Paper Planes Jay Z

Paper Planes is leveraging its popular line of hats for a new partnership with the National Football League.

The nine-year-old streetwear label operated by Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter’s Roc Nation revealed Wednesday it is teaming with the NFL to celebrate youth flag football. The brand is bringing together 10 teams from nations like Australia, Canada, China, Ghana, the U.S. and others to compete in the NFL Flag International Tournament in Las Vegas this weekend.

Along with the competition, Paper Planes is releasing a collection of its popular hats that will celebrate all 32 NFL teams. The hats will feature the Paper Planes signature logo, the NFL shield and each team’s branding.

“Using fashion as our medium, we seek to empower people,” said Emory Jones, Paper Planes’ chief marketing officer and close friend of Jay-Z who helms the brand alongside president Ronnie DeMichael. “This partnership with the NFL brings together a community, united by their love of the sport and their desire to achieve greatness both on and off the field. The ability to transcend boundaries — to imagine, to explore and to achieve through meaningful collaboration — is at the heart of everything we do.”

Hats have been at the core of Paper Planes’ business since the brand launched in 2014, when it was solely a hat label. The hats were first popularized by Roc Nation-signed musicians — namely Jay-Z — which helped garner interest for the accessory among streetwear enthusiasts.

As the popularity of the hats grew, the brand expanded into more colors, prints and styles and in 2016 made its first foray into apparel. According to the brand, hats now account for only 35 percent of sales.

“We wanted to create a brand that was more about the conversation than the clothes,” Jones said. “It just so happened that we started with a hat. I think for about two years you couldn’t get the hat unless we personally gave it to you. The whole mission was always to get the clothes, but I think for us being around the space and understanding how fashion has its valleys and peaks, we wanted to make this brand about helping somebody understand who they are and where they can go.”

Paper Planes has embodied this mission with two strategies: maintaining a global mindset and focusing on its motto of “greatness is a process.” The brand’s global aspect comes mainly through its apparel collections that celebrate various cultures and regions. The brand’s paper plane logo is also meant to encourage customers to strive for their aspirations, according to Jones.

When coming up with the concept of Paper Planes, Jones explained, the idea centered around the mental state of going somewhere. “You could be in Brooklyn in the projects, but mentally you could be in Paris today or in Brazil tomorrow. Before someone can think about even getting on a plane to go somewhere, you have to mentally think that you can do it. You have to mentally see where you want to go.”

Jones explained that Paper Planes’ ethos is an extension of the Roc Nation global mindset, something that’s reflected in the breadth and diversity of its musical talent roster and the company’s emphasis on culture.

“Everything that you’ve seen Jay do from day one has been a culture statement,” Jones said. “That’s our approach and just how we talk about things. We don’t do things just for us, we do things for the whole culture of things. If we open this door, we’re not just opening this door for Roc Nation and Paper Planes, we’re opening this door for everybody else to follow.”

Paper Planes’ celebration of culture is seen through many of its collections. The brand has an ongoing collection called “Global Warning,” which pays homage to different countries and regions the brand has ties to, like Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and others.

The brand’s upcoming spring collection, called “Lovers Rock,” is inspired by the Afro-Caribbean migration to London after World War II, as evidenced by the bright colors, tropical prints and nods to reggae music.

“We fancify our track sets or take palm prints and engineer it with our logo,” said creative director Just C Greenidge. “We really wanted to clean it up and dress it up. I have always liked to have a story, and this is a story within a story.”

Aside from its spring collection and NFL collaboration, Paper Planes’ other major initiative this year is to expand its retail presence. Currently the brand sells in roughly 200 small boutiques across the country, a strategy that was instituted at the brand’s inception to give back to smaller retailers in the streetwear market. The brand will continue that strategy in 2023, while also going into department stores, opening its own retail stores and looking to expanding internationally.

“We have been steadily building out our product assortment to include knitwear, outerwear, woven pants and more,” DeMichael said about the brand’s growth opportunities. “These new product categories paired with our high-performing essentials category and our signature headwear and accessories create a head-to-toe Paper Planes look. For fall 2023, we will offer a capsule collection to key, top-tier wholesale accounts in the U.S. and Europe. We also plan to open the first stand-alone Paper Planes retail store in New York City in 2023. We will continue to partner with organizations and collaborate with brands whose missions we believe in and who align with our values.”

While Jones and DeMichael head up Paper Planes’ day-to-day operations, the executives explained that Jay-Z still plays a pivotal role in everything from collections to campaigns.

“Being who he is and being in his own world — disconnected but at the same time connected — that’s what makes him still who he is today,” Jones explained. “It gives us the opportunity to continue to grow because every day I wake up and he is sending me stuff and I’m like, ‘Wait a minute.’ But it’s because he’s so in tune, which helps us bridge and connect well because when we come up with ideas, he knows how to balance the ideas and look at things that we might miss.”

Through it all, one important tenet for the brand remains: to stay true to its motto of “greatness is a process,” which Jones explained puts more emphasis on the journey of achieving one’s goals rather than the end goal itself.

“The beauty of greatness is a process — the world looks at clothes and only sees the final product, right?” he said. “They don’t see all the work and all of the people behind this. It’s easy for us to talk about Jay because Jay is Jay, but look at all of the hard-working people and the moving compartments that help us get this product and this brand done. That process is a balancing act. You might see the glamour of that, but that process is more important than the finished product.”