third defining moment happened on May 22, 2022, while attending his first professional baseball game.
At the time, Stan was logging impressive sales of his distinctly-customized hats, which he designed in his Herriman home, produced in a West Valley City facility and sold exclusively through his own website. Because Stan was buying New Era licensed products, which he then custom embroidered and resold, he could legally continue as long as he adhered to guidelines prohibiting altering the area on and around team logos.
This caught New Era’s attention for several reasons, one being that Jon was buying their hats at the full retail price of around $50 each, then consistently and rapidly selling out his customized versions for $175.
“New Era was trying to figure out what was going on,” Stan remembers. “How is this one guy pushing out 4,000 and 5,000 units of hats on his own, and not just to consumers, but celebrities? … So New Era wanted to work together.”
Again, with this second high-level endorsement, Stan said no. He valued his independence and felt reluctant to allow his wearable art to be sold on a third party’s platform, even if that platform was one any sports apparel designer would aspire to sell on.
It was in that context that Stan found himself watching the Anaheim Angels host the Oakland A’s at Angel Stadium. Stan wore one of his custom hats, which earned him the pre-game attention of pitcher Frankie Montas, who invited Stan to the A’s dugout. While there, Stan took advantage of the opportunity to step onto the field and see the stadium from a player’s perspective. He looked at the sea of fans—thousands of people that love their team enough to spend substantial time and money to support them in person. For the first time, he grasped the scope of the opportunity New Era was offering.
“I’ll never forget; I walked out on the field and looked all around. I did a full spin and said, ‘Wow, look at all these baseball fans. If I could make something for them—the legit, proper way with the license of all the baseball teams—I could be bigger than what I thought I’d be,’” Stan recounts. “That’s when I said, ‘I need this.’”
Given the design that started it all, it’s fitting this epiphany occurred at Angel Stadium.
Today, Stan is doing more than surviving in Utah. His work is thriving, and he wants to spread the word.
“In Utah, people love to see how the community adopted me,” Stan says. “That’s important because, for me, it’s not just about selling my clothes. That was my goal originally, but now it’s bigger than that. I want to be the face that changes the way people see Utah. The people who think we’re not diverse and you only see white people here—I want them to see that there’s opportunity to grow here.”